Skips to main content

Former Governor Gary R. Herbert

Ensign College Devotional

Former Governor Gary R. Herbert
Gary Herbert.png
Following his years as an elected official at the state and local level, former governor Gary Herbert is returning to Utah Valley University where he was a successful instructor, to create the Gary R. Herbert Institute for Public Policy. The Institute will be Utah Valley’s source for public policy dialogue that engages students and the community.

Governor Herbert took the Oath of Office on August 11, 2009, becoming Utah’s 17th Governor. As governor, he led Utah’s recovery from the Great Recession to a position of national economic prominence. His unwavering focus on economic development resulted in Utah becoming a premier destination for business, with an unsurpassed quality of life.

As Governor, he served as the Chair of the Western Governors Association and the Chair of the National Governors Association (NGA). Prior to becoming the state’s chief executive, Governor Herbert served for four and a half years as Lieutenant Governor and as a Utah County Commissioner for over 14-years.

A successful realtor and businessman, the governor saw firsthand how decisions made by public officials can impact private enterprise. Governor Herbert was born and raised in Utah County. He has served as an Elder’s Quorum teacher, a Sunday School President, Young Men’s President, Elders Quorum President, Stake High Councilor, Bishopric counselor, as well as a Gospel Doctrine Instructor. Governor Herbert served a full-time mission in the Eastern Atlantic States mission. He and his wife, Jeanette, are the proud parents of six children and 17 grandchildren.




Lessons I’ve Learned from Being Governor

I want you to know I am honored to be here and President Kusch, thank you for the invitation to come and speak. It’s a humbling opportunity for me to come and meet with you all here today. I have a great appreciation for devotionals. I remember attending at Brigham Young University and I would faithfully go to devotional every week on Tuesdays and not only be uplifted and be taught about the gospel, but I also felt it had a little bit of a bearing on my testing that week. I would do a little bit better with a little help from heaven. Thanks for the beautiful music. I would ask for your faith and prayers that what I say today will be worthy of this important audience - who are literally going to be the leaders of tomorrow from around the world as we have on this wonderful campus. I want to say to you that the opinions that I express here today are my opinions alone and do not necessarily represent the views of the Administration or Faculty of Ensign College or of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“Let me begin if I could by bearing my testimony that Heavenly Father and the Savior should be and are in the details of your lives. They love you and care about you - and I testify that with Their help, They will make something far greater of you than you probably can imagine. I know that at key moments in my own life, opportunities have come to me - and with Their help, They led me to become more than I thought I could, particularly when I was your age..”

As you know this past January, I finished serving as the 17th Governor of Utah. It was a singular opportunity that I very much appreciated and enjoyed. Every day I served, I looked forward to going into the office. Of course, some days were better than others - but I always enjoyed working with my staff, which was wonderful, smart, dedicated and professional in their service to the people of Utah. I also enjoyed working with all of the other elected officials in our state as we tried to find solutions to the challenges of the day. Additionally, I had the privilege to work with Governors and other elected officials from outside of our state. All of those experiences I learned from and I will treasure those lessons throughout my life and those experiences I had.

Because of these experiences I have chosen as my topic today to talk about some of the things that I learned while serving as the Governor of this great State for nearly 12 years. This will certainly not be an exhaustive list, but I will mention just a few of the lessons learned that time will allow me to share with you.

The first topic that I would like to mention is that of Gratitude. With the Thanksgiving Holiday just a few days away, Thanksgiving thoughts will be and should be on our minds. I have always been grateful for the many blessings that I have received from my Heavenly Father, but now in my more mature years, I have a greater, growing and expanded appreciation for the many things Heavenly Father has blessed me with. Many that I too often took for granted. I believe all of us have much to be grateful for and that we all should have an “Attitude of Gratitude” for blessings that we recognize and additionally for the blessings that we may not recognize. As the Hymn says: “Count your many blessings name them one by one--and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.” Such things as Family, friends, good health, The Restoration of the Gospel are easily appreciated and understood, but sometimes disappointment, challenges, heartache and sacrifice are not recognized as blessings - but they are there to help us to grow and to be perfected.

Let me mention just a small example in my life. I decided in 1989 to run for the city council in my hometown in Orem. I worked hard and did what I thought was necessary to win the election - only to find out on election night that I had lost by approximately 36 votes. I had worked hard, and I thought that I had something to contribute. So naturally I was disappointed. But, I learned some things about politics, elections and campaigning along the way, even though I lost. Shortly after that another opportunity came for me to run for office for the Utah County Commission. And this time I ran and I won. In looking back and reviewing the results of those two campaigns, I sincerely believe that if I had won the original city council race, I would not have had the opportunity to become Governor. (Running for Governor as a Utah County Commissioner opened the door and gave me a better chance.) I am not saying whether that was good or bad, but I do acknowledge that one door closed and another door opened and I am grateful for the journey and what I learned even though it included some disappointment and some heartache.

