Herbert B. Maw: Looking Ahead at Ninety-one


As the elderly, well-dressed gentleman made his way into the elevator, one of the passengers pressed against the back wall remarked jovially, “It’s a good thing you caught this one, Governor. The next one’s not for ten minutes.”

Several other people nodded to the older man in recognition. “How are you today, Governor?” a woman asked.

The man smiled and replied, “Well, I’m perpendicular, and if a man is still perpendicular at my age, he’s doing well.”

Other passengers were still smiling at Herbert B. Maw’s comment as he got off the elevator on the third floor. Some of them would probably be surprised to learn that Brother Maw is ninety-one. His quick wit, straight posture, and walk belie his age.

His has been a life of rich and varied experiences: newsboy, student, teacher, attorney, World War I chaplain, debate coach, professor and dean of men at the University of Utah, state senator, and eighth governor of Utah (for two terms).

His Church experiences have been almost as varied: ward (later, home) teacher, Scoutmaster, Sunday School teacher, and member of the YMMIA and Sunday School general boards.

He was born 11 March 1893 in Ogden, Territory of Deseret. (Utah did not become a state until 1896.) His parents, converts to the Church, had established a profitable grocery business in Ogden shortly before the onset of the depression of 1893. When many customers were unable to settle their accounts, his father, who had extended credit to them, was forced to close the store, heavily in debt.

Surprisingly, Brother Maw regards the hard times of his early years as a blessing. “The depression taught me the importance of work. It taught me to stay out of debt and to be self-reliant. The hardships of the moment are often our greatest blessings.”

The unwavering faith of his parents during those difficult years also helped to establish within him a firm belief in the existence of God. “My earliest concept of Him was that He was an unseen member of our household.”

Brother Maw’s father eventually moved the family to Salt Lake City, where he had found work.

At eleven, young Herbert decided he would work as a newsboy to augment the family income. His parents were opposed to the idea because they did not think the work would provide a suitable environment for their young son, but he eventually persuaded them to let him try it. He was a very timid boy, and they felt that it would take only one experience selling newspapers to dampen his enthusiasm.

Herbert managed to sell only one newspaper on his first night as a newsboy; he returned home discouraged and perplexed. The situation presented a dilemma for his parents. They did not approve of his work, but they knew if he gave up this time, his ability to confront the future problems of daily life would be seriously impaired. Wisely, they avoided encouraging him to surrender to fear.

He decided to persevere, and eventually succeeded. In addition to helping him learn how to face opposition, the experience also taught him how to deal with people and to subordinate his personal desires to his work and daily responsibilities.

Textbooks and studying held little attraction for the maturing Herbert. But the turning point in his educational development came when, through the counsel and support of wise teachers, he realized that as a student he was permitting himself to be a victim of self-pity. “I was making no friends because I offered no friendship. I was merely longing and hoping for success instead of working for it.”

This new insight prompted him to pursue education much more vigorously. He graduated from LDS High School and the University of Utah, where he had studied education, then obtained a law degree. He set up a law practice and at the same time began a teaching career; he taught speech and political science during the day and handled legal research for his law practice at night. (His partners handled the trial work.) But entrance of the United States into World War I changed his future when he interrupted these pursuits to enlist in the Army Air Force.

Brother Maw was eventually stationed at Kelly Field, near San Antonio, Texas, where he qualified for pilot training. The dream of flying was short-lived. A long-distance call from President Charles W. Penrose, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, informed him that he was one of three men chosen by the Church to serve as chaplains. (Elder B. H. Roberts, one of the Presidents of the Seventy, and Calvin Smith, the son of President Joseph F. Smith, were the other two.) It was the first time the Church had received authorization to call Latter-day Saint men as chaplains for United States military forces.

After the war, Brother Maw rededicated himself to his work. But soon something else was to play an even more important role in his life—marriage and family.

Brother Maw believes one of the greatest blessings he has received as a result of Church service is his wife, Florence Buehler. They met through the Mutual Improvement Association and were married in June of 1921. They are the parents of five children.

During the day, the Maws’ two living daughters now care for their mother, who has not been well for some time. Brother Maw is with her during the evenings.

Many of Herbert Maw’s nineteen grandchildren and twenty-two great-grandchildren regularly come to him for guidance and a listening ear. Granddaughter Amy Christensen echoes the opinion of other family members that “Grandfather has a way of making you feel special—that you are number one in his life.”

His love reaches well beyond his extended family “He is always interested in young people. He puts everyone at ease, and he is equally at home with the young and old, famous and unknown,” observes Richard S. Fox, a fellow attorney and Brother Maw’s former bishop.

Brother Maw often delights family members with his sense of humor. Jeanne recalls an incident. “During the years I was growing up, I never heard Dad sing. After my first husband died and I had met my current husband, Bill Nibley, Dad used to joke that he would sing at my second wedding. I held him to his promise, and on the night of our open house, he arrived with his accompanist, Clyde Rasmussen, a friend of the family who was an accomplished pianist. Clyde played a magnificent introduction and dad stood straight and tall, poised to sing. At the appropriate moment, he burst into song with ‘Happy Wedding Day to You,’ to the tune of ‘Happy Birthday.’ It broke up the entire party. That was the only time I ever heard Dad sing.”

