Like most weekday mornings, before heading to Madison Jr. High School, Henry J. Eyring would get his early exercise by shooting hoops in the John W. Hart Gym with his college president father, Henry B. Eyring.
“Can you dunk the ball?” asked Henry J. Eyring, challenging his father.
His father, who played a bit of basketball in college and was the No. 3 ranked high jumper in his university at the time, accepted his son’s challenge.
The beams underneath the John W. Hart Gym acted almost like a wooden trampoline allowing a basketball player like his father an extra 2 or 3 inches to dunk the ball.
However, his father’s hands were too small for the ball, thus causing the basketball to slip from his fingers just before he was about to dunk.
“I’ll never forget cheering for him, and sort of standing on my toes at the moment he jumped,” Henry J. Eyring said.
He felt that standing on the tips of his toes would give his father the added push to dunk the ball into the basket.
Henry J. Eyring had this memory in mind as he realized he would follow in his father’s footsteps on Apr. 10 by becoming the 17th President of BYU-Idaho during the press conference following the presidential announcement.
His father, the 10th president of former Ricks College, and now the first counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gave his son a call to congratulate him on his new job.
“It was a sweet conversation, as you could imagine,” Henry J. Eyring said during the press conference. “I felt, in that call, that he was kind of standing on his toes for me. I’ll need that if I’m going to make the kind of dunk shots President Gilbert has made.”
Henry J. Eyring spent six years of his youth, from 1971 to 1977, observing his father as the college president.
“He and I have both experienced the same thing, and that is to be the son of a very famous father,” Henry J. Eyring said.
His father was the son of Dr. Henry Eyring, a well-known scientist of his time.
“He was the most famous scientist, frankly, the Church has ever had,” Henry J. Eyring said of his grandfather. “He was well-known for that, and being a defender of faith. So, my father grew up in the shadow of his father, then I had the same experience with him.”
Henry J. Eyring said he never resented having to take on the name and association of Eyring.
“I mean in those days the college was smaller, but the town was much, much smaller,” Henry J. Eyring said. “So, to be this son of the college president meant that was your identity.”
Henry J. Eyring said he and his siblings would walk down the hill from their house to spend the morning on campus with their father. He said they would either play sports like basketball or racquetball in the Hart or spend time in his office coloring sketches of scriptural stories he drew for them.
He said he and his siblings would then come back to campus for lunch, often enveloping their father’s office with the smell of hamburgers and hot dogs cooked on a Presto grill. Henry J. Eyring said he would return to his father’s office once again after school to do homework. Then, they would walk home together.
“He treated my brothers and my sisters every bit as generously, and was close to them in other ways,” Henry J. Eyring said. “So, just the world’s best dad.”
President Henry B. Eyring described in his October 2012 general conference talk, “Help Them Aim High,” some of his efforts to help train his children towards lifelong service towards God.
“With my own children, I prayed for revelation to know how I could help each of them individually prepare for specific opportunities to serve God,” President Henry B. Eyring said. “And then I tried to help them visualize, hope and work for this future.”
President Henry B. Eyring said in his general conference address that he carved a board for each son with a quotation from a scripture and an image representing each boy’s special gift.
“When my oldest son (Henry J. Eyring) became a deacon and an Eagle Scout, a picture of an eagle came to my mind as I thought of him and his future,” President Henry B. Eyring said. “We were living in Idaho near the base of the South Teton mountain, where we hiked together and watched the eagles soar. At the top of his height board, I carved an eagle and the inscription “On Eagles’ Wings.”
Henry J. Eyring said he was about 11 years old when he and his dad saw the eagle at the South Teton.
“We stayed there, just the two of us,” Henry J. Eyring said. “He had a little, single burner backpacker’s gas stove. He made bean with bacon soup right underneath the summit of the South Teton.”