I Will Lead You Along: The Life of Henry B. Eyring (Hardcover)(edit)
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Henry Bennion Eyring was born on May 31, 1933, in Princeton, New Jersey, bearing the first name of his father, who was fast building a reputation as a brilliant scientist, and the family name of his mother, who didn't care for the name "Henry" and insisted that he be called Hal.
In 1970, Hal received an impression to make a daily record of his activities. Years of journals form the backbone of this personal biography, a candid look at his walk through life with his beloved companion, Kathy. "The journal shows how a good-but-imperfect man works each day to win divine approval," write the authors, and this window into his past provides unforgettable insights about the man the Lord has shaped him to become.
Readers will love these richly designed pages, filled with photographs, sketches from the pen of President Eyring himself, and scores of entries straight from his journals woven into an engaging depiction of his life's journey.
President Henry B. Eyring's professional, academic, and personal experiences have all combined to make him uniquely qualified for his responsibilities as a member of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His life story vividly demonstrates the power of the Lord and the example set by one who strives to follow His commands.
- Size: 6½" x 9"
- Pages: 560
- Year Published: 2013
About the Authors
Robert I. Eaton began serving as president of the Washington Federal Way Mission in summer 2013. Prior to that, he was a professor of religious education at Brigham Young University-Idaho. He is a graduate of BYU and of Stanford Law School. He and his wife, Diane, are the parents of four children.
Henry J. Eyring graduated from Brigham Young University, earning a bachelor’s degree in geology and graduate degrees in business administration and law. He is the advancement vice president of BYU-Idaho and has served as director of the BYU MBA program. He also served as president of the Japan Tokyo North Mission. He and his wife, Kelly, are the parents of five children.
Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother
Henry Bennion Eyring was born on May 31, 1933, in Princeton, New Jersey. Exactly five months earlier, his father, Henry, a thirty-two-year-old chemist at Princeton University, had won a national “best-paper” award that would mark the beginning of his rise to world renown. The $1,000 prize that came with the award amounted to nearly two years’ rent for their two-bedroom apartment, which comprised just the first floor of a small house. But Dr. Eyring and his wife, Mildred Bennion Eyring, gave no thought to using this bounty to move into a home of their own. It was the low point of the Great Depression, and they were glad simply to have employment and two bedrooms, one for themselves and another for newborn Henry Bennion and his older brother, Ted.
The new baby’s name was rich in heritage, the combination of a father’s first name and a mother’s family name. Yet from the start it was doomed to get little use. The boy’s mother didn’t like the name Henry. “I’ve never thought it was a pleasing-sounding word—nor beautiful to look at,” Mildred would confide in her autobiography thirty-five years later, recalling that she and her husband argued for several days over the matter. “But I finally had to compromise. I agreed the boy could be officially christened Henry—but he would be called Hal.” Mildred contended that a name should uniquely fit a child rather than be given in an attempt to honor a progenitor. “The family name is sufficient to tie him to the group,” she reasoned.
As this naming episode suggests, Mildred and her husband were equally matched in drive and intellect. Little Hal was born to two teachers, westerners who had happened to meet at the University of Wisconsin in 1927. Henry was teaching chemistry and performing post-doctoral research there, having completed his PhD the spring before at the University of California at Berkeley. Mildred was doing graduate studies, on leave from the women’s physical education department at the University of Utah, where she had been serving as chair.
My brothers and I thought Mother was smarter than Dad, and we knew that he was world famous.
In addition to being among the tiny fraction of Americans pursuing higher education beyond the bachelor’s level at the time, Henry and Mildred had other things in common. Both had been raised on small farms, on which their families struggled to subsist. Henry was a refugee from the Mexican Revolution, driven from a prosperous ranch in the Mormon colonies as an eleven-year-old boy and resettled on a hardscrabble farm in the southeastern Arizona desert. The eldest son in a polygamous family of sixteen children, he was working nights as a janitor and sending money home to his father when he and Mildred met in Wisconsin; his financial contributions, made throughout eight years as a university student and well into his career as a professor, kept the family farming operation out of foreclosure.
Mildred’s family, the Bennions, worked much more hospitable ground in the central Salt Lake Valley. Still, the Bennion operation was small and, like the Eyring farm, debt-laden. Mildred won her father Marcus’s gratitude by working alongside her two brothers as though she were one of the boys; like her husband-to-be, she had a particular gift for handling horses and cattle. She also sang and played the piano for her father during his final year of life, when he was bedridden with diabetes. After Marcus’s death, when Mildred was just seventeen, she supported her mother much as Henry did his parents, working first as a public school teacher and then at the University of Utah while her younger brother Lett shouldered responsibility for the farming operation.
The rigors of farm life taught both Henry and Mildred to prize education not only for the joy of learning but also for the more stable life it afforded. Even as Henry’s professional success brought financial good fortune their parents could only dream of, the couple would remain rooted in their shared traditions of hard work, frugality, and taking nothing for granted.
