George Eugene England Jr. was born in Logan, Utah, on 22 July 1933 to Dora Rose Hartvigsen and George Eugene England Sr., both graduates of Utah State Agricultural College. His only sibling, Ann, was born after the family moved to Downey, Idaho. In Downey, his father taught LDS seminary and applied advanced farming techniques and business acumen to create a highly successful dry wheat farm. In kindergarten Eugene met Bert Wilson, his lifelong friend and a future colleague. (Read more about their friendship here.) When Eugene was a teenager, the family moved to Salt Lake City where he attended school and during the summers commuted to work on the family dry wheat farm. At East High his friends started calling him “Gene” and he met his future wife, Charlotte Hawkins, who had dated one of his close friends.
After graduating from East High, Eugene attended the University of Utah, where he majored in mathematics, pledged the fraternity Sigma Chi, and joined the ROTC. As a freshman he published his semi-autobiographical short story “Pinocchio” in Pen, the U’s literary magazine. The following year, when Charlotte began attending the U as an art major, Eugene asked her on their first date to the Freshman Hello Dance. Charlotte’s initial impressions of her future husband included his great dancing, stylish clothes, and delightful spontaneity. (Read more about their courtship here.) Charlotte became the sponsor for Eugene’s Edgehill Ward basketball team, which reached the Church-wide championship final but took home the good sportsmanship trophy. They dated a year before Eugene proposed to Charlotte on Temple Square, presenting her with a one-carat diamond ring he paid for with his earnings working nights as a janitor. Eugene was 20 and Charlotte 19 when they became engaged. Eugene was still awaiting a mission call while the Korean War restricted the number of missionaries the LDS Church could send out. However, LDS Apostle Spencer W. Kimball counseled the young couple to marry first and then expect Eugene to receive a mission call later. Their marriage was sealed in the Salt Lake Temple on 22 December 1953.
Several months later, Eugene and Charlotte were surprised as both received mission calls to serve as companions in the Samoan Mission. They left in June 1954 for a life-changing experience that challenged their provincial worldviews and strengthened their dependence on one another. Eugene relied on Charlotte’s faith and care during a life-threatening case of blood poisoning far from medical facilities. Charlotte returned home in June 1956 following the birth of their daughter Katherine in Hawaii; Eugene continuing to serve until December. (Read more about their mission here.)
With his priorities changed by his mission and influenced by mentors Lowell Bennion (LDS Institute director), Sterling McMurrin (philosophy professor), and Jack Adamson (English professor), Eugene changed his major from mathematics to English literature and minored in philosophy. While serving as the editor of Pen and finishing his degree, their second child, Josephine, was born in Salt Lake City.
Following graduation in 1957, Eugene was assigned by the Air Force to study meteorology for a year at M.I.T. During their year in Boston, Eugene and Charlotte formed lifelong friendships with other young couples, cared for a foster child in their home, and welcomed the birth of their third child and only son, Mark. Eugene completed his Air Force assignment by serving two years as a weather officer at George Air Force Base near Victorville, California, where their fourth child, Jennifer, was born. Only a few months old, their baby daughter underwent successful major surgery for a life-threatening diaphragmatic hernia.
Upon the completion of his Air Force service, the family moved back to Salt Lake City where Eugene worked with mentor Martin Erickson, the Dean of Student Life at the U., and served as a counselor in their ward bishopric. Awarded the prestigious Danforth Fellowship, Eugene started graduate studies in English literature at Stanford University, where he was mentored by the poet Ivor Winters and writer Wallace Stegner. He worked as a graduate assistant to Winters and was awarded the Wallace Stegner Creative Writing Fellowship. Eugene also taught at the nearby LDS Institute of Religion and served as a counselor in the Stanford student ward bishopric. Eugene and Charlotte’s fifth and sixth children, Rebecca and Jane, were born in Palo Alto.
Recognizing a need for an independent scholarly journal for Latter-day Saints, in 1965 Eugene, Wesley Johnson, and other graduate students started Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. The 1966 inaugural issue met positive reception from thousands of subscribers. Eugene was editor of Dialogue until 1970, when he accepted the position as Dean of Academic Affairs at St. Olaf Lutheran College in Northfield, Minnesota. Upon their arrival Eugene was called as branch president of the small LDS congregation spread out over several counties. While in Minnesota, he completed his doctoral dissertation on 19th century poet Frederick Tuckerman, a contemporary of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Emily Dickinson, and received his Ph.D. diploma from Stanford in 1974. After serving as an administrator, Eugene was drawn to teaching again. Demonstrating his continuing interest in the incorporation of values in teaching and literature, Eugene and a St. Olaf colleague edited A Teacher’s Faith and Values. However, over objections from students, faculty and administrators, the English department denied tenure to a former administrator, popular teacher, and devout Mormon, and he left St. Olaf in 1975.