Brother Maw had become the debate coach at the University of Utah in 1922. Then, in 1925, he went to Northwestern University for two years of graduate study. By the time he returned to Utah, as an assistant professor teaching speech and political science, the formerly timid, mediocre student had accumulated four degrees in his academic career: bachelor of arts, master of science and bachelor and doctor of laws. By 1932, he had been made a full professor and was also dean of men at the University of Utah.

He had also become involved in politics, partly out of desire to correct unhealthy and dangerous working conditions some Utahns faced. He had won election to the state senate, and began serving in 1929. During four of his ten years there, he was president of the senate.

When he was elected governor of Utah in November of 1940, his new office required many adjustments by his family. They were not accustomed to being in the public eye, or to living in a home like the Governor’s Mansion, where there were servants and new responsibilities.

On one occasion, Jeanne complained to her father that it was a social handicap to have a father who was governor. Evidently, Jeanne’s friends, intimidated by the two sets of iron doors and the maid who always answered the door, were hesitant to visit the Governor’s Mansion. To remedy this problem, Brother and Sister Maw had Jeanne invite her friends to the mansion, where the Maws personally greeted them and helped them to feel at ease. Later, Jeanne’s seminary graduation party was held there.

Brother Maw said the incident helped teach him how effective communication between parent and child can solve potential or developing problems before they are blown out of proportion.

During the years in the Governor’s Mansion, Brother Maw and his wife attempted to rear the children as they would have in any other environment. The children were not allowed special privileges, and were required to make their own beds each morning, help in the kitchen, and earn the money they spent. Though he was very busy, Brother Maw took special pains to spend time with his family, and the children knew whenever they came in late from a date that he would expect a goodnight kiss.

Throughout his tenure as governor, he communicated frequently with the chief executives of other states in dealing with the problems caused by World War II. He thus became involved in the National Governors Organization. In 1945, he was chosen as its president, and in 1947, the organization’s annual convention was held in Salt Lake City as part of Utah’s centennial celebration, commemorating the arrival of the pioneers in Salt Lake Valley. The meeting in Salt Lake City did much to improve Utah’s national image.

During the years he served as governor, Brother Maw was not able to hold a regular Church position. But he was careful to attend his meetings and follow the counsel of Church leaders in his personal life. He has always remembered a lesson taught by Peter Joseph Jensen, one of his former schoolteachers at LDS High School, that if a man decides to temporarily abandon his religious activities and devote all of his attention to something else, he will seldom resume his religious endeavors. And Herbert Maw made a commitment in his youth that he would never let himself become so involved in something that there would be no time for family or Church activities.

His capacity for work amazes family and friends. He spends six to seven hours on weekdays in his downtown Salt Lake City office. He is the oldest practicing attorney in Utah, and Brother Fox notes that much of his friend’s legal work is for people who cannot afford to hire counsel.

Warren Maw explains: “Many of the people father has done work for through the years have not been able to pay him. He has never sent out a statement or asked anyone to pay a bill, as he feels that if they can pay him, they will.”

Service in the Church is an important part of his life. He is currently a home teacher and also an instructor for the Sunday School’s teacher development basic course in his ward.

“The gospel gave me the vision of a good life and taught me to resist temptation and assume responsibility. It was a constant incentive for self-improvement,” Brother Maw says. It also taught him to love his fellowman, and to be cognizant of the needs of others. “Dad truly loves people and tries to think of ways to build them up,” Jeanne reflects.

One might think that at his age, Herbert Maw would be thinking of slowing down. Not so.

“I think the biggest mistake anyone can make in life is to retire. Every person should plan and get started on some project he or she can carry over at compulsory retirement age.”

Brother Maw’s project is writing; he spends two to three hours a day at it. In 1978, he published his autobiography, and for the last two and one-half years he has been writing a one-volume history of the lives of the original twelve Apostles.

In spite of his accomplishments, Brother Maw considers himself an average man. He attributes his success in life to his parents, the Church, and the fact that he has always set goals and fulfilled them.

He has tried not to let a day go by without exercising, studying, and participating in religious activities. He still walks three miles a day, a habit he developed in the days when he couldn’t afford a streetcar.

Elder Sterling W. Sill, an emeritus member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, is Brother Maw’s former bishop, as well as a friend and neighbor. He does not agree with Brother Maw’s opinion of himself as an average man.

“When I think of Herb Maw, I think of Luke 2:52, where it was said of the Savior, ‘And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.’ Herb is one of the most balanced men I know. He has striven for education and wisdom, he has great physical capabilities, the public offices he has held attest to his favor with men, and he has led a very religious life.”

Brother Maw’s son Warren and his wife Joan attribute Brother Maw’s success to his self-reliance, and to the commitment he made as a young man that he was going to be the one who controlled his life—that he would not be deterred by bad habits, adversity, or the elements of nature.

In his tenth decade of life, it appears he has made good on that commitment.

[photos] Photography by Michael M. McConkie

[photo] Brother Maw still walks three miles a day, a habit he developed in the days when he couldn’t afford a streetcar.

[photo] Governor Maw and his first lady, Florence, at the 1947 National Governors’ Organization convention in Salt Lake City.

[photo] The Maw family in the Governor’s Mansion. Left to right: Ralph, Sister Maw, Governor Maw, Jeanne, Herbert Warren, and LaRue.

Sandra Dawn Allen, a legal assistant, currently serves as editor of the Salt Lake City Eighth Ward newspaper.