Similarities of heritage and experience notwithstanding, Mildred’s memories of their first meeting focused on their personality differences. The first time they met, Mildred and Henry squared off over a game that involved throwing rubber rings onto numbered pegs on a board. Henry, surprised by Mildred’s athletic skill, failed to conceal his zeal for beating her. She, by contrast, couldn’t have cared less about winning. When the party ended, Henry and a colleague offered to walk Mildred and a girlfriend of hers home. As they walked, Henry jockeyed to get Mildred by herself so he could inquire into her background. He particularly probed for details of her family, education, and church activity. He was pleased to learn of her well-known relatives, including Samuel O. and Adam S. Bennion, both leaders in the Church (and the latter a Berkeley graduate). She could see his obvious disappointment when she admitted to having never heard of any Eyrings.
In addition to noting Henry’s competitive drive, Mildred immediately recognized his gregariousness. In this they came from opposite poles. While Henry could make a friend of a stranger in minutes, Mildred was naturally reserved, inclined to share intimate feelings only among a few close girlfriends. He had grown up as the favored eldest son and ringleader of a giant family of academic overachievers. She had loved the relative isolation and solitude of her wooded girlhood home, with its mailbox a quarter-mile from the house and her elementary school another mile-and-a-half walk beyond that. Mildred’s fondest memories were of strolling alone through her family’s carefully cultivated fruit trees and flowers. Where Henry could enthusiastically recall the name and vital statistics of a passing acquaintance or the details of a mathematical equation encountered years before, her fondest recollections were reserved for the fragrance of a lilac, the taste of a succulent peach, and the personality of a favorite horse.
She could have been anything she wanted, but instead she chose to be our mother.
Though Mildred differed in temperament from Henry, people mattered as much to her as they did to her husband. That can be seen in her recollection of the first day of school and her “very pretty young teacher, Lorilla Horne.” More than sixty years later, she would recall: “Miss Horne was dressed in a flowered print, pink flowers on white, and wore a wide pink sash. I know now that it was her first day of teaching too, and she was probably more frightened than I was.”
Henry and Mildred differed perhaps most markedly in their ambitions and ambitiousness. Henry had always believed—and acted upon—his parents’ assurances that he could achieve anything. There had never been a prize to which he aspired that he had not won (though the Nobel Prize, for which he was nominated more than once, ultimately eluded him). Mildred, by contrast, shunned the spotlight and was prone to underrate herself. For her, teaching was a source of financial income and the little personal satisfaction she allowed herself to feel, but never a profession. Ironically, educational leaders readily recognized the capabilities that Mildred doubted in herself—she resisted promotions and declined offers of employment at both Utah Agricultural College (now Utah State University) and Brigham Young University before taking temporary leave to study at Wisconsin.
Part of the difference between Henry’s outsized ambitions and Mildred’s more modest, family-centered ones may have been a function of parenting. Their fathers were similar in many respects. Both were soft-spoken, shy men who preferred the company of horses to people. Though both liked reading and enjoyed learning, each attended Brigham Young Academy for less than a year before returning to his respective family ranch. They also avoided the public eye. Henry’s father, Edward Christian Eyring, served faithfully on a high council, but once told his son that he hoped that being a bishop, with its public speaking requirements, wasn’t a condition of exaltation.
While Edward Christian Eyring preferred to keep a low public profile, Marcus Bennion, Mildred’s father, did so at almost all costs. His uncle and boyhood bishop, Samuel O. Bennion, once made the mistake of telling Marcus that he planned to call on some of the young men in the ward to speak in a meeting that was about to start. Teenaged Marcus immediately ducked out of the building and never went to church again. He encouraged his family in their attendance, and he was generous in his financial contributions. When the members of the ward determined to buy an organ, Marcus urged that it be a good one and gave double the amount asked. “But,” as Mildred later observed, “except for attending funerals and a very few ward ‘plays’ I think he never went inside the meetinghouse.”
A more significant difference between the two men than their church attendance was their attitude toward praise. Ed Eyring, though generally quiet, always had a word of encouragement for his eldest son, Henry. They had ridden the range and farmed together from the time Henry could walk, and as his son went away to college, won superlative academic marks, and sent money back home, Ed’s admiration and appreciation only grew. While Henry was in Wisconsin, his mother wrote, “Papa says there is only one Henry in this whole wide world. I know he loves you just a little more than anyone else in this whole wide world, and I know father and son were never more devoted on this earth.”
Marcus Bennion, by contrast, was sparing in his compliments. Mildred adored him, and he appreciated how she, as the last of four daughters born before two sons finally arrived, willingly joined him in milking cows and other farm chores. But life was hard on Marcus. He developed diabetes in his early thirties, at a time—the turn of the twentieth century—when there was no effective treatment. The condition was worsened by stress attendant to business failure. Marcus and a brother, Edwin, ventured into sheep raising not long before Edwin accepted a call to serve a mission in Holland. While Edwin was away, the price of wool dropped precipitously, forcing the liquidation of the business. Marcus mortgaged his farm to satisfy the outstanding debts and bore the interest payments for the remainder of his life, which ended when he was just forty-two.
