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Rising to the Call - The Life of President Clark G. Gilbert

The call to serve as BYU-Pathway's first president reflects a pattern of dedicated service for Clark G. Gilbert and his family

In the middle of a very challenging academic season of his graduate studies, Clark G. Gilbert received an assignment that would change his life. Local leaders from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints invited him to serve the inner-city youth of the Boston area in a multi-congregation stake Young Men presidency. Having never served in that position before, Clark first thought the assignment would basically entail planning a few youth activities each year. But he soon learned the Lord had much more in mind.

In fact, Clark would come to realize that the Lord was looking for someone who could invest personally in the lives of the young men in Boston — young men who were new in the gospel and who needed to know the Lord’s love in a personal and direct way. Once he understood what the Lord expected, he realized that the call would mean much more than planning an occasional youth activity.

It would eventually mean driving around Boston every Sunday, attending meetings, teaching, and getting to know each young man in the area. It would mean participating in weeknight activities in inner-city branches where there were not always local youth leaders available. It would mean inviting youth into his family’s home and into their lives.

Clark and Christine with a group of youth
Clark and Christine with some of the youth they knew from Boston

Clark grew to love these young men as if they were part of his own family. He prayed for them. He saw them in a way he felt the Lord saw them, and he knelt in prayer each night asking how best to reach each of them. The Lord put great power into Clark because he was on His errand. It was not the first time Clark had risen to the call, and it wouldn’t be the last. And yet he would soon learn that sometimes a call in one stage of life is preparation for another.

Born in Oakland, California, in 1970, to Paul and Susan Gilbert, Clark grew up in Arizona. Upon his return from serving in the Japan Kobe Mission, he continued his studies at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and moved into an apartment complex across from where his sister lived. The proximity would prove advantageous when he began dating his sister’s roommate, Christine Calder.

Clark quickly discovered he could leave his apartment at just the right time and, by chance, he and Christine could walk to campus together. Clark and Christine were married on February 4, 1994, in the Salt Lake Temple.

Bride and Groom at the Temple
Clark and Christine on their wedding day at the Salt Lake City Temple.

Over the years, the couple would become the parents of eight children. Their oldest son, James, recently returned from serving in the Taiwan Taichung Mission and now attends BYU. Their daughter Paige is 17 years old and is now the eldest child at home. John is 15 and is coping with being the only boy at home with six sisters. The other Gilbert daughters include Emma, who is 12; Mary and Grace, the 10-year-old twins; Lucy, who is 9; and the youngest daughter, Claire, who just turned 4.

The years since their wedding have seen Clark and Christine live in a number of communities as work and school took them to Northern and Southern California, Massachusetts, Utah, and Idaho.

Clark and Christine with their eight children
Clark and Christine with their eight children.

Clark earned a bachelor’s degree from BYU in international relations. The Gilberts then moved to California, where he pursued a master’s degree in East Asian studies from Stanford University. Clark later graduated with a doctorate in business administration from the Harvard Business School. He subsequently joined the faculty at Harvard as a professor of entrepreneurial management. Through his research and publications, Clark became recognized as a rising scholar in organizational innovation and change. But all of that scholarship could not have prepared him for the life change that was about to happen.

In 2006, Kim B. Clark, former dean of the Harvard Business School and then-president of Brigham Young University-Idaho, encouraged Dr. Gilbert to pray about coming to Rexburg, Idaho, and experiencing the campus. It only took one visit before the Gilberts knew it was the right place for their family. Clark later served as associate academic vice president, overseeing online learning and the eventual creation of the Pathway program (now called PathwayConnect). The Gilbert family stayed in Rexburg for three years — an experience that changed their lives in ways they never could have imagined. Then, as it often does, another call came.

President Teaching a Group
President Gilbert leading a discussion at the Mexico City Tepalcapa site

In 2009, Clark was asked to become president and CEO of the newly formed Deseret Digital Media (DDM), a subsidiary of Deseret Management Corporation. DDM was created to help transform the Church’s traditional media companies into a rapidly emerging online future. This assignment was followed by an appointment as president of Deseret News in May 2010. To guide the paper’s content, Clark instituted a set of editorial priorities, which included the family, faith in the community, care for the poor, excellence in education, values in the media, and financial responsibility. Deseret News grew in national prominence even as the digital organization expanded rapidly. Clark was named “Innovator of the Year” by multiple industry associations for his work in transforming these media companies.

The Gilberts’ pattern of rising to the call would once again lead them back to Rexburg. In January 2015, Clark was announced as the president of BYU-Idaho. In his new role he felt repeated promptings to re-emphasize the school’s student-focused mission, a direction that had been originally outlined by President Gordon B. Hinckley at the time BYU-Idaho was first announced in 2000. A focus on “everyday students” became a hallmark of President Gilbert’s tenure. The Gilberts also felt deeply about teaching the importance of the family. Clark and Christine involved their family and tried to emphasize “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” as they taught the students of BYU-Idaho.

President Russell M. Nelson introduces Clark G. Gilbert at the Pulpet
President Russell M. Nelson introduces Clark G. Gilbert as the new BYU-Idaho President, along with his family. Photo by Tyler Rickenbach.

While serving as the president of BYU-Idaho, the number of PathwayConnect and online-degree students continued to grow, eventually exceeding the number of students on campus. The question became whether a new and dedicated organization would better meet the needs of a worldwide Church and students who would never come to the campus. Even before the call came to leave the university, Clark shared his feelings with Christine that they would once again be asked to move their family and assume a new responsibility. Surprised, Christine declared, “We’ve only just begun here. Do you really think they’d ask us to move so soon?”

On February 7, 2017, the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced the creation of BYU-Pathway Worldwide , to be located in Salt Lake City, with the responsibility to serve PathwayConnect and BYU-Idaho online-degree students across the Church. The Gilberts and dozens of other faithful employees and their families would leave their beloved Rexburg and follow the call to serve.

Pathway Worldwide with Uchtdorf and Oaks
Feb. 7, 2017 – President Uchtdorf announces the creation a new Church organization for higher education, BYU-Pathway Worldwide.

While the visibility and expectations of this most recent call were unique, the Gilberts soon realized that the pattern of this appointment was the same as so many other calls they had received throughout their lives. President Clark and Christine Gilbert have learned and continue to realize that when they rise to the calls the Lord presents, He blesses them in ways that are powerful and permanent.