I (Richard) have had three personal mentors in my life.
I missed two of their funerals: George Romney’s because I was in England when he died, and Truman Madsen’s because, again, I was overseas.
I will not miss the third one! Early this Saturday morning, Linda and I will take a day out of our annual Bear Lake family reunion to drive to Provo for the memorial service of Stephen Covey.
Way back when we were a young engaged couple, we went to my favorite BYU professor for advice about our upcoming marriage and family. His name was Stephen Covey. He was not yet famous.
He told us how to make our marriage relationship equal; he told us how to teach our children discipline and self-esteem; he told us how to center our lives on Christ.
He stirred us, he lifted us, he stimulated us. After that first long session with Stephen, Linda, who had never met him before that day, simply looked up at me and said, “Wow!”
As the years went by, Stephen and Sandra Covey became our family and parenting mentors. It seemed like we were always following them around. Like them, we started our marriage at Harvard Business School. Like them, we served a church mission presidency in our early 30s. Like them, we had nine children and wanted to find every creative way we could to make those kids our highest priority and to give them both discipline and self-esteem.
The Coveys were 12 years older, and their kids were each about 12 years older than our corresponding child, so we would look at them for an optimistic preview of what our lives might be like in 12 years.
We watched them. We learned from them. We admired them. Every few months we drove to Provo to have dinner together as a foursome, usually at China Lilly’s at Riverwoods.
Before we got to our parenting and family discussions for the evening, Stephen would usually tell us of his latest travels and speaking. He always spoke with a matter-of-fact humility, but what he said was amazing. He had just been one-on-one with Nelson Mandela for two days, or just returned from some private time with Bill Clinton at Camp David, or just presented to the whole upper management team of some Fortune 100 company.
Stephen was a true guru, in the best possible sense of the word. He made complex, difficult concepts simple and easy to understand. There was no one quite like him.
He walked his talk. He practiced what he preached.
And his "7 habits" have influenced tens of millions for good.
But we always thought he was at his very best, and Sandra too, when they were talking about families and parenting. There was a sparkle that would come into Stephen’s eyes as he told us of his effort to motivate a son to keep the yard “green and clean” or to help a daughter understand why modesty was so important.
As much as we loved his mega-famous "7 Habits of Highly Effective People," we thought his "7 Habits of Highly Effective Families" was even better. Stephen understood that family was the essential element of society, of the economy and of God’s own plan. And he knew that to last in love, families had to be centered on Christ.
One evening he told us that there were many large, extended families who summered at a different lake, the one where he and Sandra always took their kids for the Covey family reunion. He said that after watching all those families for several years, he realized that they fell into three categories: families that were church-centered, families that were family-centered and families that were Christ-centered. It was only the third category, he said, that lasted, stayed strong and stood the tests and challenges of life without becoming divided.
As writers and professional speakers, we are sometimes asked what author, what teacher, what speaker we admire most. Sometimes the question is phrased “who do you model yourselves after?”
The answer is easy: Stephen Covey!
And on Saturday when the funeral is over, we will hurry back to our own lake and our own reunion and do our best, as he taught us, to make our family strong and lasting by making it Christ-centered.