I believe that we all have much to be thankful for and the list is very long. Let me briefly make mention of two that are on my mind as the former Governor. Now, keep in mind my perspective comes from the Governor of Utah and as a member of the church.

One, we should all be grateful for this great country - the United States of America - and for what it offers to us. It is referred to as the land of opportunity. I know many come to this college from outside of the United States of America and outside of Utah. The example we have here is one for us all to take back to our respective areas of influence. We have a phrase called, “living the American Dream,” and people from all over the world have been coming to this country since its beginning to be a part of that opportunity. And they are still coming! Not for any guarantee mind you, but for the opportunity to be the best that they can be in a free society. And although America has not always lived up to the promise found in our Declaration of Independence that there would be equality for all men and women, I do agree with Abraham Lincoln when he said, “America is the best hope of the earth (world).” And I have observed many examples of that in my own career.

For example, one day a delegation from China came to visit with me to talk about trade and the possibility of them hosting the winter Olympics because we had been so successful in hosting in 2002. In that conversation the Leader of the Delegation asked me how I had become the Governor of Utah. I told him my story of being a private businessman who wanted to change some policy issues that had hurt my business and other businesses so I decided to throw my hat into the ring and run for office. He was rather surprised about that and said, “In China you can be in the government sector or the private sector, but you cannot cross over.” I replied, “In America anyone who wants to serve can express their views on what should be done and what he or she would do if elected - and then run for office. And if you can convince a majority of the citizens to vote for you, you will be elected to that office.” We were across the table from each other, he sat back in his chair and pondered about what I had said and then leaning forward, as he understood the ramifications - he said, “You have a lot of freedom…you have a lot of freedom!” I have thought about that exchange often and have contemplated how we take the freedoms that we enjoy in America too often for granted.

My second issue to be grateful for is that we should be grateful for this great state of Utah which exemplifies by culture and policy, as well if not better than any state in the country, the principles and values that have made America great.

As Utahan’s we have been blessed with a heritage and a legacy given to us by our pioneer ancestors who suffered much to establish a safe haven to worship God according to the dictates of their own conscience.

It is worth noting that those pioneers, on their trek here to the Utah Territory, built trails along the way that they themselves would not use again. They built bridges that they would never cross again. And they planted crops they would never eat. They did it not for themselves, but for those who would come after -- Making the trail better for the next pioneer to follow.

Not only should we have appreciation and gratitude for those early pioneers and what they sacrificed so that we could have a better life, but gratitude for their sacrifice so that we ALL could have a better life, not just those on the trek. We should not only remember, but we should proactively do our part to make the trail better for those who come after us.

There’s a building down the road here, it’s called our State Capitol and when I talk about vision and courage of our early leaders, that’s a great example. People come from all over the world literally, certainly all over the country to see the Utah Capitol. Why? Because it’s so big, much bigger than most, it’s so ornate, it’s a work of art. It’s a beautiful building, a beautiful edifice. That was decided by our leaders of Utah about 110 years ago. We were one of only two states that did not have a state capitol and so they decided to build something quite enormous and big and the push back was, “Hey, we’re just the small of Utah.” We had less than 300,000 people in the state at that time. Today, we’re about 3.2 million. The leaders said, “We’re not building for today and what we are, we’re building for tomorrow and what we can become.” They had a vision of what the role of Utah and this center of the Church was going to become and were looking to that future time and had the courage to go ahead and implement the vision.

When Brigham Young looked into this valley in 1847 he declared, “This is the right place. Drive On.” And we have been driving on ever since, dealing with the ups and downs that life has given us, but receiving many blessings along the way. We have received many accolades that have come to us just in the last decade declaring what a great place Utah is to live, to raise families, and to do business. Some examples of this are being named the Best Place for Business in America, or having the most Healthy Diverse Economy, or having the largest middle class, or raising more people per capita out of poverty than any other state. Incidentally, we are also #1 in volunteerism and charitable giving. And by polling, the most hopeful and optimistic people in America. I was in Washington D.C. and my daughter called me on the phone and she said, “Hey, dad, did you see the article in USA Today, that we’re number one, the most happy people in America?” I said, “Oh, another number one! That’s great! I wonder why?” and she said, “It’s because you’re the governor, dad, it’s because you’re the governor!” Nice to have family support. In all of this we should be humble and grateful for our blessings in that regard and give thanks to those early pioneers and church members for their efforts and the foundation that they established that we are now the beneficiary. Again part of the lesson learned is – and it doesn’t matter whether you are a 6th generation Utahn like myself or a 1st generation just arriving here in Utah - we should do our part as Pioneers today to better prepare the trail for those who follow us.