In the secluded Bennion home, both Marcus and his wife, soft-spoken Lucy Smith Bennion, had enjoyed reading. They encouraged Mildred in her studies. “It was always taken for granted that the children would go on to school as long as possible,” Mildred would remember, “at least as long as they cared to, and they were encouraged to care.” But the encouragement to study and achieve was subtle, particularly as it came from Mildred’s mother, Lucy. Mildred described her mother’s modest ambitions and understated influence this way:
She was much more concerned (and often worried) about her family than she appeared to be. Her children and home were her primary interest and I appreciate now, much more than I did as a youngster, her feelings about us. . . . Mother was not ambitious for wealth or position. She was content with simple things while making the most of the possibilities. Honor and integrity were her guides. She said very little about such things but somehow managed to let her children know what they could and could not do with her approval. We knew she was right.
Among the Eyrings, meanwhile, education was not just a priority: it was a family cause. The chief proponent was Henry’s mother, Caroline Romney Eyring. Caroline taught school for a time at the Juarez Academy in Mexico, and throughout her life she systematically urged her eight children to academic achievement. They rewarded her efforts with six bachelor’s degrees, four master’s degrees, and three PhDs among them. Henry led the way, with his parents celebrating every achievement. What Mildred saw in their first encounter, a drive to excel in everything from education to throwing rubber rings over wooden pegs, was in Henry’s blood and upbringing. He was blessed to find a wife who would temper that competitive ambition—not only in him but in the three sons she would bear.
Courtship and Marriage
Henry was typically methodical about the process of courting Mildred. Learning of her love for the out-of-doors, he bought a canoe, and they spent the spring and early summer of 1928 paddling the waters and strolling the shores of Madison’s picturesque Lake Mendota. It was an unusual time for Henry. With no classes to be taught and no major research project under way, he could give Mildred his full attention. But the romantic interlude didn’t last. They were married by summer’s end, at which time Henry sold the canoe and went back to his research with his typical unwavering focus.
Because of prior professional commitments—he to the University of Wisconsin and she to the University of Utah—they began their first year of married life apart. In addition to feeling an obligation to her university, Mildred wanted to help her widowed mother at home, and she rationalized the separation as being only temporary.
Yet it almost became permanent that winter, when Mildred contracted spinal meningitis. Henry, told by her doctors that she would likely die, came immediately from Wisconsin. He attended lovingly to her during three weeks of hospitalization, feeding her and spending every hour in her room that the hospital staff would allow. She appreciated his sacrifice. Still, even as he served in what he considered the most selfless manner possible, she found it necessary to educate him. She had to explain, for instance, her preference for alternating among the items on the plate, rather than eating one thing at a time, which was his method—all of the vegetable, then all of the meat, then the potato, and so on. She also resented his request for her help in drafting her will. He considered it a matter of simple prudence.
To her doctors’ amazement, Mildred recovered. But the recovery process was slow and painful. Shortly after Mildred emerged from the hospital and Henry returned to Madison, they learned that he had won a National Research Foundation fellowship for a year’s study in Berlin, then the capital of the scientific world. Mildred’s reaction, recorded in her autobiography, reveals both her stoic support of her husband and her medical knowledge, the product of teaching women’s health classes for many years and also closely monitoring her own treatment in the hospital:
The doctors had decided that the pain in my back and legs when sitting or standing was due to adhesions that had formed in the spine around the sciatic nerves and that there was nothing to be done but wait for time to allow the scar tissue to soften and stretch. I had tried heat, massage and exercise with no beneficial results. We decided that I could pass the time on the bed in Berlin as well as anywhere and Henry could work as he wanted to do. The doctors predicted it would be a year before I was comfortable, and they were right.
In Germany, Henry made discoveries and established relationships that served as the foundation for a storied scientific career. With the crash of the stock market and the onset of the Great Depression, they were fortunate after the year in Berlin to receive an invitation to return to Berkeley on a one-year appointment. Their first son, Edward Marcus, or “Ted,” was born in California. The Eyrings ultimately settled on the other side of the country in Princeton, where Hal arrived two years later.
In addition to provoking debate between his parents about a name, newborn Hal Eyring presented parenting challenges that his older brother, Ted, had not. In Mildred’s words:
Hal was about as different in disposition from Ted as two babies could be. He was a restless, howling wiggler. Ted was still using the crib, so we put Hal in a basket. No matter what position he was placed in, he would kick himself to the end in two thrusts and yell there because his head hit it. . . . I had to fashion a sleeping bag of thin muslin to sort of tie him down so he would not kick the covers off. He never learned to lie quietly. His bed has always had to be made up each day “from scratch.” His wiggling was the chief bone of contention between him and Ted when they slept on a double-deck bed for about three years. It was a great relief to both of them when we finally were able to give them separate rooms—which was not until they were ten and eight years old.
