By Erica Starr
At a campus lecture Wednesday, Boyd Petersen said he not only found a wife in the Nibley family, but also became the son-in-law of Hugh Nibley, discovering many facts about the former BYU professor and realizing the legacy of his life.
Petersen has now written a biography of Nibley called, “A Consecrated Life.”
“This book started as a birthday present for my daughter,” Petersen said. “I wanted her to know the legacy of her grandfather”s life. As I collected the information, I realized this book could be for a bigger audience than just our family.”
Petersen went on to describe a handful of impacting moments that Nibley experienced throughout his life that shaped the person he became.
Nibley was born in 1910 in Portland, Ore. From the beginning, Nibley was surrounded by nature and its destructive forces, which Petersen said had a strong influence on him. Throughout his life, Nibley valued the environment and tried to keep it beautiful.
“He is concerned with pollution, and tries to consume less,” Petersen said.
In the summer of 1927, Nibley came to Provo for a summer camp at Aspen Grove. He shared a tent with intelligent boys his age who all wanted to teach when they were old enough. Nibley found them very interesting and talked all night with them. When he returned home from the camp, he kept dreaming about the mountains and the beautiful surroundings in Utah. He later came to live in Provo for most of his life.
When Nibley turned 17, Petersen said his father observed that Nibley was a very bright boy but was lacking in social skills. Nibley was soon called to the Swiss-German Mission where these social skills were improved. Petersen said he made keen observations about Germany while he was there in the early 1930s.
“There is a strange spirit in this place,” Nibley said in his biography. “It is not one of meanness, but of indifference. When I enter a house, I feel this indifferent spirit surrounding me.”
Soon thereafter, World War II erupted in Germany.
Petersen said Nibley”s mission truly helped him form his beliefs about money and conservation as well, which has influenced many people he has come in contact with throughout his life.
However, Petersen said another experience that truly shaped his character occurred shortly after his mission. Nibley did not have quite enough money to return to school, and at this time he started doubting the gospel and went into a deep depression. During a break, Nibley returned home for the holidays and went to a church meeting one night. At this meeting, a man spoke and touched Nibley deeply. After the meeting, the man wanted to give Nibley a blessing. In the blessing, the man said Nibley had a great work to accomplish for the Church.
Nibley”s biggest accomplishments occurred during his 57 years living in Provo. During his young life, Nibley had a few experiences that prepared him for his time in Provo.
In high school, Nibley had three passions: astronomy, art and English. Out of these three passions, Petersen said Nibley”s love for English had the deepest effect on others. Nibley memorized several pieces of literature during high school and studied several languages including Anglo-Saxon, Greek and Latin. Later in his life, Nibley was invited to teach at BYU as an assistant professor for history and religion. When Nibley came to teach at BYU and saw the small library collection, he urged the university to purchase more than 500 volumes of books over the next few years.
Petersen said President Spencer W. Kimball once praised Nibley, saying the volumes of books Nibley wrote to accompany church members” Book of Mormon study were great resources. President Kimball also said Nibley made a real effort to progress the work of the Lord.
“One thing that I noticed while looking through all of Hugh”s experiences is that he has always been consistent. His amazing writing skills are the same now as they were when he was 15, which just makes me think he has come from the head of Zeus,” Petersen said. “His public and private selves are the same. He truly believes what he preaches.”