An Interview with Ruth Todd
Photography by Dodge Billingsley
Previously an award-winning Salt Lake City television news anchor and media spokesperson for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Ruth Todd joined Nu Skin Enterprises in January 2014 as vice president of public affairs. She graduated from BYU in 1983 and is an alumna of the BYU London Study Abroad program.
When did you do the London Study Abroad program?
I went to London in January 1981. Back then it was a six-month program, so we returned in June. It was a life-changing experience. Our director was Don Marshall; he was there with his wife, Jean. Eugene England and his wife, Charlotte, were there as associate directors, as well as Monroe and Shirley Paxman.
Why did you choose to go on a study abroad?
My mother and her two sisters had traveled through Europe when she was nineteen years old. BYU did not have the London Centre when they went, so it was a different program, but my mother talked about her experience all my life. I thought it sounded wonderful. I had known girls who had gone, and they said it was a life-changing experience for them. And I was antsy to have an experience bigger than anything else I had done up to that point.
What are some of the things that had an impact on you?
I fell in love with England, specifically London, and have loved all things British ever since. On study abroad I learned to love English literature, architecture, art, and music. Those directors and their spouses lit the fire for a love of learning for the rest of my life.
How were the courses and site visits?
School was rigorous. The professors wanted us to learn critical thinking and to write. We wrote a lot: they provided experiences for us, and then we wrote about them. We studied English literature, Shakespeare, British and European history, watercolor, and international and foreign relations. There was a wide variety from which to choose, and I learned things that I remember to this day, thirty-three years later.
Are there specific places you remember?
We visited Westminster Abbey for evensong, an evening prayer service, where a boys’ choir was singing. I had a spiritual experience and felt God’s love for all of His children in all of their faith traditions settle into my heart, and that feeling has never left me.
What became some of your haunts or things you love to do in London?
We loved to hang out at Trafalgar Square because we could either go to the National Gallery or around the corner to the National Portrait Gallery. I love the Tate galleries. On Sunday evenings they used to have concerts at Royal Albert Hall. We loved to walk to as many places as we could because then we got a feel for the city.
We also loved going out to Windsor. It felt like you were in another place and time, and then there is the fabulous castle. We saw the changing of the guard a few times. It is thrilling, and it is memorable. I became a good traveler on study abroad. There is not a city in the world I have been in since then that is not thrilling to me. It is not daunting to travel because I figured my way out of a few lost spaces around England or Europe when we were on rotation.
What do you remember about Palace Court?
The classroom in 27 Palace Court was great. It had a big beautiful window that looked out onto Palace Court, and it felt like home in very short order. I knew girls who had gone there, and the address 27 Palace Court was seared in my brain early. When I went in 1981, everybody had a job, like working in the kitchen. My job was vacuuming the stairs, and there are a lot of stairs!
In the dining area at the tables we would all share what we had done that day. We had class in the morning, and then we had the afternoon to see London and do assignments. Sometimes our assignments were at art galleries. But I loved coming back and sharing around those tables. No one sat in the same place or by the same person twice.
What kind of interaction did you have in your study abroad experience with the local ward and stake?
We all went to the Hyde Park Ward. There were great organ concerts on Sunday evenings. For me, London is Hyde Park; we walked through it or jogged through it every day. We would go by the statue of Queen Vic and by Kensington Palace, and I was there when Lady Di and Prince Charles got engaged. Since I was there from January to June, I watched spring dawn on Hyde Park, which was really glorious.
WHAT YOU ARE DOING WHEN YOU GO ON STUDY ABROAD IS ENRICHING EVERYTHING, BECAUSE YOU COME HOME WITH AN OVERLAY OF UNDERSTANDING OF THE HUMANITIES AND HUMANITY.
Why was it important to you that your children go on study abroad?
BYU study abroad changed everything for me. It changed my love of learning and my desire to be a lifelong learner in things outside of my field of study and major, and it changed my worldview forever. It helped me understand different cultures and appreciate the diversity and the richness of the differences in this world. A mother of five children, I absolutely wanted that for each of them. I had one daughter who was in London—she had wanted to go to Jerusalem, but Jerusalem was closed. She sent an email one day and said, “Jerusalem’s open; can I take a loan out from you?” She went on a short, seven-week program to Jerusalem. Then my next daughter went to Jerusalem, and my son went to Jerusalem after his mission. Now my last two are on study abroad at the London Centre, and they are having an incredible time.
Were your children exploring other study abroad locations, or was London the place for them?
Three of my children chose to go to London. All their lives they heard me talk about 27 Palace Court, and they knew it was a special place for me, and they knew why. When we would be places, maybe downtown Salt Lake City or on vacation somewhere else, I would point out a type of window or other architectural feature, and they would ask, “How do you know that?” I would tell them, “Don Marshall taught me that on BYU study abroad.” They would say, “You learned a lot on study abroad.” The humanities are everywhere in our daily life. In London I learned to love them and pay attention to them.
What has it been like to perceive London through your daughters’ eyes?
They arrived a couple of weeks ago and hit the ground running. They are in love with London, just like their sister and their mother. They are off to Stonehenge this weekend. We get Instagrams and texts—things I never had—and we love watching this experience unfold, almost in real time. They are having an amazing experience there.
What would you say is the value of study abroad?
I had a lot of friends who wanted an experience like this, and they sent their children on a summer tour with some high school groups, which were expensive—about $1,000 a week. BYU study abroad is an incredible value. Not only is the tuition in the cost, but students also have wonderful experiences and receive personal tutoring. I remember going to the Rembrandt room in the National Gallery with Don Marshall; that was where our class learned about Rembrandt. The value is unparalleled.
Study abroad is sometimes perceived as a rich young woman’s program. What would you say to that?
We had girls from all backgrounds, and we had teachers who believed in a rigorous study program—they wanted us to learn. I learned a lot on study abroad, and it was not an easy “A.”
How do you think study abroad fits into students’ preparation for their future after graduation?
In the workforce you have to understand diversity. Study abroad is not the same as a mission experience; it is not the same as an intern experience. It is its own thing. For me, it has been an umbrella over the rest of what I have done. I would not trade study abroad for anything.
How does the global perspective you received from London and your travels since then relate back to students at BYU who are trying to figure out what they want to do and where they want to go?
I was a journalism major, and nothing on study abroad directly aligned with the classes I was taking. However, it does not matter if you are majoring in journalism, business, science, or education. What you are doing when you go on study abroad is enriching everything because you come home with an overlay of understanding of the humanities and humanity. I think that makes you a better employee, no matter what field you study. If you are a parent at home, it is as Elder Neal A. Maxwell said: “The more a mother brings to a nest, the more nutritive the nest” (“Taking Up the Cross,” BYU fireside address, 4 January 1976). An experience like that colors everything you do.