I’ve been traveling since a couple of days before Thanksgiving, with only sporadic computer access and writing time. I don’t usually check email on my phone, but Wednesday morning I sort of accidentally did that and was shocked to find an email letting me know of the death of a friend and fellow warrior.
Where to start? Back in 1996 Richard Wilkins was a professor of Constitutional Law at BYU’s J. Reuben Clark Law School (one of the first graduates of the school to come back to teach). He often worked on law cases concerning how international law affects our Constitution and warned about the trend toward allowing international law to trump our sovereignty. I’m not sure of the exact reasons, but he felt the need that year to travel to a UN conference in Istanbul. He was concerned about what he was hearing there and took the opportunity to speak.
He told me that he spoke about the Proclamation on theFamily, issued shortly before that by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to which he was a devout member (as I am). At the time it came out, the issues in the Proclamation were such standard doctrine to us that he said he wondered at the reasoning. Since that time, he says he sees it as prophetic; every line in it is challenged in the world today. But in 1996 he happened to take a brochure of the Proclamation with him and had it in his pocket. When he shared those ideas, the opponents to the family (the previous speakers) hissed their disapproval, but the room at large gave him a standing ovation. They came up to him afterward to thank him for speaking what so many of them believed, and they formed long-standing alliances to work toward protecting the natural family from the international onslaught.
Richard formed the World Family Policy Forum, an annual workshop of international interest in protecting the family, which continued for a number of years in various places around the world. (I believe he worked in association with Alan Carlson of the World Family Policy Institute.) He also founded Defend Marriage, which became a project of United Families International. Around 2006 he took a sabbatical from the law school to found the Doha Family Policy Institute. This was to be a three-year project, but as it neared an end, he decided to retire from teaching and stay on in Qatar indefinitely.
I expected that to continue until he was ready to retire, but last spring he suddenly announced that his position had been Qatarized, and he would be returning home. I didn’t know what that meant until I asked him in person in April. The Doha Institute was a project of the Sheika (essentially the first lady) of Qatar, and she chose to convert his position to an appointment to a Qatari citizen. It happens. He was disappointed but not terribly surprised. But he was not hopeful that the Institute could do as much worldwide good without experienced guidance. One of the things he was able to accomplish was setting plans in place for the 2014 Year of the Family celebration. I understand they will honor him there with a moment of silence.
Looking at it now, I think it was a blessing that he got to return home for a relatively relaxing half year surrounded by family. No one could have predicted there was so little time left. The morning after Thanksgiving he suffered a sudden massive heart failure. Extraordinary efforts were spent for three days, trying to revive him, but he finally passed Monday evening, November 26, with family around.
For friends reading this in Utah, funeral services will be held at 11:00am this Saturday, December 1st, at the LDS Chapel at 2445 North 650 East, Provo, UT 84604. There will be a viewing at the same location this Friday evening from 5:00 PM-8:00 PM and this Saturday morning from 9:00 AM-10:30 AM. I’m sorry not to be able to give more notice; travel this week has prevented me from posting regularly, and will also prevent me from attending the services.
I pray for blessings of comfort to his dear wife, Melany, and their children, all of whom I have met and have heard about with each visit and Christmas letter. Not only was Richard a champion of the idea of family as the basic unit of society, it was the central personal joy of his life.
I’ll continue this post with a Part II about how I knew him and how he profoundly affected my writing.