Governor reflects on overcoming hardship
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Amid the pomp and pageantry of inauguration day, Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert took occasion to reflect on the lessons of overcoming personal and family hardship and the fruits of resourcefulness, innovation and industry.
An active Latter-day Saint, Gov. Herbert took the oath of office for his first full term Jan. 3 in the rotunda of Utah's domed Capitol. Ceremonies included a benediction given by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, a 19-cannon salute by the Utah National Guard on the steps of the Capitol, and a fly-over by military helicopters. Seated on the stand were the last four governors of the Beehive State, all of them Church members: Jon M. Huntsman Jr., now U.S. ambassador to China; Olene Walker, the state's first female governor; Michael O. Leavitt, who left the governorship to serve as secretary of Health and Human Services in the cabinet of U.S. President George W. Bush; and Norman H. Bangerter, who went on to preside over the South Africa Johannesburg Mission.
"There are but a few recorded instances in Utah history where there have been five governors gathered as they are here today," he said. "I'm humbled, inspired and thankful for their presence."
He spoke of the current economic crisis with its attendant loss of jobs, homes and retirement savings and scarcity of employment.
"I'm familiar with the challenges that are brought about by economic hardship," he said. "In the 1980s, I was a young real estate agent during some very tough times.... For a time there was very little income in the Herbert household."
His wife, Jeanette, gathered their five children, who ranged in age from 9 to 1, and told them that in lieu of shopping, the children would make homemade gifts for each other. "Their gifts ranged from treasure boxes they constructed and painted to children's handcrafted Christmas tree ornaments and T-shirts decorated with iron-on crayon drawings. We'd never seen the kids so excited on Christmas morning. . . . This demonstration of selfless giving resulted in what is fondly remembered as one of our best Christmases ever. We learned a great deal in our family during those tough times as so many other families have learned while facing their own unique challenges. We learned to appreciate what we have, and we learned that happiness comes from serving each other. We learned how to be innovative. We learned how to be industrious. And we learned how to make do with what we have."
Following a signing ceremony in the Capitol's Gold Room and a photo session with his sizable family that includes six children and 13 grandchildren, Gov. Herbert took time for a conversation with the Church News and spoke further of those lean times.
"When we talked about putting it in [the speech], I could hardly get through it; it was too tender," he said. "I'm blessed with a good wife who understands lean times and was not making demands," though with a 16.5 percent interest rate on mortgages and double-digit inflation and unemployment, it was not a good time to be in real estate, particularly in Utah.
"Every month I kept hoping I could make it one more month and make the mortgage payments and pay the utility bills and put food on the table; it was that hand-to-mouth," he said. "We paid our tithing and prayed for better times and opportunities to happen. Just when I would think we can't make it, we'd find a sale or make a transaction of some kind that allowed us to make enough money to make the next month's minimal obligations."
The lean times intensified his appreciation for family and for traditional values such as hard work. His father, the late Duane Barlow Herbert, a homebuilder, had taught him the family motto: "Work will win when wishy-washy wishing won't."
"My dad always said that when times are tough, you just have to roll up your sleeves and work even harder," he said, "That's what allowed me to survive. We worked harder, made do with what we had. We lived within our means. We were frugal."
The Herberts pondered what to do. One constant in Utah County, where their hometown of Orem is located, is a high birthrate. Working with a federal Small Business Administration loan, the Herberts constructed an office building on family-owned land where Gary could have his real estate office in one end and Jeanette could run a childcare business in the other. Through the years, the older family members worked at the day care, painting walls, replacing worn cabinets, repairing toys, mowing lawns and doing cleanup. "It was kind of like being on a family farm, with the family members having their chores to do," he reflected. The family operated the business for 23 years.
And for Gov. Herbert, who characterizes himself as a "free-enterprise kind of guy," the hard times were a motivation to enter politics. A failed bid for Orem City Council led to his being encouraged by supporters to run for county commissioner. That put him on a trajectory for later service in the state Legislature, in the lieutenant governor's post and ultimately as governor, a political career he characterizes as "an improbable journey."
A seventh-generation Latter-day Saint, Gov. Herbert draws inspiration from his pioneer ancestry and that of Sister Herbert, whose ancestor Mary Soar Taylor suffered with the Martin Handcart Company and who lost her toes to frostbite during the ordeal of the crossing. On the wall of the Herbert home in Orem is a painting depicting the handcart pioneers along with her charge to her posterity to remember what their progenitors had suffered and that it was all worth it for the gospel's sake.
"She is emblematic of so many of our pioneer ancestors," Gov. Herbert said.
In his benediction at the inauguration, President Uchtdorf prayed for all the elected officials of the state that they would be blessed "with wisdom and integrity, with courage and with foresight, and with kindness and charity to all. ... We need thy strength and help to overcome greed, pride, intolerance. Bless us with a soft word, kind heart and mutual respect. May our righteous hopes become reality."