AN UNLIKELY FRIENDSHIP
By Alan Brown
The following is excerpted from an interview conducted by Charlotte England on 27 April 2009
My relationship with Gene was short from the standpoint of time but long in terms of influence and endurance. We established what was, in many ways, an unlikely friendship—unlikely because I never thought of myself as being particularly smart, which Gene was, nor particularly scholarly, dedicated, and committed, all of which Gene was. But Gene did catch me at a stage when I was on the come, and I think maybe his recognizing that I had shifted a gear created a camaraderie and interpersonal relationship that was very, very significant in terms of activities that we jointly shared. These activities were mostly an interest in the church’s athletic program. Our ward, the Edgehill Ward, had committed and talented leaders who tried to help boys of all ages, and both Gene and I loved participating together in these extra-curricular activities. But these then extended not only into church activity together, but also into long and frequent discussions.
Basketball was incredibly important for individuals like me who loved the game, who played the game reasonably well, but didn’t feel I had even a chance to make the high school team. The church at the time also ran good programs in other sports, as well as put on “road shows” and other activities. Gene and I were very, very deeply involved, and this involvement provided not only the kind of friendship that comes from being in the same class or being the same age (Gene and I were actually not the same age; I was a bit older than Gene), but by virtue of being actively involved in fun and games. Basketball was lots of fun. We were encouraged and challenged to, first of all, be good sports, and second of all, to live up to our potential. In this spirit, the coaches and leadership we had were incredibly inspiring. Gene and I established a camaraderie, a friendship, a deep friendship.
As I say, Gene and I were different in many ways. I was older in terms of age, but he was much older than me in both an emotional and a spiritual sense, and certainly academically. At the time of our emerging friendship, my approach to serious things had been to be not serious. I wasn’t serious about school. I wasn’t serious about the Church. And I wasn’t serious about relationships. The incongruity of the two of us was that he was serious about all of those things. I was 21 years old when we were in the All-Church Tournament in 1953. During that period, I had dramatically shifted a gear because of having met a very inspirational girl while I driving a sight-seeing bus in the Utah parks. This shift opened me up to discussing seriously with Gene the meaning of religion and the value of the gospel, the wonder and the beauty of life. Gene was a wonderful, sensitive, uplifting, magnificent association. He almost embarrassed me because of not only how much he knew (I didn’t know the difference between the Koran and the Book of Mormon), but because up to that point I had absolutely no interest in understanding the Church and its doctrines. I had simply attended meetings to be eligible to play basketball. It’s embarrassing to admit, but that was the truth. But, as I say, I was turning the corner in terms of maturity, and Gene was instrumental in accelerating that change. Even though we were both young men and we were colleagues, he was an uplift and an encouragement to me. I always felt he was, for lack of a better word, rather “valiant.” He was not judgmental. As firm and as sure as he was of the church, he was not into criticizing or denigrating or intimidating. There is a fine line between being devoted and being judgmental and detrimental to another with whom you have differences.
As I recall, Gene’s parents—and I didn’t know them very well—seemed to be quite serious. I can still picture his mother and father, and in my mind’s eye they were quite serious. I think Gene’s dad was quite successful in the business community. But Gene impressed me as someone with no interest whatsoever in the business world. His interest was academic. It was learning. It was sharing. It was teaching. I’ve often thought of Gene as being similar to a hero of mine, C. S. Lewis, who spent his days studying and tutoring, and then going to a pub and discussing and challenging others in a less formal setting, and then going home. That’s the kind of life that I felt like Gene represented. He was enduring. He was into discussing. He was into sharing. He was into writing. I’ve never really shared that analogy with anyone until this time, Charlotte. I think Gene and C.S. Lewis are very, very, very similar.
I also confess to having thought of Gene as maybe never having been a little boy. It seemed like he popped into the world like a few pop into the world, grown up without having to grow. He just seemed to be serious and mature and dependable, responsible. Always. Maybe his parents could question that a little bit, but I doubt it.
Even after the time of our association in sports and church activities ended, I followed Gene’s progress. It was assured. I knew he had the intellectual capacity and determination to accomplish noteworthy things in the world of academics. It also felt assured that he would accomplish many things in the Church because he felt the intellect and faith were a marriage. He didn’t ever distinguish between church doctrine and academics. He was very curious to study church doctrine, church history, and very, very curious to study the world in which we live, to study literature in all forms. It never felt as though he saw these as being in a competition. He saw them as partners in a beautiful, magnificent marriage, and I believe he conveyed that in his teaching. He was a mentor to so many young people.
I followed a different path that Gene’s, pursuing the world of business rather than academia. But Gene was always there, always with me in my heart. I was always proud to reference my friendship with him. We didn’t see each other too often, but I followed his contributions and writings. So my part in remembering and appreciating and respecting him is simply to share my experience with him as one of the most accomplished, honest, and true individuals I have ever known. I consider Gene England as a very important stone in my foundation. It is amazing to say this because our in-person association was so short lived, but I know of none of my friendships that I am prouder of or have gained more from than my friendship with Gene.