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Faith is new general authority's gift

'I realized a long time ago I longed to be a teacher,' said outgoing BYU president

Ever since 1980, when Jeffrey R. Holland, then 39, was inaugurated BYU's ninth president, he and his wife, Patricia, have stood together in the first devotional assembly of each academic year to welcome new and returning students.

Their addresses have been inspiring and motivating, as well as entertaining. After nearly nine years, the final curtain has come down on what students have dubbed "The Pat and Jeff Show" at BYU. Sustained April 1 to the First Quorum of the Seventy, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, 48, will be leaving his position as BYU's president to assume full-time responsibilities as a General Authority.Jeff and Pat Holland have felt very much at home at BYU, not only because they and their three children have been living in a home right on campus, but also because they have spent so much time there. They were once BYU students themselves. He received bachelor's and master's degrees from BYU before he received another master's degree and a Ph.D. from Yale University. Also, he was appointed, at age 33, BYU's dean of religious education, a position he held until he was named Church Commissioner of Education in 1976.

While Elder Holland will be leaving his post as president of the Church's most highly acclaimed institution of higher learning, which is also the largest private university in the nation, he feels he is not leaving behind his role as a teacher.

"I realized a long time ago that I longed to be a teacher," Elder Holland told the Church News in an interview in BYU's presidential home. "However, before I went to England on my mission (1960-1962), I wanted to be a medical doctor.

"Elder Marion D. Hanks had come to England as a very young General Authority to be our mission president. He used the Book of Mormon from daylight to dark with the missionaries. It became our text and missionary guide.

"I look back on that as a very pivotal time in my life. My decision to teach stemmed from my mission experience, which reinforced my love of the Book of Mormon, the Bible and other scriptures. I knew that somewhere, somehow, some day, I wanted to teach the scriptures, to teach the gospel.

"But for years I've had only these administrative assignments, and I thought, `Will I ever get to teach, as I set out to 25 years ago?' One of the joys in anticipating this assignment to the First Quorum of the SeventyT, as I understand it, is for the rest of my life I can find ways to teach the gospel and teach the scriptures."

Elder Holland will not need to take refresher courses on how to teach. During his tenure as BYU president, he has tried to teach an introductory course to the Book of Mormon or an English class each year, and his entire career has been in the field of education or related interests.

He was associated with the Church Educational System more than 15 years, serving as instructor or director of institutes at Hayward, Calif.; Seattle, Wash.; New Haven, Conn., and Salt Lake City.

About the only time he has been away from academic or religious education posts was when he was managing director of the Melchizedek Priesthood MIA program and chairman of its Young Adult Committee, 1972-74.

While he was certain he wanted to teach, as a young returned missionary he was concerned about his future wife's reaction to his decision not to become a doctor. In 1963, he married Patricia Terry, whom he met at high school in his native St. George, Utah. "From the very start, Pat has been supportive," he declared. "She said, If you want to teach, then that's what I want you to do.' I told her we wouldn't have much money, and she said,Who cares?' "

Reflecting on her efforts to always stand at his side, he admiringly recounted that, before they married, she studied music in New York. "Pat had incredible pressure from her professors and teachers to stay and become a professional musician. That was a time of great decision. On one end, she had the drama and glamor of Broadway and Carnegie Hall; on the other was little Jeff Holland in St. George, Utah. Fortunately, I won."

By the time they completed studies at BYU, and with two small children in tow, they went to New Haven, Conn., where he eventually received a second master's degree and a doctoral degree from Yale in American Studies. While in New Haven, he was a counselor in a stake that covered all of Connecticut, half of Massachusetts, half of Rhode Island, and parts of New York and Vermont.

"I am convinced my experience while I was at Yale was far more for my Church education than my academic training," said Elder Holland. "The Ph.D. was wonderful, and I could not have had a greater experience in graduate school than I had, but I feel the reason I went to Yale was primarily to have that great Church experience."

When he received his Ph.D., he considered three career options: accept a temporary position at Yale as a graduate teacher; accept a faculty position at another institution; or teach in the Church's Seminaries and Institutes program.

The decision, as with each major decision in the Holland family, was made through prayer. Although it seemed the most unlikely - and certainly it was the least financially profitable decision - he opted to teach at the Institute of Religion adjacent to the University of Utah Campus in Salt Lake City. Although he had earned the academic title of "Yale Ph.D.," he became, he said, "the lowest instructor on the totem pole at the institute, which was just fine with me."

