President Henry B. Eyring greets members prior to a meetinghouse dedication. He has served in the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the Presiding Bishopric, and as a Seventy.
President Eyring’s family (from left)— his father, Henry; brothers, Ted and Harden; young Henry, or “Hal”; and mother, Mildred.
A few years after Henry Bennion Eyring became president of what is now Brigham Young University-Idaho (then Ricks College), he was offered a high-paying, prestige-filled job in Southern California.
“It sounds like a great opportunity,” his uncle Spencer W. Kimball, the twelfth President of the Church (1895-1985), told him as Henry described the offer and its benefits. “If we ever needed you, we would know where you were.”
Henry (known as “Hal” among family and friends) had expected President Kimball to ask him to stay on at Ricks, so he and his wife, Kathleen, decided to fast and pray about their decision. Within a week, the Spirit whispered that he would have the privilege of staying at Ricks College “a little longer.”
He called Jeffrey R. Holland, then Commissioner of the Church Educational System, and told him that he had turned down the job offer. That evening Hal received a phone call from President Kimball.
“I understand you’ve decided to stay,” said President Kimball.
“Yes,” he replied.
“Do you think you’ve made a sacrifice?” asked President Kimball.
“That’s right!” President Kimball assured him, and ended the conversation.
For those who know President Henry B. Eyring, his willingness to follow spiritual promptings comes as no surprise. He has learned for himself that faith and humility, coupled with obedience, qualify God’s children for blessings richer than worldly wealth.
President Eyring served as President of Ricks College, a position he faithfully accepted after already achieving tenure at Stanford University. Later he served as Commissioner of Church Education.
Preparing for the Future
Hal was born on May 31, 1933, in Princeton, New Jersey, to Henry Eyring and Mildred Bennion Eyring.
Growing up, Hal did not hold himself above others, but refused to participate in activities that would distract from his spirituality. He made time to play basketball in high school, but put priority on his studies.
Hal’s father who was a renowned chemist teaching at Princeton University, encouraged his sons to study physics and to prepare for a career in the sciences. But one day when Hal asked his father for help with a complex mathematical problem, it became apparent to Henry that Hal did not share his passion for computations.
Height helped Henry Erying as a high school basketball player. Growing up, he was careful to keep studies as his priority, but also made time for wholesome activities.
“My father was at a blackboard we kept in the basement,” President Eyring recalls. “Suddenly he stopped. ‘Hal,’ he said, ‘we were working at this same kind of problem a week ago. You don’t seem to understand it any better now than you did then. Haven’t you been working on it?’ ”
Hal admitted he had not. “You don’t understand,” his father went on. “When you walk down the street, when you’re in the shower, when you don’t have to be thinking about anything else, isn’t this what you think about?”
“When I told him no,” President Eyring concludes, “my father paused. It was really a very tender and poignant moment, because I knew how much he loved me and how much he wanted me to be a scientist. Then he said, ‘Hal, I think you’d better get out of physics. You ought to find something that you love so much that when you don’t have to think about anything, that’s what you think about.’ ”
President Eyring’s father, Henry, depicted in this portrait, was a renowned chemist and educator. He kept a blackboard in his basement for use in study and encouraged his sons to learn physics.
Serving the Lord
Hal nevertheless completed his physics degree at the University of Utah in 1955 before entering the U.S. Air Force. Two weeks after arriving at the Sandia Base near Albuquerque, New Mexico, he was called as a district missionary in the Western States Mission—a calling he magnified during his two years in the military.
His military obligation fulfilled, Hal enrolled in the Harvard Graduate School of Business, where he earned a master’s degree in 1959 and a doctorate degree in 1963, both in business administration. He married Kathleen Johnson in July 1962 and later that year, he became an assistant professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Hal found that his passion lay in teaching, lifting, and strengthening others.
Henry B. Eyring married Kathleen Johnson in July 1962 in the Logan Utah Temple. They have six children.
On his first day at Harvard the professor said, “Look at the person on your left and on your right. One of the three of you will not be here at the end.” The schedule of classes filled the five weekdays from early until late. Preparations for the next day’s classes lasted until midnight, often beyond. And then late on Friday a major paper was assigned, with no way to prepare until the assignment was given and with the paper due at nine o’clock on Saturday night.
President Eyring has spent a lifetime teaching, strengthening, and lifting others. He often uses examples from the scriptures and from his own experiences.
“I can still remember the hours of frantic study and writing on those Saturdays,” he said. “And as the nine o’clock deadline approached, crowds of students would stand around the slot in the wall of the library to cheer as the last desperate student would dash up to throw in his completed paper, just before the box inside the building was pulled away. Then the students would go back to their homes and to their rooms for a few hours of celebration before starting preparations for Monday classes. Most of them would study all day on Sunday and late into the night.”
But for Henry, there was no party on Saturday and no studying on Sunday. That year he was called to Church service that required a lot of travel on Sunday, visiting the tiny branches and the scattered Latter-day Saints in the area. “I found joy in going to those places, loving the Lord, and trusting that somehow He would keep His promise,” he said. “He always did. In the few minutes I could give to preparation on Monday morning before classes, ideas and understanding came to more than match what others gained from a Sunday of study.”
President Eyring learned that if you go before the Lord in prayer and ask what He would have you do, promising that you will put His kingdom first, He will answer your prayer.
Years later as Hal was enjoying tenure at Stanford and serving as a bishop, Kathleen asked him two questions: “Are you sure you are doing the right thing with your life? Couldn’t you be doing studies for Neal Maxwell?”
Kathleen asked Hal to pray about it, and Hal listened to his wife’s counsel. Less than a week later, Neal A. Maxwell—as Commissioner of the Church Educational System—called and invited Hal to a meeting in Salt Lake City. Hal flew out the next day. The first words out of Commissioner Maxwell’s mouth were “I’d like to ask you to be the president of Ricks College.”
President Eyring enjoys a moment with his wife, Kathleen, following a session of general conference.
Hal told Commissioner Maxwell he would need to pray about it. The next morning he met with the First Presidency and upon his return to California, Hal continued to pray fervently. The answer came. “I heard a voice so faint that I hadn’t paid attention to it,” he recalled. “The voice said, ‘It’s my school.’ ” He called Commissioner Maxwell and said, “I’m coming.”
It was a considerable change to go from one of the nation’s premier universities located in a large metropolitan area to being the president of a small, private, two-year school in the rural farm town of Rexburg, Idaho. But it was a wonderful time for the Eyrings. It provided an opportunity for the family to grow closer to each other.
President Eyring didn’t know it at the time, but he left secular employment behind him when he accepted the position at Ricks College. His work and service brought him into increased contact with Church leaders, who recognized his spiritual gifts. The Lord, meanwhile, knew his willingness to serve.
On April 1, 1995, Henry B. Eyring was sustained to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Then, on January 27, 2008, President Thomas S. Monson called President Eyring to serve as First Counselor in the First Presidency after having served for four months as Second Counselor under President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910-2008). Since then he has sought an increased portion of the Spirit of the Lord as he has blessed Church members throughout the world.
Below, President Thomas S. Monson (center) with his counselors, Henry B. Eyring (left) and Dieter F. Uchtdorf (right), answer questions at a news conference.