Q: The theme for 2002 Education Week is “Finding Refuge from the Storm.” As a prominent public figure, what do you do or where to you go to get away from the world and find peace? What do you consider your personal “shelter from the storm?”
A: I get a lot of personal peace by being with my wife, Elaine, and members of my family, especially my grandchildren. Writing music and poetry is another way I find peace from the storms of life, wherever I am. Years ago, I found that composing poetry brought me solace and peace of mind. Thoughts pop into my mind all the time, and I write them down wherever I am – whether at home, my office, traveling, or even at church. Music and poetry allows me to keep things in perspective, share my feelings, and help inspire others.
Q: Many people think the answers to life’s questions lie in fame, wealth and power. As members of the church, we tend to have a different view. How do you keep a balance between the important things you do in your life’s work, and the things that are most important in your personal life?
A: Along with prayer, I begin each day reading the scriptures. Daily prayer and scripture study remind me of the principles in which I believe, the reason why I am here, and what I should be fighting for. This puts things in the right perspective and allows me to focus my efforts on what really matters.
Q: How do you deal with publicity? Does it ever get too invasive?
A: Those who know me intimately will tell you I am naturally a private person. While most members of Congress consider Washington’s social scene as part of the job, I prefer spending my free evenings at home with my family. Yet I realize that as a senator I have a public role to play, and over the years I have adapted to living much of my life in the public’s eye. Most people know me through what they see and read in the media. I appreciate the trust the media have with their readers and viewers because they allow me to communicate with my constituents on a daily basis. Sometimes the media attention does get too invasive, especially when their stories about me are wrong or unfounded. But I believe the trust and respect I give to those in the media have allowed me to define a good barrier between my public and private life.
Q: How did you prepare early in life to get where you are? What or who influenced the way you look at the world? How did your education influence what you do now?
A: My life is a product of the values I learned at the knee of my father, a hard-working metal lather, and my mother, a devout woman who encouraged my love of literature and the arts. Like many during the Great Depression, my parents struggled to provide for our family. Through example, they taught me the value of hard work, and from a young age I labored to help support my family and my education. At different times, I worked as a janitor, an all-night desk clerk in a girls’ dormitory, and a metal lather like my father – I even became a card-carrying member of the AFL-CIO. Despite hard times, my parents did everything possible to provide opportunities for me and my brothers and sisters, encouraging me to develop athletic skills such as basketball and amateur boxing, a love of music and the arts, and a passion for the law and our Constitution. These experiences led me to pursue a career in law, where I learned to be an advocate for my clients and for the principles that guide our country. As a Senator, I continue to be an advocate, championing the interests of my state and those of like-minded people throughout the nation.
Q: How do you deal with people who solicit you for favors [this interview excluded, of course]? How do you choose who to help and who to pass by, in light of the church’s focus and policies on charitable contributions?
A: I love to serve others. Much of my time as a senator is dedicated to meeting with constituents and identifying solutions to their problems. This includes everything from multinational companies to local community-service groups, from politicians to homemakers. I realize that everyone’s problems are important, and I take each one seriously.
Q: Was there a single turning point in your life that you consider “made” you? If so, what was it?
A: One night when I was 11 years old, I learned my older brother, Jess, had been shot down in Italy during World War II. It was a terrible shock. I idolized my brother. Since that day I have pushed myself to pack the work and accomplishments of two lives into one – one for my brother and one for me. My brother’s death taught me that life is short, and I wanted to make the most of it.
Q: Is it difficult to live your religion? Why or why not?
A: Growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I was one of very few members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My parents taught me to seek answers to life’s questions by studying the scriptures, which has helped me gain a personal conviction of the doctrines and principles taught to me by my parents and church leaders. This strong foundation has allowed me to easily live my religion no matter where I am or what I am doing.
Q: Has your affiliation with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints put up any roadblocks on your path to success, or have you found it has opened doors?
A: When I was a candidate for President in 2000, a poll indicated that 18 percent of Americans would not vote for me solely because I was a Mormon. Imagine the challenge I faced – one-fifth of the voters refused to give me a chance because of my religious affiliation. One of the many reasons I entered the race was to educate the American public about the Mormon Church and help break down these barriers for future members of the church who enter politics.
Q: Do you consider yourself an example to church members, especially the youth of the church? Why or why not?
A: I don’t feel comfortable placing myself on a pedestal as a model for church members to follow. Yet I realize my prominent position puts me into the national spotlight, and sometimes I am referred to as the “Mormon Senator from Utah.” Too many people believe you have to sacrifice your principles to be a successful politician. If youth look up to me, I hope they realize I try to live my life each day so the example they see is positive. They should see someone who stays true to his convictions, that the person they see in public is the same person they would see in private.
Q: To what do you credit your success?
A: Hard work. Since the day I arrived in the Senate 26 years ago, I have done everything in my power to serve those I represent. I believe that as a senator I have the responsibility to make a difference, and I only have a limited time in which to do it.
Q: If you could have done something differently with your life, what would it have been?
A: I would have struck a better balance between the heavy demands of the Senate and spending time with my wife and family. Though my family has always placed first in my heart, it is not always first on my schedule. While my children grew, I did my best to attend important functions and be there for them when they needed me the most. But, looking back, I wish I had been able to dedicate even more time to my family and less time to political matters.
Q: What are your goals for the future?
A: I intend to seek another term in the United States Senate. If given the chance, I hope to be an advocate for further positive change in Utah and throughout all America. Outside of my public service, I would like to spend time with my wife, Elaine, my six children, and my 20 grandchildren – and, of course, continue writing music and poetry!