For the first two months of Hal’s life, Mildred’s older sister Ivy, visiting from Utah, cared for him day and night. As in the case of Henry’s feeding her at the hospital, Mildred appreciated the help but disapproved of the methods. “It seemed to me that Ivy was really spoiling him terribly,” she later recalled, “and I was very pleasantly surprised when it took only about three days after she had gone for him to learn to go to sleep when he was put down without being rocked to sleep as she had done it.”
Mildred applied this discovery about baby discipline with her third and last child, Harden, who was born in Princeton when Hal was six. By that time, Mildred, five years her husband’s senior, was forty-three. Ivy couldn’t be there to help as she had with Hal, but Henry attempted to provide a similarly high level of coddling, again to Mildred’s disdain:
Harden was a bonus baby and always a joy. Henry was a bit daffy over our good fortune and did his best to spoil the baby. Henry would not let the baby cry himself to sleep at 6 p.m. and so would hold him from 6 to 10 p.m. while I slept. That lasted only until I felt strong and fit again, and then I became the disciplinarian for father and son, and, as with Hal, it took only a few days for the baby to learn what was expected of him.
Two Parenting Styles
Henry and Mildred’s personality differences came out strongly in their approaches to parenting. Though both held high expectations for their three sons, 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. When his second son was a college student majoring in physics, Henry 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.”
My father thought I was perfect.
Consistent with this motto, Henry took his sons’ academic and athletic successes as validation of the boys’ greatness, while largely overlooking their failures. When teenaged Ted and Hal used a home painting kit to improve the appearance of the family’s old ’37 Ford, Henry made no complaint about the swirls and streaks their mitts made in the blue paint they had chosen. He drove the car until it stopped running years later, unconcerned for its appearance and without any sign of chagrin for his sons’ failed beautification efforts.
Youngest son Harden appreciated his father’s generous reaction to another auto-related incident. As a thirteen-year-old, he and two friends took the family car (a new one) joyriding while his mother was out of the house and his father was traveling on scientific business. Returning home after a successful tour of the neighborhood, Harden drove the vehicle into the corner of the family’s living room, damaging both the car and the house’s brick exterior. Mildred responded by garnishing his paper-route wages until the cost of the damage, $100, had been covered. She also made Harden call his father.
Henry’s response pleasantly surprised his shaken son. Rather than lecturing, Henry told Harden a story of one of his own childhood mistakes. At thirteen, Henry and a friend had taken a giant buffalo gun from the fireplace mantel in the Eyring family home in Arizona. Waving it in jest at a neighborhood boy walking by the house, Henry had inadvertently pulled the trigger. He had narrowly missed killing the terrified fellow. Young Harden recognized that the telling of this story signaled his father’s empathy and recognition that the necessary lesson had already been learned.
Hal felt that empathy many times, including once after a sacrament meeting he had struggled to enjoy. In 1988, at a fireside at Brigham Young University, he told the story of that tedious meeting and his father’s understanding response:
Years ago I was sitting in a sacrament meeting with my father. He seemed to be enjoying what I thought was a terrible talk. I watched my father, and to my amazement, his face was beaming as the speaker droned on. I kept stealing looks back at him, and sure enough, through the whole thing he had this beatific smile.
Our home was near enough to the ward that we walked home. I remember walking with my father on the shoulder of the road that wasn’t paved. I kicked a stone ahead of me as I plotted what I would do next. I finally got up enough courage to ask him what he thought of the meeting. He said it was wonderful.
Now I really had a problem. My father had a wonderful sense of humor, but you didn’t want to push it too far. I was puzzled. I was trying to summon up enough courage to ask him how I could have such a different opinion of that meeting and that speaker.
Like all good fathers, he must have read my mind, because he started to laugh. He said: “Hal, let me tell you something. Since I was a very young man, I have taught myself to do something in a church meeting. When the speaker begins, I listen carefully and ask myself what it is he is trying to say. Then once I think I know what he is trying to accomplish, I give myself a sermon on that subject.” He let that sink in for a moment as we walked along. Then, with that special self-deprecating chuckle of his, he said, “Hal, since then I have never been to a bad meeting.”
“Getting Her Approval Was a Rare Thing”
Mildred’s philosophy of nurturing was dramatically different from her husband’s, almost the polar opposite. She summarized it in a talk given to the women of the Church in 1961. Speaking as a member of the Relief Society general board, she said:
There is an old Chinese proverb which reads, “He who tells me of my faults is my teacher; he who tells me of my virtues does me harm.” Perhaps that is drastic, but it is true. We must recognize our faults if we are to correct them, and praise can be harmful. Today I shall not praise our virtues, but rather I shall ask that we all appraise ourselves and perhaps recognize some of our weaknesses. I am speaking of myself as I speak to you.
Mildred was, in fact, as hard on herself as she was on anyone else, including her sons. Reflecting on her own life at a time when all three boys had completed doctoral degrees and were soon to be called as bishops, she wrote, “My only occupations have been teaching and housekeeping, and I’m not sure I’ve been really successful in either one. It is hard to measure success in these fields.”
