By Kirk Blad
He’s as caring as Mr. Rogers, as entertaining as Gene Kelly and as passionate as Elder Jeffrey R. Holland — yet to most, Eugene H. Bramhall’s legacy is unknown.
For over 14 years, Bramhall, who retired on Oct. 31, has served behind the scenes as BYU’s general counsel and assistant to the president.
“He was the best kept secret on campus,” said Nancy Carson, BYU alumni activities coordinator. “Gene is one of my heroes.”
In addition to being her co-worker, Bramhall served as Carson’s stake president.
“He has the most genuine and sincere heart,” Carson said. “He’s the type of person that has sleepless nights over other people.”
Carson said she is most impressed with Bramhall’s ability to see people for who they truly are.
As a BYU stake president, Bramhall called a man with a beard to be bishop and didn’t realize it until a general authority brought it to his attention.
Upon realizing the apparent problem, Bramhall replied, “He’s got a bad facial condition,” without ever knowing if the man truly did, Carson said.
“Gene doesn’t look at someone and see a beard, he looks and sees the man,” she said. “He has the ability to see peoples’ hearts.”
Bramhall is always extending a helping hand to those around him.
“He’s seen me through cancer twice,” said Karin Klingler, Bramhall’s secretary of more than 22 years. “During those struggles, he came and picked me up at 6 a.m. and took me to the hospital.”
Klingler said Bramhall volunteered to take her daughters out for “daddy-daughter” dates when she wasn’t sure if their father would show up.
“He would have the entire evening free, just waiting for me to call,” Klingler said.
Bramhall is an entertainer, said his 12-year-old granddaughter Lauren Young.
“Whenever he walks into my house, he’s always singing weird songs from his childhood,” Lauren said.
Lauren said he turns any subject of conversation into a song.
“He does it in a loud and obnoxious voice just to bug me, but I think it’s funny,” Young said.
Bramhall is also known for his gift of conversation.
“He’s such a talker,” Klingler said. “If you’ve ever been in a meeting with him, the meeting was never a minute, because he would talk so long.”
Klinger said Bramhall is long winded because he is so personable and is always telling his “I remember when …,” stories.
One of Bramhall’s most defining characteristics is his passion for life, for his family and for BYU.
“I’m in love with life and all of its challenges and opportunities,” Bramhall said.
Bramhall said he loves being with people, running outdoors, driving cars, teaching classes and practicing law.
“Gene talks to people and it doesn’t matter where we are. He talks to people in restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, etc…,” said his wife, Dorothy Bramhall. “He has friends everywhere.”
Dorothy said her husband has the ability to work with people and to bring people together.
“Gene and I are trail runners,” said Bramhall’s best friend and associate general counsel, Hal Visick. “We’ve been running together for 25 years.”
Visick said he and Bramhall have run several marathons together.
Bramhall has a deep love for cars, said his wife Dorothy.
“He’s the guy who just wants to get out and ride, not get under the hood,” Dorothy said.
The most celebrated car of Bramhall’s collection is a 1973 Porsche 911.
“Dad has always considered himself to be young,” said Bramhall’s oldest son, Chris. “I believe that the Porsche is the way he maintains that.”
One of Bramhall’s favorite settings is the classroom.
“He’s such a good teacher because he can get a class talking and he’s genuinely interested in their ideas,” Dorothy said.
Bramhall has taught in several capacities, including seminary teacher, gospel doctrine instructor, professor of business in the Marriott School and professor of religion at BYU.
Bramhall’s love for teaching and is also evident in the legal arena.
“He considers the lawyer profession a noble opportunity to serve, not to become rich,” Visick said. “I would trust Gene to do anything and do it right.”
He began his legal career in Riverside, Calif., and later joined a firm in the Bay area.
He then worked in Guam before coming to BYU in 1977 as an associate general counsel. He became the general counsel in 1986 under President Holland.
Bramhall said his most noted award is a lifetime membership into the National Association of College and University Attorneys.
It has only been awarded 25 times in the past 40 years, Klingler said.
“The NACUA award was a tribute not necessarily earned, but well received,” Bramhall said.
Bramhall said despite his professional success, his greatest awards have come at home, where he has five children and 20 grandchildren.
“I think he is a nice grandpa and an old grandpa,” said nine-year-old grandson, Peter Pigott.
Dad has consistently supported the family, whether it was going to our swim meets or going out with mom, said Bramhall’s son, Scott.
Bramhall’s also shared his musical with the family.
“Dad would always sing at the top of his lungs on the ski lift, ‘Oh what a beautiful morning,'” said Bramhall’s daughter, Kathleen Pigott.
All of their children agree that as parents, Gene and Dorothy were united.
“He was always home for dinner and rarely brought his work home,” Dorothy said.
Dorothy said she couldn’t have picked a better man to marry.
“My life could not be more fun, more exciting and more grounded as it has been with Gene,” Dorothy said.
Bramhall considers coming to BYU as the single most important decision in his life.
“This place represents the gospel in action,” Bramhall said. “It has been an absolute wonderful place to spend a career and a lifetime.”
Reflecting upon his BYU experience, Bramhall said he will miss the people and the spirit he felt here.
“There is a spirit that brings people to BYU and keeps them here,” Bramhall said. “It infects the students, faculty and administrators.”
Bramhall said his greatest treasures have been the associations he’s had with the BYU community.
“I’ve been blessed to have had the opportunity to work with some of the finest men on earth,” Bramhall said.
Others have noticed Bramhall’s passion for BYU as well.
“Gene is the definition of integrity in my book,” said Ron Clarke, BYU director of public affairs. “He’s absolutely faithful to the university — he bleeds blue.”
Despite reservations about leaving, Bramhall said he is looking forward to the next period of his life.
In January, he and his wife will be serving a mission at the Jerusalem Center as hosts. Following their 18-month mission, Bramhall plans to come back to teach law at BYU.