BYU’s Samuelsons will take ‘the privilege of being here’ with them

President Cecil O. Samuelson and his wife Sharon Samuelson during an interview with The Universe.
President Cecil O. Samuelson and his wife Sharon Samuelson during an interview with The Universe.

The Samuelsons have not revealed definite plans for their post-BYU life, but they have narrowed the field of possibility.

For one thing, they’re not going to Disney World.

First and foremost, they will take a deep breath and relax. President Cecil O. Samuelson has an appointment to go fishing with his 5-year-old grandson. Sister Sharon Samuelson wants to take some time for soccer games and Primary programs with children and grandchildren They both want to catch up on some of the family time they’ve missed during President Samuelson’s 20 years as a general authority. They will keep finding ways to contribute, and President Samuelson is hoping to be called “to teach gospel doctrine once every other month.”

“We’ll do what we’re asked to do,” he said. “That’s how we got here, and that’s how we’ll leave here.”

“Do what they’re asked to do” has been a matter of sacrifice throughout their marriage. Sister Samuelson said they have been going in different directions, leaving her sitting alone or with young children in church for three-fourths of their marriage.

“I’ve learned to be independent,” she said. “You go to church by yourself, and you go to activities by yourself.”

Their time at BYU has been a relatively unprecedented opportunity to be together, which they have enjoyed.

President Samuelson said he and his wife try to show students “the difference between equality and complementarity” in a day where equality is often emphasized.

“We’re not really concerned that we might see things differently than each other,” he said.

He said he hopes students also appreciate seeing that people who have been married for half a century still enjoy doing things together. The BYU basketball games have been one example, and Sister Samuelson has often had to nudge her husband after free-throw shots to remind him to respond with the traditional thumb’s up to the student section’s call of “Whoosh, Cecil!”

President Samuelson expressed special fondness for the basketball game student section and its traditions, and he explained his reasoning for embracing the “Whoosh, Cecil!” cheer so thoroughly.

“There are so many things that you have to say ‘no’ to (as president),” he said. “Frankly we look for ways to say, “OK, you can do that.'”

Sister Samuelson also orchestrated the BYU Creamery “Whoosh, Cecil!” ice cream flavor. The idea came from a conversation with Kevin J Worthen’s family, but she mentioned it jokingly to the BYU manager of dietary services.

He called her later to ask what President Samuelson’s favorite flavors were and combined them all into one “chocolatey cashew and lightly salted caramel” ice cream flavor — “Whoosh, Cecil!”

“I didn’t come up with the idea,” Sister Samuelson insisted. “He blames me though.”

President Samuelson just wanted to make it clear he had not been involved.

“People think that presidents have unchecked egos to be suggesting that students recognize him after foul shots and create ice cream for him,” he said. “I’m a lot of things, but I don’t have those kinds of needs.”

Neither took credit for the “It’s Not Unusual” BYU basketball video released in February.

“Of course (Athletic Director Tom Holmoe) and (Vice President Kevin Worthen) were quite sure that I wouldn’t do it, so they said, ‘I’ll do it if he will,'” President Samuelson said. “But it was presented to me that your wife, your children, President Monson, President Worthen, Athletic Director Holmoe, President Putin of Russia, they didn’t mention President Obama, but everybody else wants you to do that.”

The entire video was made in one take, and filmmakers were given just 30 minutes with the lip-synching administrators. President Samuelson said he’d been asked whether the video was the reason for his release, but he pointed out that president-to-be-Worthen had co-starred.

Despite being obvious Cougar fans, the Samuelsons have faced charges of disloyalty in favor of their alma mater — the University of Utah — but they always had ties to BYU. Sister Samuelson’s mother, a BYU alumna, was always saddened by their decision to “wear a red coat.”

“Happily she was still alive when we were appointed, but she was serious when she said she prayed us here,” President Samuelson said. “Maybe she did.”

Sister Samuelson has demonstrated her loyalty to BYU since the appointment by staying in touch with the successes, losses, coaches, coaches’ families, athletes and athletic scores of the BYU Cougars.

“I tell her people are going to think you’re playing a game, but she’s always looking up the scores on her iPhone,” President Samuelson said.

He said both his and his wife’s concern and involvement for all the aspects of BYU students’ lives is somewhat unique to BYU, as they know both the president of the church and most students’ parents trust them to be examples of excellence in all areas. President Samuelson said he received a letter from a mother early on in his tenure that affected his views on this. The mother said she was trying to help her daughter, a BYU student, dress more modestly, but the daughter had met President Samuelson, and when he failed to comment on her inappropriate dress, she took it as tacit approval.

Sister Samuelson said they have felt a responsibility to model the right path for students.

“We try to do the things that we know the president of the church and Heavenly Father would want us to do,” she said.

The only specific instruction President Gordon B. Hinckley gave President Samuelson when he was called (apart from the oft-quoted instruction to “put on a blue coat”) was “to make BYU the best you can make it.”

“He said, ‘You’ll see some things that need to be changed,'” President Samuelson said. “And I said, ‘What might those be?’ and he said, ‘You’ll see, and you’ll make the changes.'”

With this in mind, President Samuelson started watching and learning, then looked for opportunities to improve. One of the most visible examples that came to his attention was the replacement of Deseret Towers, which, while popular, did not meet earthquake standards.

BYUtv was a small laboratory program in the basement of the HFAC when he arrived, but now it reaches more than 50 million homes in the U.S. and even more internationally as it operates from the state-of-the-art BYU Broadcasting Building.

One thing the Samuelsons won’t do when they leave BYU is stop caring about the people or cheering for the university’s successes. President Samuelson said continuing to meet BYU alumni who now work and serve worldwide will be “one of those gifts that keeps on giving.”

“We’ve loved it, and we’ll always love it, and we’re honored that we’ve had the privilege of being here,” he said.

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