Mildred’s stoicism could be seen especially in the final years of life, as her health failed. Cancer and fibrosis required one surgery after another. Though suffering horribly, she wrote about her ordeal in truly clinical terms:
The operation I was waiting for when I last wrote was a dilly—lasted eight hours. There seems to be no record of a similar one anywhere, so I can claim to be unique in one thing. Dr. Russell Nelson has had a ten-minute movie in color made of the procedure—cut from the films taken during the surgery. . . . It is really very interesting to see one’s heart and lungs working and the surgeons’ hands working to get the fibrosis out. . . . Now I’m taking different drugs in addition to old ones. So far we have failed to find the magic formula. It is an interesting mystery story to study (but not to be the chief character in).
Mildred was a powerful Latter-day Saint. A powerful Latter-day Saint is a thinking Latter-day Saint, one who reasons well, one who synthesizes data well.
—Elder Russell M. Nelson
Throughout their lives, Henry and the boys got similarly clinical feedback from Mildred. She referred to her husband’s award-winning work at Princeton as “very satisfactory.” Belle Spafford, the general Relief Society president who called Mildred to what became an eighteen-year term on her board, remembered the difficulty of complimenting Mildred on Henry’s success:
At one time when I called to the attention of the Board, as I did from time to time, a special recognition he had been given, she dropped her eyes in modesty. Then I said to her, “How many honorary doctorates and national and international citations has he received?” She answered simply, “Quite a few.” I persisted, “You must be very proud of him.” In a soft-toned voice, almost as if speaking to herself, she replied with genuine sincerity: “Of course, I am.”
One of the greatest compliments Hal ever received from his mother involved no words. It was on the day of his graduation with an MBA degree from the Harvard Business School in 1959. Mildred attended the graduation ceremony in Boston and had her arm in his as he was handed his diploma on the lawn of the school’s stately quad. The dean, Stanley Poole, remarked, “Congratulations, Mr. Eyring. It is always a pleasure to award a degree with distinction.” Mildred said nothing, but she squeezed her son’s elbow.
Hal and his brothers recognized their mother’s general approval of them, and they understood her reason for not showing it much. Like her mother, Lucy Smith Bennion, Mildred found her guides in honor and integrity, and she worried that Henry’s unreserved praise might be bad for the boys, tempting them to pride.
She had very high standards for herself, and she communicated that in the way she treated you. She was not cruel, but you knew that getting her approval was a rare thing.
A Frank Teacher
Throughout her life, Mildred taught her loved ones and associates according to her own maxim, “He who tells me of my faults is my teacher.” Belle Spafford was one of many associates who appreciated Mildred’s unwavering candor. “In all the years that I have been associated with her,” Belle would say at Mildred’s funeral, “I have never seen one shred of pretense.” She went on:
Personally, I have liked her straightforwardness. I have liked her viewpoints and the original thinking which she brought to matters coming before the board. I have appreciated the wisdom of her judgments. Often, in presenting matters of particular importance to the board, I would look at Mildred, in her place in the circle, to ascertain her reaction. I have been greatly strengthened when her expression indicated agreement or support. Thus, I valued her opinion. She was a smart woman.
From time to time she would write me a personal letter, in which she would analyze a program or procedure that was under consideration and offer suggestions. These, invariably, revealed insight and independent thinking, and they were stimulating and valued. The last time I called at her home she said, “I’m going to write you another letter.”
“Fine,” I said, “what is it to be about?”
“Just an idea that I want to try out on you,” she replied.
President Spafford never received the promised letter. Mildred died in the summer of 1969 before it could be written. In her final days she was occupied with another missive, one for Elder Mark E. Petersen of the Church’s Quorum of the Twelve. The subject was sex education. Mildred wrote to tell Elder Petersen she agreed with the Church’s position that “sex education should be carried on in the home by parents.” “However,” she argued, “I see a very real problem in this situation. How can parents teach their children facts which they do not know how to teach?” She urged the creation of a kind of textbook, with questions and problems to engage the reader, to be used under the direction of parents in the home. “Much of my concern,” she concluded, “has been aroused by my conversations with my three bishop sons, all of whom are troubled by the problems in their wards which point up the need for more help in this field.”
Mildred’s Last Lessons
Hal was with his mother in those final days, when she was still more concerned about the needs of the Church than about her own imminent passing. Sensing that the end was near, he had come from California, where he was a professor at Stanford University and bishop of the Stanford single student ward. She had just completed a major project, the editing and publication of the journal of her paternal grandfather, John Bennion. Mother and son spent two days together in her bedroom, talking privately as they had done when Hal was a student at the nearby University of Utah. After dates he would come to that room and, while his father slumbered, chat with his mother into the early morning hours.
