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Jane Clayson Johnson was at top of illustrious career, then family came along

Published: Saturday, Nov. 20 2010 11:33 p.m. MST

Then the career happened. She had landed a part-time job at KSL during her senior year. That blossomed into a full-time job after she graduated. Her six-year stay at KSL was highlighted by a regional Emmy.

The career and the wait for a husband stretched into years. It appeared briefly that The Plan might be reclaimed when she married a man she met in Salt Lake City at the age of 26, but a year and a half later their marriage ended in divorce, and that definitely was not part of The Plan. She had hit rock bottom in her personal life.

By then the accidental journalist began a quick ascent to the top of her profession. She took a job in Los Angeles in 1996, working as a correspondent for "Good Morning America" and "World News Tonight," covering, among other things, the O.J. Simpson trial and Bob Dole's presidential campaign. In 1999, CBS began a search for Bryant Gumbel's co-host on "The Early Show" — "Operation Glass Slipper," they called it. Clayson won the job.

It should have been a time of elation, but her joy was tempered by the realization that she was wandering that much farther from The Plan. She was 32 years old and moving to the East Coast, single and alone.

Her parents helped her to settle in New York. She remembers her first night alone in New York, sitting in her apartment overlooking the Hudson from 30 floors up, "feeling like I might as well be on the surface of Mars. Everything felt so foreign. I was not following the plan I had for my life. I had this wonderful opportunity in front of me, which was given to me for a reason. I thought, I had better get down on my knees. I prayed. I laid it out. Here are my concerns ...."

The desire to marry among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is ingrained from youth. When it doesn't go according to plan, when marriage doesn't happen in the early 20s, men and women often experience immense pressure, either self-imposed or from parents and family members. Clayson was no exception.

Reared mostly in Sacramento, Calif., she was the oldest of three children in a devout LDS family. Her father, Carl, was a vascular surgeon and her mother, Jane, a homemaker. Their daughters, Jane and Hannah, were ambitious, musical and devoted to their faith. Their only son was the great family tragedy. David died at 11 of a brain tumor in 1986.

"It was a defining moment for me," recalls Clayson. "He was sick for only a year. I came to understand getting on my knees and praying for help and comfort. I remember the empathy I learned from watching my mother care for him and watching him struggle. It was very trying."

Jane attended BYU on a music scholarship and played violin in the philharmonic and chamber orchestras. Hannah graduated from Princeton, where she performed in the school's chamber orchestra. She then graduated from BYU's law school. Hannah met her future husband, John Smith, at Princeton and, after helping to convert him to the LDS Church, they both served church missions, then married and began their law careers in Washington, D.C. Hannah served two clerkships on the U.S. Supreme Court. Like her sister, she walked away from a lucrative professional career to raise a family with an Ivy-League husband. She has three children and lives in Dallas, but she continues to serve as a legal counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

"We had a good family life," says Hannah. "The gospel was taught in our home and we appreciated the values our parents instilled in us, and those values have guided us in our lives."

Against that backdrop, Jane was feeling unfulfilled even when her professional life was so fulfilled. Shortly before moving to New York, she received a phone call from the late Elder Neal A. Maxwell, a member of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve. He asked her to stop in Salt Lake City en route to New York so that he could give her a blessing. As she writes in her book, Elder Maxwell stated, "You must allow the Lord to use you ... sometimes you will not understand what he is doing or why he is doing it. ... You must allow him to guide you and direct you."

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