The second issue that I now have a much greater appreciation for is the challenge of Communication. Effectively communicating is the hardest, I believe and maybe the biggest challenge that we face in life. Communication is a challenge for Husbands and Wives, for Parents and Children, for Neighbors to Neighbors, Professors to Students and students to professors. And certainly in Politics we are all becoming frustrated because of the abundance of poor communication. And even more so with the lack of civility and respect in communications that we see in the public square. The divisiveness that we observe has caused some to declare that politics has become a “blood sport” with its win at all cost approach and its contempt for those who have a differing opinion. There is too much of an “us vs them” mentality where “them” is always the enemy.

I believe that there are probably many causes for this -- but I believe the rise of 24/7 cable television is partly to blame. There doesn’t seem to be much of an attempt any more to be fair and balanced in their reporting. Republicans go to their favorite station that reinforces their political positions and the Democrats do the same. And all the while they are promoting the “us vs. them” argument that further polarizes us. Issues become hyper Partisan and then become weaponized for political purposes. This does in turn increase ratings – which is their goal - but the casualty is that we forget the original concept of our Founding Fathers. That we are all on the same team as Americans and that we should be working together to find solutions to our problems. And like the example of our Founding Fathers in writing our Constitution, that may even require making compromise to be a part of the solution.

A current example, one of many that could be cited, is the current Covid 19 pandemic. I’m glad that we’re gathered together, we’re working our way through this today and I hope we can find the end of this shortly. What should be mainly a discussion regarding the health of our citizens/communities throughout the nation - and what are the best health practices and policies that are needed based on science to help us stop the pandemic and the appropriate role of government in the process - has become politicized so much that the public is confused as to what to believe and what to do. That ladies and gentlemen is an example of poor communication. And I believe all sides bear some responsibility.

We can and must do better in our communication with one another! That should be done with integrity, civility and certainly mutual respect.

The third issue I would like to mention is Education. And I know that I am speaking to the choir today because you are all here getting a great education at this great institution.

Education is the gateway to opportunity. It gives you options in life. President Gordon B. Hinckley said this about education: “It is the little things upon which life turns that make the big difference in our lives, my dear young friends. There can be no doubt, none whatever, that education pays. Do not short-circuit your lives. If you do so, you will pay for it over and over and over again.” He went on to say, “You have the potential to become anything to which you set your mind… you must get all of the education that you possibly can. Life has become so complex and competitive…The world will in large measure pay you what it thinks you are worth, and your worth will increase as you gain education and proficiency in your chosen field.”

The practical reality is this. “If you want a good job, get a good education!” Today a High School diploma is not enough. You need post high school education and the good news is there are many ways to get it. From traditional college, to Technical Education, Apprenticeships and Internships - there is an abundance of options.

Please let me add my own counsel – that you should commit to be a “life-long learner.” There will be many opportunities way past your formal schooling days to continue to learn. As former Presiding Bishop Victor L. Brown said, “Education should never stop, but should be a continuing activity throughout life.”

The fourth area that I gained a greater understanding about is the role that Government plays in our lives. D&C 134:1 tells us that “We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society.” It goes on to say, “We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.” I recommend that we all should read this section of the Doctrine and Covenants on a regular basis. There is all too much distain and ridicule for government in today’s society and too many are getting discouraged and stop participating. If we don’t agree with what is happening - we should get more involved not less. It has been said, and it is true, that bad things happen when good men and women – do nothing!.”

I certainly am not anti-government, but I do believe in right sized/smaller government that empowers the individual and the private sector. And that what government we do have - should in fact be darned efficient! I am proud of the fact that Utah State Government today has fewer employees than we had in 2002 - while now serving approximately 900,000 more citizens that call Utah home than we did 19 years ago.

I also believe that all of us should find ways to participate with government - exercising our rights and obligations as citizens – as voters - to ensure as Abe Lincoln said that we will always have government “of the people, by the people and for the people.” Just the simple act of voting as we have opportunities to do and express our votes should be number one on our priority list for those of us who are citizens.

Let me conclude this section to remind all of us of the importance and blessings we have as Americans because of our Constitution. We refer to the creating of this inspired document as the Miracle of Philadelphia. In D&C 101: 80 we read where the Lord says: “And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of the land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose…”

President Dallin H. Oaks taught us recently in General Conference, “I see divine inspiration in the vital purpose of the entire Constitution. We are to be governed by Law and not by Individuals, and our loyalty is to the Constitution and its principles and processes, not to any Officeholder.” With some of the strong and charismatic personalities out there – that can be a challenge. But as President Oaks says, “no one is above the law.”