During this visit, Hal had the responsibility of administering medication through a tube placed in his mother’s stomach. She was, as he recorded in his journal, “fairly patient” with his clumsiness:
I say fairly because Mother never could tolerate ineptitude, and at the start I was clearly inept. She had the effect on me that she always had of making me proud when I got better. In fact, at the end of my stay, I told her with some pride how much I felt I’d improved, and she congratulated me mildly. (June 16, 1969)
In addition to discussing the letter to Elder Petersen, they talked about the presiding authorities of the Church, among whom they had several relatives. Those included Henry’s brother-in-law Spencer W. Kimball and cousin Marion G. Romney, both of whom would serve in the Church’s First Presidency. There was also Mildred’s cousin Adam S. Bennion, a deceased Apostle. Mildred stated her opinion that the Brethren had for years been a little slow in adopting some of the ideas that she and other members of the general board of the Relief Society had offered up. She surprised Hal with her understanding and empathy, suggesting that, successful and great as these men were, they were sincerely humble about their abilities and prone to worry about not being up to the tasks that the Lord had given them. She expressed confidence that the Lord was running the Church, notwithstanding the human side of the prophets through whom He worked. She also expressed implicit approval of her sons, whose success seemed to be a source of confidence for her as she prepared to enter the next life, as Hal recorded in his journal:
Although she never said so, it was clear from the way she talked that she had great satisfaction in the fact that all of her sons were active bishops. We talked some about how it was that she had been so successful. In my case, she indicated by patting on the side of the bed she was lying on how important she thought the talks that we had had at two in the morning or one in the morning had been. She said one of the reasons was that we could always talk, and said, “I always knew you’d come in to see me when you came home.” She had a note of warmth in her voice that indicated that those had been special times to her, and had given her great confidence. (June 16, 1969)
In typical fashion, Mildred took charge as their two-day visit came to a close. Though they both sensed that it would be their final opportunity to talk in this life, she prevailed upon him to take an earlier flight home so as to be well-rested for a professional presentation he would make the next day. Hal held her hand and knelt beside the bed with the intent to pray, but he felt his throat swelling and feared that his voice might break. She matter-of-factly suggested that he not kiss her, as she had self-diagnosed an infection that she didn’t want him to catch. The moment for prayer passed.
As he was leaving, Hal paused in the doorway. “Mother,” he asked, smiling, “don’t you have any more criticism for me?”
“No, Hal,” she replied with a smile of her own. “You’re not that bad.”
“I’ll see you soon,” he said.
You may have been blessed by a mother as I was for whom the plan of salvation was reality. More than once I complained about some difficulty in my school days. Her answer, given in a matter-of-fact tone, was, “Hal, what else did you expect? Life is a test.” She knew that because I understood the plan, her statement of the obvious would give me hope, not discouragement.
—Talk, October 21, 1997
Mildred slipped into a coma two days later and was gone in a little over a week. The quiet dignity with which she endured her final trial left no question in Hal’s mind that for his mother “the plan of salvation was reality.” As he would explain in a BYU devotional address:
She knew and I knew that the greater the test the greater the compliment from a loving Heavenly Father. She died after a decade of suffering with cancer. At her funeral, President Kimball said something like this, “Some of you may wonder what great sins Mildred committed to explain her having to endure such suffering. It had nothing to do with sin. It was that her Heavenly Father wanted to polish her a little more.”
I remember as I sat there at the time wondering what trials might lie ahead for me if a woman that good could be blessed by that much hard polishing.
Throughout Hal’s life, the expectations of his parents would motivate him, each in their unique way. From the pulpit he would tend to speak more of his well-known father. He admired Henry’s childlike faith and willingness to testify of the truth in any setting, including scientific conferences where few people shared his faith. In his father Hal saw the effects of “a humility which is energizing, not innervating.” That would allow him to explain the apparent paradox of the divine injunctions to be both wise and humble:
You are to pursue educational excellence while avoiding pride, the great spiritual destroyer. Most people would question whether it is possible to pursue excellence in anything without feeling some measure of pride. . . . I will tell you that not only can you pursue educational excellence and humility at the same time to avoid spiritual danger but that the way to humility is also the doorway to educational excellence.
Hal admired and learned vital lessons from both of his parents. But if he leaned by temperament toward one or the other, it may have been Mildred. The first reminiscence Hal shared with the Church at large was not about his famous father, but about his mother. A year after her death, in 1970, he was asked to write an article describing her parental influence for The Instructor, the magazine of the Sunday School organization. He recounted his last discussion with her in an article titled, “Faith in Mother’s Discipline.” The article began, “The last time I talked with my mother I asked for her disapproval. I felt let down,” he said, “not to get her criticism.” He explained:
Why should anyone want to be corrected? Like most people I feel a hot flush come up my neck, right behind the ears, whenever someone tries to straighten me out, be it a priesthood leader or my son. And yet Mother’s discipline, dealt out in terms as firm as I’ve ever heard, seldom brought that flash of rebellion I still feel when someone else corrects me. Why?
In answering his own question, Hal cited two of his mother’s outstanding qualities. “First, she knew what she was talking about. I was just sure she knew what would make me unhappy. Second, I knew that Mother put my welfare ahead of her own.”