The family moved to Utah, where Eugene applied for and was rejected for teaching positions at both the University of Utah and BYU. He found employment teaching Institute classes and working in Church Historian Leonard Arrington’s Office, where he researched the Brigham Young papers for the biography he wrote, Brother Brigham. During this period, he also published several articles in official LDS Church magazines the Ensign and New Era. In 1976 he co-founded the Association for Mormon Letters. While the family lived in a historic home in Kaysville, Eugene once again served as a counselor in a bishopric. During this time, Eugene and his father survived a serious car accident that left him with broken ribs and a punctured lung and his father with a fractured jaw. (More details about this incident are included in England’s essay, “Easter Weekend.”)
In 1977, Eugene was at last hired by BYU, where he taught for the next twenty-one years. In addition to teaching classes on American and Mormon literature, Shakespeare, and the Book of Mormon, he team-taught an intensive Freshman Honors Colloquium. He was recognized as Honors Professor of the Year and received the Karl G. Maeser Distinguished Teaching Award. (More about England’s teaching career at BYU is available here.) His experiences with six-month London Study Abroad programs in 1981 and 1985 inspired him to develop with Tim Slover a more affordable and intensive two-month London Theatre Study Abroad program, which he directed for ten years at BYU and Utah Valley State College. (Read more about England’s Study Abroad experiences here.)
As they had done since their mission among the open-hearted, generous Samoan people, Eugene and Charlotte continually opened their Provo home to friends, colleagues, and strangers, hosting numerous dinner discussions, writing and study groups, concerts, receptions and gatherings. During his tenure at BYU, all six of Eugene and Charlotte’s children received their bachelor’s or master’s degrees there, four served LDS missions, and five married in the LDS Temple. During this time, Eugene continued active service in his Latter-day Saint community, serving as a counselor in the Pleasant View 1st Ward, as bishop of the BYU 139th Ward, and as the Gospel Doctrine class instructor. He also treasured every hour he spent playing tennis and fly fishing with friends and family.
Dating back to his days at Stanford, when he spoke on campus against the Viet Nam War and wrote a letter in support of a conscientious objector, Eugene actively participated in the issues affecting his various communities—religious, academic, local, national, and international. He responded to the shocking experience of witnessing the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II’s life in 1981 by founding Food for Poland, which successfully raised and shipped millions of dollars in food and supplies to support Poland’s Solidarity nonviolent movement against Soviet Communist oppression. (Read more about Food for Poland here.) He spoke at a peaceful demonstration against nuclear testing in the Nevada desert. (Read this speech here.) A longtime supporter of historic preservation, he served on the Utah Heritage Foundation. He was involved in the restructuring of BYU’s student government into a service organization. And he was an advocate of academic freedom and diversity on a campus that became increasingly culturally conservative.
After two decades of mostly positive experiences with the Dallin H. Oaks, Jeffrey R. Holland, and Rex D. Lee administrations at BYU, Eugene found the Merrill J. Bateman administration closed to his concerns about the lack of academic freedom and diversity on campus. Without offering him a clear explanation and yet trusting him to leave without a public fight, Bateman forced Eugene’s retirement from BYU in 1998. The month he retired, the independent newspaper Student Review published a tribute issue celebrating Professor England’s twenty-one years at BYU.
That same year, Eugene was hired as Writer-in-Residence at Utah Valley State College (now Utah Valley University). Immediately upon arriving, Eugene once more dove into organizing mode, developing the London Theatre Study Abroad program and applying for and receiving a prestigious National Endowment for the Humanities grant to explore the feasibility of starting an academic Mormon Studies program at UVSC. (Read more about Eugene’s time at UVSC here and here.)
In 2000 Eugene began to show uncharacteristic signs of severe depression and fatigue. During emergency surgery following a 2001 collapse, Eugene was finally diagnosed with brain cancer, and he died several months later at his home on 17 August 2001. He was 68 years old. After a private burial the following day, a public memorial service was held in the Provo Tabernacle the following week. Preceded in death by his mother (1994) and father (1996), Eugene was survived by his wife, sister, six children, five children-in-law, and 15 grandchildren.
After his death, Sunstone, Dialogue, and Irreantum published special issues celebrating England’s life and legacy. (Tributes from these are all available on this website.) Robert Rees edited Proving Contraries: A Collection of Writings in Honor of Eugene England and BYU colleagues edited Eugene England: Essays on Values in Literature, a collection of Eugene’s scholarly writings. The Eugene England website was launched on his 77th birthday, 22 July 2010. The Eugene England Papers will be available for researchers at the University of Utah Marriott Library’s Special Collections in 2011.