BYU AND OTHER ADVENTURES
by Charlotte England
We have come to the last of a large group of essays and reflections at have been sent to me over the past few years. If you have been one of those who shared with me, you may have wondered if you would ever see your essay on this website! Now they are all here to share with anyone who cares to get to know Gene outside the scholarly, academic world, although there is a little of that here, too.
This final grouping of essays doesn’t signal that I don’t still want to receive additional remembrances! Perhaps we’ll do another section to include those, or maybe we will expand this one. Many stories that are here came about simply from conversations about Gene, and my then suggesting to those telling them to take the extra step to write it down. Please feel free to also join us in remembering Gene!
Mark Richards paints a detailed picture of what it was like in the 139th young married ward with Gene serving as its bishop. We see clearly from Mark’s description how Gene tried in creative ways to challenge and bring out the best in each member of the ward through service, acceptance, and love. Later, as a counselor to Gene, Mark picked up on some of Gene’s unusual ways of leading and teaching that have shaped his life ever since. It’s a personal and tender story.
Susan Olsen was also part of this fledgling 139th married student ward. Susan and her husband, Dale, were going through a very challenging and difficult time following the birth of their twin boys a few months earlier, so it didn’t see likely that Gene, on his first visit to their apartment, would ask Susan to take on the job as Relief Society president. But he did. The purpose for this call unfolds in her heart-warming story.
Michael Sullivan learns that Gene is not reluctant to invite people to join him for tough jobs when he asks Michael to be the National Director of “Food for Poland.” Michael’s story is personal and touching as he catches a vision of the movement, specifically as he listens to the Bishop of the ArkChurch in Nowa Huta, Poland, tell of the hardships of his people and how the aid they received from the Food For Poland effort was far beyond what it physically gave to them.
Tom Griffith shares how he found his own voice through Gene’s writings even before he ever met him in person. He even takes his children to one of Gene’s classes as they consider whether or not to come to BYU—a visit that ends up in Gene’s office and wonderful teaching moments. This experience leads to many others, ultimately resulting in Tom’s own return to BYU to take a job with the Presidents Council.
Ben Cook remembers Gene through the power of the written word and is moved by Gene’s openness to considering several possible ways to resolve issues that tend to divide people when they don’t allow for dialogue.
Matt Connelly writes about the man who “got it”. He discovers what that means when he is assigned to edit one of Gene’s essays for BYU Studies. After reading Matt’s paper it was evident to me that Matt is another one who “got it”.
Scott Higginson teaches us about “periodicity,” a word that he couldn’t find in the dictionary, possibly a word that Gene coined to make a point to the class. The word has stuck in Scott’s mind and he has used it in his profession as well. Scott remembers the challenge in Gene’s Gospel Doctrine class when he wanted the members to be enlightened not by what they heard but by what they thought.
Richard Mouw was president of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, when he discovered Gene’s writing via the Huntington Library. After reading Dialogues with Myself he asks Gene if he would be interested to participate in an ecumenical group that Richard was coordinating, one that was to discuss “traditions of leadership” (a group that would eventually contribute to a book). Gene was committed enough to the group that he took leave from the Theatre Study Abroad program in London for a couple of days to attend the meeting in Pasadena. He had great respect for Richard and considered him a good friend. Gene truly enjoyed working with such a congenial group of people.
Steve Walker’s story takes us to the tennis court with Gene. He describes Gene’s game as “honest, intense, passionate and delightful” with a tenacity that didn’t allow for even the worst kind of weather to cut a game short. Those who love the game of tennis, whether as an observer or player, will enjoy being on the court with Steve and Gene—in any kind of weather.
Doug Thayer, a fine novelist, was Gene’s colleague in the English department and a fishing partner on many mountain streams. They shared a lot on the long drives to their favorite streams, with Doug at the wheel most of the time (for safety reasons!). Gene’s approach to fishing had some of the same qualities that Steve Walker refers to on the tennis court. Doug’s skilled writing helps us visualize the two of them wading or crossing streams, jumping rocks, sneaking up on fish in the hope of outsmarting them. After several hours of trying to win the game with the fish, they came home exhausted but happy.
Peter Makuck, a fine poet and editor, shares about his being welcomed by Gene and others while coming to BYU as a visiting writer, and how that experience blossomed into a wonderful friendship. Gene and Peter also found much in common as they worked together to collect and publish the writings of Leslie Norris, and he shares a fun story about doing a quick costume change with Gene during the filming of a television show about Leslie’s life and works.
Bonner Ritchie was studying at Cal Berkeley when he was first introduced to Gene through the newly founded journal Dialogue. Their friendship continued throughout their teaching years at BYU where they shared their passion for discussion on any idea or topic, always gleaning new perspectives from each other.
Bruce Young was invited by Gene to read and comment on many his papers, which Bruce was happy to do. Gene appreciated getting perspectives from colleagues, and he always took seriously what they had to say. The note from Bruce to Gene included here was sent in the mid-1980s, a time that I think of as a “golden“ period at BYU in which there were many open discussions and a free exchange of creative thoughts and ideas. Many of those moments took place in the hallways where faculty often times left their office doors open for a passing hello or short visit.
Richard Cracroft’s note to Gene upon receiving a copy of Gene’s book, Dialogues With Myself, speaks of their friendship.
“Bishop England and the Priorities of Life”
“Learning How to Be Christian”
“Vision and Inspiration”
“A Man Who ‘Got It'”
“To Think for Ourselves”
“Defying the Stereotypes”
“Seeing Gene, Many Times”
“Reminding Me of My Duty”
“To Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness”