The following story originally appeared on the Magnify blog as part of its Mighty Women series. The series aims to tell the stories of Latter-day Saint women who are normal yet extraordinary. This profile piece is republished here with permission.
Erlynn Lansing still remembers approaching the White House security hut for a job interview shortly after graduating from Brigham Young University. Resume in hand, she confidently went up to the security guard, who asked, “Do you have a package there?”
“No, it’s just my resume,” Erlynn replied.
The guard took the resume and invited her to step inside the booth with him. “If you have a bomb in there, we want you to blow up with us.”
“A little girl from Cody, Wyoming? I was a bit taken aback,” Erlynn recalls. And maybe that epitomizes her reaction to the many opportunities the Lord has given her in the years since. Erlynn says she never could have imagined then what the Lord had in store for her or that decades later she would draw upon her several years working in the White House when she and her husband would be asked to serve together as Directors of Church Hosting. It wasn’t because she did anything there particularly applicable to her hosting assignment, but because simply saying you worked at the White House carries clout.
Together with her husband, Chris, Erlynn now welcomes and hosts dignitaries from around the world as they come to Salt Lake City to see what The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is all about. These visitors are people who “can make a difference for our Church in the countries where they reside.” The Lansings aim to help them gain a better understanding of the Church and its members as good parents and good citizens in their communities.
One night recently, as Erlynn and Chris were about to drift off to sleep, she says Chris asked her, “‘How did two yahoos from Richmond, Virginia, get such a marvelous opportunity to do this?’ That’s exactly how we feel. We are loving it.”
By the time she arrived at the White House that day as a recent college graduate, Erlynn already had a great deal of life experience. For starters, she had moved from San Francisco to a whole new world in Cody, Wyoming, at the age of 12. Her parents divorced when she was a senior in high school—her dad was the stake president, her mom a seminary teacher. Still to this day, she calls the divorce “devastating.” Her world quickly changed.
“When people would say, ‘Oh, I’m so excited to go home for Christmas,’ or ‘I’m so excited to go home for the summer’—those words were never in my vocabulary because my home was split. There was no home there,” she says.
And maybe that’s why from that time forward Erlynn has tried to create a home, a place of belonging, for anyone in her presence.
Her personality has always allowed her to reach across the aisle. It just so happens that her first summer at the White House was the summer Richard Nixon had to resign and Gerald Ford was sworn into office.
She remained at the White House through Ford’s presidency and was even asked to stay on through the presidential transition from Ford to Jimmy Carter.
“Erlynn, I’d really like for you to stay,” she recalls her boss at the time saying. She replied, “Well, you know I’m a Republican.” Her boss then said, “Yeah, I’m a Democrat. Let’s not talk about it anymore.”
She ended up working for four years in the White House as an executive assistant in the Domestic Policy staff that oversaw the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Transportation, and the Small Business Administration. While she was “not a policymaker by any stretch of the imagination,” she says she learned a great deal about policy. She loved her job, but when she reconnected with Chris, whom she had admired from a distance in college, she was ready for a new phase of life.
Creating a Home
Upon getting married, Erlynn moved to a city where she didn’t know anyone—Richmond, Virginia—and sought to adjust to married life. Her husband, Chris, was preparing to take over his family business, a building products company supplying items such as siding, roofing, and windows, which today has 130 locations across 35 states, and even in the early days of their marriage his work required a great deal of travel.
“We told Mr. Marriott once that Chris spent more time with him than me,” she quips in regard to the amount of time her husband spent on the road.
Because of this, Erlynn wanted to make sure that their home was a happy place—a place her husband would always long to come home to.
“When Chris would come home, I very much wanted to know what was happening, and I got to know the people who worked with him: I got to know the employees, I got to know the customers,” she says. “Our whole life we’ve talked about the business, and he made me a part of it, which I was grateful for—a lot of husbands don’t.”
When his father passed away as a result of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Chris took over his father’s business, where he had worked for years. Erlynn remembers very well the days where the business struggled, specifically in the early ’80s, when mortgage rates were at 17 or 18 percent. At one point, they had to take out a second mortgage on their home just to keep the business going, but Erlynn believed in Chris. He had a vision for their future and she bought into it. They made all of their decisions together.
Leaving Home … Again
From 2016 to 2019, the Lansings served as mission leaders of the Utah Salt Lake City South Mission, something Erlynn says she would “do again in a heartbeat.” The couple says serving together in that way brought them closer than ever before.
“I would just see Chris use the gifts that he was given, and when you see your husband magnifying his calling in such a tremendous way, there is something spiritual, there’s something very romantic—I know that sounds really crazy but…I’ve talked to other women who feel the same way, when you see your husband doing something so tremendous,” she says.
They knew they were missing key moments in their grandchildren’s lives, but when Elder David A. Bednar visited their mission and reassured the senior missionaries that “the Lord will bless your family in ways that you cannot if you weren’t here,” they trusted in that promise.
When the time came to return home, they were thrilled to begin to experience all of the things they had missed. They were also excited to be involved in welcoming a temple to their hometown of Richmond. But then another call came: an assignment to serve as Directors of Church Hosting.
They worried about how to break the news to their children, especially their daughter Lindsay, who is Erlynn’s best friend and who had anxiously awaited her parents’ return home. “Oh, Mom, this is fantastic!” came the reply. And so their kids continue to record piano recitals or FaceTime monumental moments.
“Is it hard? Yes,” Erlynn says. “Is it excruciating? No, because our kids are so supportive.”
These days, instead of welcoming their kids home, Chris and Erlynn try to make dignitaries and ambassadors from around the world feel welcomed as they visit Salt Lake City. She occasionally welcomes people to the home her family has in Deer Valley; other days she welcomes them to the small condo she and her husband own just outside of Temple Square. Before they arrive, she knows their names, titles, bios, food allergies, and all about their families.
The Lansings take the Church’s visitors to Welfare Square, the Humanitarian Center, and to Temple Square. They stop by the Tabernacle on Temple Square, where Richard Elliott is usually prepared with the national anthem of the visitor’s home country.
“So many times, while listening to that music, they will stand up, put their hand on their hearts, and tears stream down their faces,” Erlynn says.
The visitors are often surprised to find that the Family History Library has prepared their pedigree charts. Even the details of the dinners the Lansings host are intended to let their guests know that they are welcomed.
“I will look up the colors of their flag and I will have those in the flowers and with the linens so that they know that we know who they are and where they come [from],” she says.
The Lansings’ goal looks different than it did when they were mission leaders. “We are hosts, we’re ambassadors. We want them to feel something when they’re here. We don’t preach the gospel,” she explains. But they do want people to feel a spirit—something special—when they visit.
They explain to their visitors that the organization of the Church is the same throughout the world; the same classes that are being taught in Utah are also being taught in their home countries. They explain that women throughout the world have opportunities to lead in the Primary, Young Women, and Relief Society organizations, and they are involved in councils where their voices are heard. They demonstrate that the same structure that existed in Christ’s church anciently exists today in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At some point in the visit, they always find themselves standing before the Christus statue in the Conference Center. They have found that their visitors’ reaction is usually the same.
“They say, ‘Can we touch His feet?’ And we say, ‘Please do,’” Erlynn says.
While it definitely made an impressive aspect of her biography and an asset in her current role, Erlynn’s job at the White House was not the beginning of her preparation for her current responsibilities. No, she was told a long time ago by her grandfather, the stake patriarch, when she received her patriarchal blessing that something like this was coming.
“You’re not going to believe me and I don’t share this very often, but my patriarchal blessing told me that I would do something like this,” she explains. “He talked about how I should learn the higher arts of living. Those were his words—that I should learn how to cook well and have a good home where people would want to come to, and so I’ve worked toward that.”
He told her to be prepared and that she would have these kinds of opportunities. She adds, “Did I ever think it would be quite like this? No, never did I think I’d have it on this realm.”