Get to Know President Henry B. Eyring, Humble Servant

Contributed By Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News editor

  • 8 February 2018

President Henry B. Eyring addresses Women’s Conference attendees in the BYU Marriott Center on May 3, 2013. Photo by Jonathan Hardy, BYU Photo.

Article Highlights

  • Even as a child, President Eyring understood the influence the Church would have on his life.
  • The Lord guided him in academic, vocational, and family goals so he could serve in the Church for more than 30 years.

“This is a great time in the history of the Church, and yes, the best is still to come, because of our faith in the Lord.” —President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency

As a young boy, Henry B. Eyring and his parents drove 45 miles from their home in Princeton, New Jersey, to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where the Church had a beautiful red-brick chapel with a baptismal font and a mural portraying Lehi’s dream of the tree of life.

Young Henry was baptized in a short service, and the family returned to Princeton. Riding in the back seat of his parents’ ’37 Ford, he stood leaning forward on the front seats the entire way.

Even at age 8, he understood the weight of the baptismal covenant he had just made—and the influence it would have on the rest of his life.

Decades later—and after varied and heavy responsibilities in the Church—President Henry B. Eyring begins service as Second Counselor in the First Presidency to President Russell M. Nelson.

Faithful youth

Henry Bennion Eyring was born May 31, 1933, in Princeton to Henry Eyring, a world-renowned theoretical chemist, and Mildred Bennion Eyring, a doctoral candidate and acting chairman of a department at the University of Utah when she met and married her husband.

Named after both his parents and dubbed “Hal” by his family, the baby was a “restless, howling wiggler,” as an infant (The Life of Henry B. Eyring, 10).

Hal Eyring grew up learning the rich Church and U.S. history of the area where he lived. He would entertain his family’s out-of-town guests with tales of the Revolutionary War.

His home was a “rich atmosphere,” not monetarily, but in “warmth, spirit, unity, and knowledge,” he said in a 1995 Church News interview.

“Mom and Dad were marvelous teachers. They didn’t preach much, but they lived the gospel. They knew the gospel, and they made it seem like we had everything we could ever ask for,’’ he recalled in 1995. “Our house was filled with sets of books, not individual books. We had the history of nations and Harvard classics. We saw Dad reading them and Mother reading and so we picked them up.’’

Hal attended Church meetings with a small branch that met in the dining room of his family home.

Henry B. Eyring as a young boy with his family. Left to right are his father, Henry Eyring; his brothers Ted (back) and Harden (front); young Henry; and his mother, Mildred Bennion Eyring.

“The branch was essentially my family, a few older converts, and any other members who happened to be attending the university,” said President Eyring in a 1985 Church News article.

Yet, there in that small branch, his testimony took root.

“It doesn’t take a building; I felt the Holy Ghost in that dining room as much as if in the finest chapel,” he said years later in a Church News interview. “It was the people. If they have faith, the Holy Ghost comes.”

When President Eyring was about 14, his family moved to Salt Lake City when his father accepted a position on the University of Utah faculty. He graduated from East High School in Salt Lake City and studied physics at the University of Utah.

“Dad had a blackboard in the basement. He was working some problems with me, and he said, ‘Wait a minute. We were working a problem just like this a week ago. You don’t seem to understand it much better. Isn’t this what you think about all the time?’”

When his son answered “no,” Henry Eyring said: “Find something, Hal, to do that you think about all the time, that you enjoy so much that when you don’t have to think about it, that’s what you think about.”

President Eyring noted in 1995, “That was superb advice.”

Professional career and family life

He completed his degree in physics and served two years in the Air Force, during which time he was stationed at Sandia Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and then attended Harvard Business School, where—following his father’s advice—he received an MBA. In 1963, he received a doctor of business administration degree from Harvard.

While at Harvard he met Kathleen Johnson, a student at the University of California, Berkeley, who was raised in Palo Alto, California. Kathleen had already spent time studying at Sorbonne University in the heart of Paris and at the University of Vienna.

She had enrolled in a Harvard summer program, and Hal “was immediately impressed by the goodness she radiated.”

The thought came to him, “That’s the best person I’ve ever seen. If I could be with her, I could be every good thing I ever wanted to be” (The Life of Henry B. Eyring, 89).

Hal and Kathy married on July 27, 1962, in the Logan Utah Temple. The Eyrings have four sons and two daughters.