Mother wasn’t perfect, but she seemed perfect to me in one thing. You could believe in her discipline. That fact made you accept it—in fact, almost seek it. When she said you were wrong it had a special meaning. It was not just that you had broken her rules or disappointed her. You knew that you had done something that would hurt you unless you repented. Any discipline that works must rest squarely on that faith. Discipline without that faith creates rebellion, and then the need for more discipline, in a never-ending cycle.
Children do not expect perfection. But they must believe that discipline comes from real understanding and real unselfishness, at least most of the time. A child can count on that best when he knows his parents accept discipline themselves.
This is my Mother’s birthday today. I thought of her. In my mind she is tall and strong, yet kind. The thought of her makes me sit taller, reach a little higher. She always did that for me. A great woman, and my friend.
—Journal, May 23, 1972
By coincidence, Hal was up from California, visiting his father in Salt Lake City, when he wrote the Instructor article. He stayed in his boyhood room, down in the basement of the family home. He ended the article with these lines:
I have just looked into that room where Mother and I had our last talk. There are three pictures grouped on the wall, all of Jesus. Mother never talked much about the Savior. But I felt she knew Him. That made it easier to give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she did not always know what was best, and maybe she did not always put me ahead of herself. But I do not remember a time when I was willing to take a chance on it. I knew too well where she got both her understanding and her compassion.
I wish she had corrected me one more time.
Different from any biography I've ever seen!
by Emily - reviewed on October 23, 2013
I have always loved President Henry B. Eyring’s conference talks, so I expected to enjoy his biography. But I could never have envisioned how beautiful and unusual the book would be. I particularly love the journal entries and the sketches from the margins of his journals. I had no idea he was such an artist. And the photos are just priceless! The design pulled me in, but it was the story that kept me there. It is primarily the story of a family man, and the influence of his parents and later of his wife is clearly evident throughout. Because so much of it is delivered in his own words, via his journals and other writings, it feels very personal and firsthand. “The journal shows how a good-but-imperfect man works each day to win divine approval,” write the authors, and the picture that emerges thanks to the combined skills of Robert I. Eaton and President Eyring’s son Henry is just that: an authentic and spiritually affirming account. I will always treasure the things I learned from Hal Eyring’s brilliant work in business, education, and Church service. (And I KNOW it feels presumptuous to call him “Hal,” but that is the only way he is referred to throughout the biography. His mother didn’t care for the name “Henry” and insisted on “Hal” instead. Just one of the endearing facts in this book.) He brought to his call as an Apostle exactly the skills and experience and temperament that were needed in the information age—and his biography shows us how those skills were developed and how that temperament was forged in the furnace of his experiences. It’s a great story, delivered in a gorgeous package. A must-read!
Stunning in style and content! Absolute Must Read!
by Matthew - reviewed on October 25, 2013
This ebook is like an early Christmas present! What a beautiful and stunning ebook Deseret Book has produced – the layout and presentation is stunning, not something I typically expect from an ebook. Unlike many ebooks, you are not missing anything with this one, including President Eyring's sketches. The style and format actually match the substance of the written content. You have set a new standard of quality and presentation of ebooks with President Eyring’s biography. And the biography itself may well set a new standard in LDS biography, rivaling that of President Kimball's 1978 biography. This is easily in my top 5 of the best LDS biographies ever written!
Get to know Henry B. Eyring
by Stephanie - reviewed on November 27, 2013
I didn't know much about Henry B. Eyring, other than the obvious, that he is the First Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Watching him speak at General Conference this year I realize that, since he isn't one of my "favorite" speakers, I have, sadly, not paid much attention to his talks. I realized that I didn't know a thing about him. So, since I was pretty clueless I was excited to read this book about his life and after spending days in its pages I feel like I've gotten to know President Eyring a lot better! Here are some fun things that I learned about him: He was already balding when he got married. He is incredibly smart, I'm not joking when I say he is pretty much a rocket scientist. He can draw/sketch and watercolor paint really, really well. He is the nephew of the late Spencer W. Kimball. He went by the nickname "Hal" because his mother disliked the name Henry. He served 2 years in the Air Force. He was president of Ricks College (now BYU Idaho). He has kept a journal his whole life! The layout of this book is really interesting, not what I expected. Each chapter focuses on a different part of President Eyrings life, punctuated with his own Journal entries and and his sketches throughout! Since the 1970s he included these little sketches in his journal entries. He said, "My sketches are not lovely, but the work is interesting to my family." I think they are great! At the end of the year he takes his journal, photocopies it, and gives it to his family members. Isn't that a wonderful idea? There are also just tons of pictures in this book!
by Heather - reviewed on December 01, 2013
I love to learn about these men who we seem to think of as "larger than life", only to find that they are "real" people with real families and lives. It's inspiring to see the way that their lives are like our own and to allow stories from his own life to influence our own.
Beautifully-written take on a truly humble man.
by Heidi - reviewed on December 03, 2013
I really enjoyed this beautifully written glimpse into the life of President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in The First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Full of quotes from Hal's numerous journals and talks, the book gives the reader a look at the man he has become and some of the experiences and choices that made him that way. For such a long book (over 500 pages) the book is very readable and held my interest all the way through. I especially liked the design which included journal entries as well as side quotes, photographs, and drawings right from Elder Eyring's journals. I felt like a gained a deeper appreciation for the man.
