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Intimate biography of Mormon leader Henry B. Eyring includes personal artwork, journal entries

Published: Wednesday, April 2 2014 7:40 a.m. MDT

An example of how the art direction interacts with the text appears during a story of President Eyring's self-reflection during rougher-than-expected recovery from cancer surgery in 2005. He spent time pondering a conversation from the previous year with Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Twelve that came just weeks before Elder Maxwell died of cancer.

"Hal, you have a great mind and a gift for perceiving risks," Elder Maxwell told him. "But if you're going to reach your full potential to contribute in the kingdom, you're going to have to become as good at seeing possibilities as you are at seeing pitfalls. We need you to be a problem solver, not just a problem spotter."

The authors, President Eyring's son Henry J. Eyring and Robert J. Eaton, briefly point out that President Eyring could have objected, that he had been a problem solver in business, in church callings and as the president of Ricks College, now known as BYU-Idaho. Instead, President Eyring chose to take the counsel to heart.

"Throughout his term in the Quorum (of the Twelve Apostles) he had felt the burden of being one of its more notable naysayers. … Thus, he welcomed Elder Maxwell's clear, actionable agenda for personal change."

The book's design adds to the story. In a quote in the margin on the same page, President Eyring says, "Trained as I was, at the Harvard Business School and around the dinner table at my home, I almost always shot holes in things — not trying to destroy, but to identify imperfections."

The method is repeated throughout the book, as quotes and journal entries illustrate President Eyring taking counsel or becoming aware himself of something he needed or wanted to change, and then working to develop himself.

"You see him wrestling with all the things we wrestle with," Dew said, "his pride, work-life balance. You see him wrestling to overcome the natural man. There are so many nuggets that are applicable. I can't remember when I've learned so much by reading a biography."

Love stories

So why is he known as Hal and not Henry, like his father?

"I've never thought it was a pleasing-sounding word — nor beautiful to look at," his mother confided in her own journal. She insisted he be Hal.

Hal's love for his parents, with their polar opposite views of nurturing, created a longing to marry and raise a family. He thought often of the children he wanted to have, and imagined them as redheads, like his mother.

When he faced temptation, the authors related, he would remind himself, "I can't do that — the Redheads are counting on me."

Finally, he met Kathy Johnson.

"That's the best person I've ever seen," he thought. "If I could be with her, I could be every good thing I ever wanted to be."

Their courtship and marriage and parenting fills several chapters.

"It may be the best marriage manual I've ever seen, without being a marriage manual," Dew said.

One journal entry from 1973 describes President Eyring's love for his wife and his desire to be a better husband.

"Despite a good day of working at my office and playing golf with Kathy in the evening, I managed to be too gruff and tense to give Kathy a good day. I've miles to go to learn how to be kind when I'm feeling pressures. And not other kindness makes much difference since life is mostly pressure."

The book ends with a chapter that shows Kathy's memory loss, "requiring Hal to re-win her hand daily and sometimes hourly."

A best-seller

Booksellers consider sales figures proprietary information. Sitting in a conference room with an extraordinary view of Temple Square recently, Jana Erickson did what every other bookseller in her position does; she declined to provide sales figures for "I Will Lead You Along."

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