This is great counsel from President Oaks that we should all follow!

Lastly - As Governor I have had to make 1000’s of decisions regarding policy and the execution of the laws and the making significant appointments whether it be staff members, department heads or I have appointed about 110 people to the bench in our judiciary. Many are very difficult decisions to make and I have appreciated that the Lord has given us directions on how to help us make the correct decision. It is found in D&C 9:8-9: “but, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that you bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing that is wrong;”

My experience has given me to understand the truth of this revelation. I also many times have felt as did President Abraham Lincoln during the challenging times of his presidency when he said, “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.”

I believe in the efficacy and power and importance of prayer. I remember a few years ago when we were in drought conditions and were having many fires throughout our state. After doing all that we could to help prevent the fires from starting and doing everything that we could to put out those fires that had started, I felt compelled to drop to my knees and ask for help from our Father in Heaven. Knowing the strength that comes from many prayers being offered, I consulted with Elder L. Tom Perry and asked if we could have a directive go out for the next Sunday to the Wards in Utah for Fasting and Prayer asking for some divine intervention to help with the fires. He agreed to help arrange for that to happen. I also contacted all of the other Christian and non-Christian religions in the state asking them too also join in prayer and supplication to God for help. The results were - that it started to rain. And the rains came - but without the typical winds that summer storms often bring. The rains helped to dampen the fires and helped to get us through the summer with minimal damage for the rest of the year. Some would say that this was just a coincidence. But when I met later with the religious leaders of our state including those not of our faith, we talked about joining in prayer, we all agreed that while it wasn’t necessarily the Parting of the Red Sea, it was none the less a miracle that we were grateful for and blessed to receive.

Prayer should be an integral part of our daily activity.

I want to mention one last thing before I close. Last Thursday was Veteran’s Day. I served in the military as you heard the President talk about and I served as the Commander in Chief as the Governor of the state of Utah. I have a great appreciation for the men and women who wear the uniform. We honor their service. They protect us and protect our Constitution. I had the opportunity to have this illustrated to me in maybe a more dramatic way than I had thought before. I had the opportunity to go to the Middle East to visit our troops. I was in Kuwait, I was in Iraq, I was in Afghanistan. I left Afghanistan from an airbase in Bagram, a place where they triage those injured soldiers and they send them to Germany to a place called Landstuhl where they have a WWII hospital. It’s very old, it’s very linear, long hallways. I had the opportunity on my way back home to stop there to meet with people from Utah and thank them for their service. I went down the hallway to the very last room. Typically, I would walk in and say, “Hi, I’m Governor Gary Herbert. I want to thank you for your service. I wish you well in the recovery of your health.” I went to the last room and there were three gentlemen in that room. One was sitting in a wheelchair, two others to his side and I walked in and said, “Hi, I’m Governor Gary Herbert. I want to tell you thanks for your service.” It didn’t take us too long to figure that we didn’t understand each other’s languages. They didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak what they spoke. Come to find out they were from the country of Georgia. A Colonel came in to act as an interpreter and we had a conversation. The part that I remember was the fellow in the wheelchair said, “Governor, I want you to know it’s been an honor to serve alongside the American soldier.” Now, I’m old enough to remember when Georgia was part of the Soviet Union and they were the enemy. With the cold war and all of the challenges we had at the time and here was this man in a wheelchair, who incidentally had lost a leg from an IED incident, saying, “Governor, it’s been an honor to serve alongside the American soldier.” I’ve thought about that a lot. I thought about that on the plane flying home and I came to realize that it’s not just because we have the biggest army, the biggest airpower and national defense- the biggest bombs, the biggest guns, the biggest planes. It’s because of an idea and a concept we share here as Americans on freedom and liberty for all. And again, that shows me that our soldiers are not only winning the battle by what they do on the battle field, but they win the hearts and minds of people by the great example they are, talking about what America is like and what they should be. And for us as Church members for us to understand the concept of the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. If we all understood that concept around the world we would have a lot better peaceful environment for us to live in. So, I thank the military and I hope we all take the opportunity to salute those who serve in our military armed forces. Men and women who are very patriotic and serve our country well.

In conclusion—Let me just say this. We all, no matter our position or station in life, have been sent to earth for a purpose. To gain a body of flesh and bones and to be tried and tested. This life is really about learning. We all will have many opportunities to learn - in a myriad of situations and circumstances. My prayer is to us all today, that we will take advantage of those opportunities to learn - and to use that learning to become more of service to our fellow men, our brothers and sisters, children of God like us who are also on their journey of learning. And in the process, my prayer is that we become more Christlike in that service. I say to you humbly, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


Close Modal