After only two months at the institute, however, he was called to serve as the managing director of the Melchizedek Priesthood MIA, a position that allowed him to meet almost daily with General Authorities, including members of the First Presidency. He concedes there were many times he was awed to just be in their presence. "Again, I was receiving an unexpected education in Church government," he said.

In the weeks since he was called to the First Quorum of the Seventy, Elder Holland has been experiencing some of the busiest days of his life. With spring semester about to end and commencement close at hand, April traditionally is one of the busiest times for BYU's president. Added details of preparing to leave his office there have kept his appointment calendar on split-second scheduling.

But during this time, while walking at a fast clip across campus or driving to and from Salt Lake City for various meetings with the Brethren, he finds himself reviewing certain scriptures from the storehouse of his memory. As a professor of ancient scripture, he has numerous "favorite" scriptures, but the one he long ago established as the theme for his life is: "Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you. . . . Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will." (D&C 88:63-68.)

Elder Holland, described by his wife as a man of great faith, has no doubt the Lord's promises are true. Sister Holland said, "The scriptures tell us that to every man is given a gift. If you were to ask what Jeff's gift is, I would have to say it is faith. Once he prays and makes a decision, he acts on it and never looks back."

He was raised in an environment of faith. "I have the wonderful blessing of coming from a heritage of having a convert father and a mother from a long-time pioneer family," he said.

Elder Holland has relied upon faith numerous times, including when he made the decision to give up a college basketball scholarship and position as team captain so he could serve a mission.

Another time he relied on faith was when his wife was called to serve in the Young Women General Presidency, a position that required her to commute 50 miles between Provo and Salt Lake City almost daily.

"The position of a university president involves so much public relations, and my wife had a major contribution to make in that area," he said. "From the day we came here, we wanted the students to see us together. That's why we started speaking together in the devotional assemblies. In a time and in a world where there are still a lot of concerns about women and their contributions, I wanted to make it absolutely clear that in this Church and at this university there is a visible and important role for a woman, but one which also fits with her role as a wife and mother.

"While Pat was serving in the Young Women General Presidency, we just did the best we could. It was hard for me to attend university functions and public events without her by my side, but we wouldn't trade the opportunity she had to serve for anything."

In addition to his administrative responsibilities as BYU president, he has attended with his wife as many campus activities as possible. Students, seeing him as a genuinely "nice guy" who has a great sense of humor, are pleased when he and Sister Holland not only attend the big-draw functions such as football and basketball games, but also minor sports events. "When they aren't at a game," said one BYU athlete, "someone asks, `Where do you think Pat and Jeff are?' "

Except for occasional games of tennis, the 6-ft. Elder Holland does not get the athletic opportunities that characterized his younger years when he was voted his high school's outstanding athlete, and was a key player on football and basketball teams that won state championships. He shrugs off his achievement of having lettered in four sports, explaining: "The school was so small everybody had to play every sport."

Because he customarily has worked 12- to 15-hour days, some people accuse him of being a workaholic, but he claims he isn't. "A workaholic can't stop working. I can stop; I just don't like to stop," he said.

"I do not have any hobbies, except perhaps reading. My recreation, my rejuvenation, my refreshment in life come from my family. I can come home tired at the end of a long day and after just a few minutes with my family, I'm a new person again. I am a family man, born and bred, tried and true. If I have a spare night, a free Saturday afternoon, Pat and I don't go out. We don't socialize. We don't join dinner groups. We spend that time with our children." The Hollands' children are Matthew, 22; Mary Alice, 20, and David, 15.

"If I could get a car full of people for a social experience, I would choose my wife and three children, and we would drive - it wouldn't matter where we would go. We would laugh and talk, and no one would care when we got to our destination. All that would matter is our laughing and talking and being there together."


(ADDITIONAL INFORMATION)

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland

  • Born: Dec. 3, 1940, in St. George, Utah to Frank D. and Alice Bentley Holland.
  • Family: Married Patricia Terry of Enterprise, Utah; two sons, one daughter.
  • Education: Bachelor of arts in English, and master of arts in religious education, BYU; master and doctor of philosophy degrees in American Studies, Yale University.
  • Past Church callings: regional representative, chairman of Churchwide Young Adult Committee; director of general Melchizedek Priesthood MIA, bishop, counselor in two stake presidencies, high councilor; missionary in British Mission, 1960-62.