I Cried...A Lot
by Dave - reviewed on November 13, 2013
President Eyring has a unique speaking style, and that style is reflected in this book. It reads just like Pres Eyring speaks. As such, a lot of tears are shed throughout, and Pres Eyring makes sure the reader knows those tearful moments. Does it always make sense why there are tears? No. Most of the time, I wasn't able to make that connection. But, it was still a very powerful read. President Eyring has been the most influential general authority to me in my life. So much so, that I adopted his speaking style many years ago. Yes, I make sure that I cry every time I speak, teach, or bear my testimony. The quivering lips, the crackled voice, the tears, the whole works. It's about selling the message. And President Eyring definitely sells with me.
An absolutely beautiful and enlightening read
by Heather - reviewed on November 29, 2013
This is the first biography I have ever read, and thanks to the amazing read it was, likely not the last. This 560 page inspirational memoir outlines the life of Henry B. Eyring, who is called simply " Hal" throughout the book. It's full of sketches form his personal journal, family photographs, quotes from those who know him and typewritten excerpts in Hal's own words. The multi- media approach to outlining Elder Eyring's life was not the only draw however. It's the stories of a man who is ever striving to seek the answers to his prayers, to serve, and to be an amazing father to his children. Hal and his father were both brilliant scientists who left a huge mark on the world around them. I learned so many interesting things about Hal that I didn't know before. As a boy Hal was befriended and protected by a member of the African American Hawks gang, teenager Tommy Homes, who protected Hal and became a guardian against bullying. Elder Eyring served his mission after receiving his Bachelor's degree as a District missionary in the Air Force. Spencer W. Kimball was Hal's uncle and often gave him inspirational advice. He owned a red VW beetle from his father as an MBA graduation present. He drove it at Stanford, but it was sold without Hal's knowledge, by his father-in-law while he was out of town. The replacement car was a late-model Ford Thunderbird with rear "suicide doors" hinged at the back rather than the front. As I carried I Will Lead You Along with me, it drew a lot of attention wherever I went. People often asked to look through it. I highly recommend it because of the example Hal's life set and the deep lessons that are embedded about seeking the Lord's guidance in all things and going where he want you to go. An absolutely beautiful and enlightening read.
A big book filled with inspiration
by Camille - reviewed on November 25, 2013
When this book arrived I thought, That is a huge book! I wasn't sure I'd be able to fit in the time to read it all, but the story of President Eyring's life was so engrossing to me I just kept reading (even when I should have been sleeping or doing dishes). I especially loved every word written about his sweetheart, Kathy. It was beautiful and inspiring to have insight into their marriage and parenting. I cried when I read the last chapter. President Henry B. Eyring is amazing, a spiritual giant, but you can feel as you read his book that he is truly caring, humble, and loving.
Inspirational and amazing book!
by Cathy - reviewed on November 27, 2013
This is a beautiful book. I love the way that it is formatted. There are pictures, and drawings by Henry B Eyring himself, as well as bits and pieces from his private journals with his personal thoughts. I loved the way it reads almost like a story, a lot of times for me biographies are really dry, boring and hard to get through, not so with this one. The way it is written is engaging and draws you right into the life of President Henry B Eyring and his family. This is an inspirational and amazing book that you won't want to miss!
AN AMAZING BOOK!
by Shauna - reviewed on December 06, 2013
I am always impressed with the magnitude of greatness that the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have. How blessed we are to not only be lead and directed by these wonderful men... But what an example of faith and fortitude they show for us. It was fascinating to read about Henry B. Eyring... From the way his parents raised him to his schooling and military service to being married and raising his own children to being a prominent leader in science and church. Filled with pages of photographs, journal entries, quotes and stories! I knew he kept a journal, but did you know he adds drawings to the margins..how FUN! AN AMAZING BOOK ABOUT AN AMAZING, COMPASSIONATE MAN!
Best Biography I've Read
by Marie - reviewed on December 03, 2013
I knew as soon as I opened to the introduction of I Will Lead You Along: The Life of Henry B. Eyring I knew I was going to like it. It opens with one of my favorite scriptures, Doctrine & Covenants 78:17-18, from which the title of this book is taken. I was impressed by his introspective nature, and reading about how he so often pondered on what he perceived as his weaknesses and what he could do to improve himself, I find myself pondering on similar topics and looking at how might improve myself and be more fit and more worthy to serve. For me, this was one of those books that I toted around with me and read in every spare moment. There more I read, the more I wanted to read and found myself more and more engrossed as I got deeper into his story. I have always felt the best measure of a book is if it leaves you changed for the better, and it makes you think and reflect on your life in some way. This book definitely did all that for me. Of all the biographies I have read of LDS leaders (and there have been quite a few), I think this one is my favorite. There is just something about Hal Eyring and his life that just drew me in and made me want to spend more time with him. I am sure now I will be listening even more closely to his next conference talks.
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