WHEN I THINK ABOUT John Hart, I think about the day a call came in from the Uinta Mountains. A Boy Scout was terribly upset and wanted to come home. John was the boy's bishop. He was also in the middle of a major story for an upcoming edition of the Church News. He could have made a call or two and taken care of things.

But he didn't.

He hopped up, walked out, jumped in his car and headed off into the Uintas to bring the boy home.

It was completely spontaneous — no wrangling over where the buck should stop, or whose ox might be in the mire or questions about what Jesus would do. He simply stood up and left.

Now, after 31 years of being a weight-bearing beam for the LDS Church News, John is leaving once again. This time, sadly, it's for good. He retires next week.

Looking back at his career, I know I could use this column to list his "atta-boys" — his wonderful reports from the heart of Hurricane Katrina and the heart of Africa, his work on the Church Almanac — just to name a couple. But those things aren't what John is about.

John isn't about himself. He's about the other guy — the other "individual."

He isn't a "people person," he's a "person person."

He doesn't see the forest, he sees each individual tree.

One reason that Boy Scout story has stayed with me is because John's done the same for me a dozen times. More than once I've used him as a "Brother Confessor" when he was terribly busy. But he'd hop up — beneath the glare of an editor — and take a walk with me while I tried to sort things out.

And I'm not alone. John has made a career of that.

In fact, he did it with everything he wrote for the newspaper.

John never thought about "the readers," he thought about "the reader." And he would shape his writing and thoughts as if they were going into just one set of ears out there, into one heart ... one individual soul.

But then isn't that how the best inspirational writing comes across? Look at the books by memorable Christian writers. Look at the Bible and the other scriptures. While novels on the best-seller list go from fresh to stale quicker than an open carton of milk, true inspirational writing always feels like this morning's newspaper. That's not just a trick of rhetoric or a trick of mind. I think the spirit does it — makes the words sound newborn-new to us and makes us feel we're the only reader in the world.

At the risk of sending John into a flying jig of denial, I think many of his stories for the Church News have that quality. They'll be around long after much of what the rest of us write is pushing up daisies.

As for John's retirement plans, he says he plans to keep writing. He's got a couple of ideas for books that he doesn't discuss much. Like most writers, he knows you can kill a good idea by talking it to death.

But I do know this.

When what he has to say finally comes out, it'll make us feel like that Scout in the mountains. We'll feel a little less lonely and a little more connected because we'll feel John took the time to come after each and every one of us.

Jerry Johnston is a Deseret News staff writer. "New Harmony" appears weekly in the Mormon Times section.

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