Kathleen Johnson

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This is an excerpt from I Will Lead You Along: The Life of Henry B. Eyring by, Robert I. Eaton and Henry J. Eyring.

Entering the lot, Hal sighted an auburn-haired young woman in a red and white seersucker dress. He had never seen her before and knew nothing about her. But he was immediately impressed by the goodness she radiated. The thought came, “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 next day the Boston District presidency attended sacrament meeting at the Church’s historic Longfellow Park chapel in Cambridge, near Harvard Yard. Seated on the stand next to President Cox, Hal saw the young woman again, sitting with a friend in the congregation. He leaned over to President Cox and said, “That’s the girl I would give anything to marry.”

The girl, Kathleen Johnson, was from Palo Alto, California, as far from Boston as one can get in the continental United States. She was a twenty-year-old student from the University of California at Berkeley who hadn’t intended to be in Massachusetts that summer. Early in the spring, one of her sorority sisters had described a plan to attend summer school at Harvard. “That sounds like fun,” Kathy replied good-naturedly. Several weeks later this friend reported that she had enrolled and bought her plane ticket. “Won’t we have fun?” she asked. Caught off guard, Kathy casually replied that she’d never had any intention of going. Her friend was equally surprised and vehement in her response: “I’m counting on you to be my roommate. You have to go!”

Whatever valid excuses Kathy could have made, lack of financial means wasn’t one of them. The year before, her parents had paid for a semester of French language study at the Sorbonne, home to the University of Paris; the year before that she had studied at the University of Vienna. Though Kathy wasn’t eager to go to Boston, she didn’t have uneasy feelings about it. In the spirit of friendship, and with her parents’ blessing, she went along. A good student at Cal, she faced no difficulty in getting into the Harvard summer program, which was run precisely for well-to-do students such as Kathy from other schools.

Pulling rank with the ward clerk after seeing her in sacrament meeting, Hal got Kathy’s phone number. He called for a first date several days later. Knowing neither his name nor his face, she nonchalantly hedged: “If you’re in church on Sunday, we’ll talk then.” Hal made sure that he was there, asking President Cox to excuse him from the usual visit to a distant branch for the sake of this greater personal cause.

The next Sunday at Longfellow Park, Hal was thrilled by Kathy’s reply to his question about her interests: “I like to play tennis,” she said. The words were music to Hal’s ears. With his doctoral qualifying examination behind him and the business school all but deserted for the summer, he had more time on his hands than he had enjoyed for years. He’d been playing tennis several times a week with a former collegiate tennis player; his game was at an all-time high. It would be the perfect first date.

The initial set of tennis, played several days later on Harvard’s clay courts, went just as Hal had planned: he won six games to three. As they switched sides for the next set, he airily complimented Kathy’s play, in a manner intended to be charming. She stared straight ahead and said nothing. While he prepared to serve from his baseline, she crouched low behind hers, gently but firmly hitting the clay court with her wooden racquet.

Hal wouldn’t recall the final score of that second set, but in later years he freely admitted, “She cleaned me out.” In the discussion of their first date, Kathy hadn’t mentioned that she had captained the tennis team at her private girls’ high school. As they took the court, she may have underrated her balding, bespectacled date from Utah. In any case, one set was all Prince Charming would win from this stoic, determined young woman.

(Robert I. Eaton and Henry J. Eyring, I Will Lead You Along: The Life of Henry B. Eyring [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2013], 89–91).

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