Dr. Henry B. Eyring and his wife, Kathleen, and family before his inauguration as president of Ricks College. Their sons are Matthew (front), Henry, and Stuart. Photo courtesy of Deseret News Archives.

President Eyring found in his wife deep spiritual support. “Everything I’ve done in the Church, my marriage to Hal, any call I’ve accepted, I have done with deep conviction that Joseph Smith is a prophet, the Church is true, the Church is led by prophets, and the priesthood is restored and is upon the earth,” she told the Church News in 1995.

President Henry B. Eyring and his wife, Kathleen, participated in the rededication of the Laie Hawaii Temple on Sunday, November 21, 2010. Photo by Gerry Avant.

President Eyring was assistant professor and associate professor in the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University from 1962 until 1971.

Then one day, much to President Eyring’s surprise, his wife said, “Are you sure you are doing the right thing with your life?”

After a few weeks of deep reflection, President Eyring accepted an appointment as president of Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho, and served in that position until 1977, when he was named deputy commissioner of Church Education.

President Henry B. Eyring speaking at his inauguration as president of Ricks College. Photo courtesy of Brigham Young University–Idaho.

Dutiful Church service

The following years gave President Eyring experience in the depth and breadth of Church administration. In 1985 he was called as First Counselor in the Presiding Bishopric and as a General Authority Seventy in 1992. He was called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1995.

President Henry B. Eyring in 1995.

President Henry B. Eyring in 1995.

President Russell M. Nelson, left, is announced as the 17th President of the Church on Tuesday, January 16, 2018. At right, President Henry B. Eyring, Second Counselor in the First Presidency. Photo by Spenser Heaps, Deseret News.

President Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency, stands on the Gilbert Arizona Temple grounds March 1, 2017. Photo by Gerry Avant.

President Henry B. Eyring hugs his son John Eyring after a press conference between sessions of general conference on October 6, 2007, in Salt Lake City. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

President Henry B. Eyring at the end of the morning session of the 183rd Semiannual General Conference on Sunday, October 6, 2013, in Salt Lake City. Photo by Tom Smart, Deseret News.

“I am overwhelmed,” he told the media. “I never imagined I would be called to this sacred service.”

In 2007, President Eyring received a phone call from President Gordon B. Hinckley asking him to serve as Second Counselor in the First Presidency. He also served as First Counselor to President Thomas S. Monson.

“This is an opportunity to serve with people whom I love. People I sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators—true apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ,” said President Eyring in 2007.

This year an art exhibit at Brigham Young University–Idaho offered a glimpse into his life and ministry. The display included nearly 200 of his paintings and wood carvings. (See related story.)

President Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency, participates in the cornerstone ceremony of the Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple on September 18, 2016. Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver.

“My motivation in all of my varied creative work seems to have been a feeling of love,” President Eyring wrote in a welcome at the entrance to the exhibit. “I felt the love of a Creator who expects His children to become like Him—to create and to build. In addition, I have always had a feeling of love for my family, friends, and others who might gain some satisfaction and joy from my efforts.”

After being called as Second Counselor in the First Presidency to President Nelson, President Eyring again expressed his love for his family and the Church and optimism for the future.

“Prophets in the past have said that the best is yet to come, and it proved true,” he said. “That is so because it is the Lord who leads His Church. He watches over all of His Father’s children in the world, and He qualifies and calls His servants to lead, inviting God’s children to come home in heaven to Him. …

“This is a great time in the history of the Church, and yes, the best is still to come, because of our faith in the Lord.”

President Henry B. Eyring and his wife, Sister Kathleen Eyring, arrive for the second day of the dedication of the Oquirrh Mountain Utah Temple on August 22, 2009, in South Jordan, Utah. Photo by Gerry Avant, Deseret News.

A Visual Journey: Artwork of Henry B. Eyring exhibit displayed in the Jacob Spori Art Gallery on the Brigham Young University–Idaho campus in Rexburg, Idaho.

President Henry B. Eyring speaks to thousands during the First Presidency Christmas Devotional in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, December 5, 2010. Photo by Scott G Winterton, Deseret News.

President Henry B. Eyring thanks violinist Emily Nelson, who performed during the program, after the Sugarhouse Welfare Facility dedication services in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 8, 2011. Photo by Mike Terry, Deseret News.

President Henry B. Eyring waves to the crowd during the Days of ’47 parade Tuesday, July 24, 2012, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Photo by Tom Smart, Deseret News.