Members of the First Presidency Share Lessons Learned from Their Fathers
Contributed By Marianne Holman Prescott, Church News staff writer
Each family situation was different: President Nelson’s father was not active in the Church during the prophet’s youth; President Oaks’s father died before young Dallin was even baptized; and President Eyring’s father was an advocate on the world stage for the coexistence of science and religion.
Despite different circumstances, all three of the leaders said they gleaned goodness from the examples of their fathers.
Following are lessons from the fathers of the men of the First Presidency.
Marion Clavar Nelson
Although his parents were not active in the Church when he was a young boy, President Nelson remembers their focus was always on their family.
“I adored my parents,” said President Nelson in an April 2018 general conference talk. “They meant the world to me and taught me crucial lessons. I cannot thank them enough for the happy home life they created for me and my siblings” (“Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives”).
Even with a busy career beginning as a sports and automobile reporter for the Deseret News and later as president and general manager of Gillham Advertising Agency, President Nelson’s father, Marion C. Nelson, still managed to keep his wife and four children at the top of his priority list.
His work ethic, drive, and executive skills benefited his career in advertising and many other positions he held within the business community in Salt Lake City. At age 10, Russell Nelson went to work with his father as an errand boy, where he learned firsthand how to work hard.
“Notwithstanding their commitment to the community, Marion and Edna [Nelson] always placed their family first in their lives. Their fidelity and love for one another strengthened their family and engendered a deep sense of security and belonging in the hearts of each of their children” (Russell M. Nelson: Father, Surgeon, Apostle, p. 24).
President Nelson said of his parents, “They made love the prevailing influence in their home. Completely absent were expressions of anger, criticism, and denigration of others. Our parents led, guided, and provided; but they were not possessive, and they did not unduly interfere in the lives of their children. The important decisions in life—choice of career, selection of a marital partner, and all other opportunities—were to be made individually, after parental counsel.”
“Marion Nelson may not have spent much time in priesthood meeting, but he did spend countless hours with his children. He loved baseball, and it was important to him to transmit this affinity to his children. They frequently found themselves at Liberty Park, where their father never tired of hitting flies and grounders to them.
“Marion was not much of a fisherman, but he felt that all young children should have the experience of fishing, so, on occasion, they would drive to the fish hatchery up Ogden Canyon, where they were all guaranteed to catch fish—for a price” (Russell M. Nelson: Father, Surgeon, Apostle, p. 36).
Education was “highly valued” by the Nelsons.
“Father and Mother assured us that they would assist us in achieving as much education as we could obtain,” President Nelson recalled. “They were willing to make whatever sacrifices would be required to help us children to achieve that which we wished to make of ourselves. No words of mine can adequately express the gratitude I feel for this commitment to excellence in education and this level of support. Without their encouragement and absolute assurance of the validity of education and service, my life as it exists could never have been.”
In February 1977, a month after Marion’s 80th birthday, President Nelson ordained his father an elder in the Melchizedek Priesthood. Just a month later, on March 26, Marion and his wife, Edna, were joined by their family and sealed in the Provo Utah Temple.
“We realized then that Mother and Daddy had given us the finest gift they could ever give, as they took upon themselves the covenant of celestial marriage that year, thereby sealing us and their posterity to them for time and all eternity. It is the only gift we ever really wanted from our dear parents. To receive that from them was the most memorable gift of all” (Russell M. Nelson: Father, Surgeon, Apostle, p. 28).
Nelson family portrait taken in 1935. Seated are Enid, Russell, and Robert Nelson. Standing are Marion, Marjory, and Edna Nelson. Photo courtesy of President Russell M. Nelson.
Lloyd E. Oaks
Dallin Oaks was not even 8 years old when his father, a doctor, died of tuberculosis.
“His influence lives on for me and his descendants,” President Oaks said in a social media post on September 25, 2014.
“During his short life of less than 38 years, my father lived through tremendous contrasts and transitions. Like generations of his predecessors, he was born in a log cabin on the pioneer frontier. Like most in the generations to follow, he died in a great city in a modern hospital with every medical convenience.
“In his childhood, my father ran barefoot with friends on his family’s homestead near an Indian reservation west of Vernal, Utah. As a young doctor in his 30s, he and my mother socialized with the medical elite in Vienna, Austria, and Cairo, Egypt.
“My father never saw a train during the first half of his life. In the second half he traveled on a steamship to Europe and on a commercial flight over the deserts of Egypt and Palestine.
“When he was a child, his large family (16 children) was so poor that neighbors once brought in food so the children could have a Christmas meal and the family could survive the winter. As a medical doctor during the Great Depression, he gave needed care to many who could not afford his services.
“The contrasts and transitions my father experienced in his life were kind to him in many ways: a pioneer child developed into an esteemed and well-traveled young medical doctor. But in the end, one vital transition came too late. He died in 1940 of a disease (tuberculosis) for which medical science did not develop an effective treatment until a few years after his death.
“Thanks to the gospel of Jesus Christ, I know I will see my father again. Families are forever.”
President Oaks remembers, when he was around 5 or 6 years old, going with his father on a walk downtown.
“This was during the Depression, when jobs were low and many homeless, hungry people were on the streets,” he said. “My father and I were looking at all the store windows as we walked, and soon we found ourselves standing in front of the window of a sporting goods store. It was full of bright things that would catch every boy’s fancy—things like fishing lures and pocketknives for whittling.
“A shabbily dressed boy was standing near us, looking longingly into the window. I didn’t pay much attention to him, but my father went over and spoke with him briefly, then put his hand on his shoulder and led him inside the store. I watched as he took the boy to a showcase of pocketknives, told him to pick one out, then paid the shopkeeper for the knife.
“I didn’t get a pocketknife that day, but I did get a lesson. At that time, I felt let down, as a little boy would feel when the gift he thinks is his goes to someone else. But as my father and I walked away from the store, he said, ‘You have me. He doesn’t have anybody.’ Later I realized how generous and how sensitive to the needs of others my father was” (Friend, June 1997).
From left: Dallin H. Oaks; Evelyn; his mother, Stella; and Merrill. Elder Oaks’s father died when he was 7 years old, and his mother raised the three children on her own. Photo courtesy of Dallin H. Oaks.
Much can be written about Henry Eyring, President Eyring’s namesake and father. His published works—more than 600 scientific articles, 10 scientific books, and a few books on the subject of science and religion—and work in the chemistry field made him a well-known scientist throughout the world.
Born in Colonia Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, on a cattle ranch in the Mormon colony, Henry Eyring, father of Henry B. “Hal” Eyring, started life in humble beginnings. His family would later move to Texas and then Arizona, where he spent his youth and later attended college.
While his incredible mind, résumé, and capabilities as a scientist are impressive, it was his faith in Jesus Christ and the restored gospel that made his contributions so indelible.
“Is there any conflict between science and religion?” Henry Eyring asked. “There is no conflict in the mind of God, but often there is conflict in the minds of men.”
He was a hard worker who expected much of his children.
“The word ‘expectation’ had a literal meaning for Henry; he naturally expected his sons to succeed, as though their success were already assured. Henry knew from experience that success had a price, and he taught his boys to work hard” (I Will Lead You Along: The Life of Henry B. Eyring, p. 12).
When President Eyring was a college student majoring in physics, his father warned, “Hal, you’ll never amount to anything unless you learn to work until your ears ring.”
“But Henry taught the importance of work and other character traits more by example than by exhortation. He was forgiving and inclined to encourage through praise, as his own parents had been. His motto in giving feedback was, ‘Life will knock them down; I try to build them up’” (I Will Lead You Along: The Life of Henry B. Eyring, p. 12).
President Eyring said in a Mormon Newsroom article, “I grew up with the idea that you could be very, very good at what you did and not take it too seriously. And so Dad never had any pretense, as friendly as could be, would meet ordinary people and treat them as if they were his equal, at least. I can remember one time, I asked him, ‘Dad, why do you ask gas station attendants questions?’ And Dad said, ‘I never met a man I couldn’t learn something from.’”
In September of 1990 during a BYU devotional, President Eyring, then of the Presiding Bishopric, told a story of his father when he was 80 years old and suffering from bone cancer.
“He had bone cancer so badly in his hips that he could hardly move. The pain was great,” he recalled.
At the time the senior Eyring was serving as a high councilor in his stake with the responsibility for the welfare farm. When the assignment to weed a field of onions came, he assigned himself to go. While fulfilling his assignment, the pain was so great that Henry Eyring couldn’t kneel, but pulled himself along on his stomach with his elbows. Others reported him smiling, laughing, and talking happily as they worked together in the field of onions.
At the end of the day, after all of the onions were weeded, someone informed Henry Eyring that he had spent his day pulling weeds that had already been sprayed and were going to die.
“Dad just roared,” President Eyring said. “He thought that was the funniest thing. He thought it was a great joke on himself. He had worked through the day in the wrong weeds. They had been sprayed and would have died anyway.”
When President Eyring heard what had happened from his father he asked him, “‘Dad, how could you make a joke out of that? How could you take it so pleasantly?’ He said something to me that I will never forget, and I hope you won’t. He said, ‘Hal, I wasn’t there for the weeds.’”
From left: Henry Eyring, Edward Marcus (standing), Harden Romney, Henry Bennion, and Mildred Bennion Eyring.
Photo courtesy President Henry B. Eyring.