Monday, December 3, 2012

Each Life that Touches Ours for Good

This is Part II of Remembering Richard Wilkins. Part I is here.
Richard Wilkins, photo from
World Family Policy Center
I first met Richard Wilkins when he came to Houston to speak about defending the family, back in 2001. I took copious notes, which I still have. After the event, I got to enjoy a conversation with his wife, Melany, talking about music and a whole lot of other things. Very fun. He was busy talking with a long line of people, so my conversation with him later was brief.
In 2003, the year the Texas legislature voted on its DOMA legislation, I found much of Richard Wilkins’  information useful when I testified before the House Committee, on a day when 700+ supporters attended and many testified. DOMA passed, but a month later the Supreme Court essentially wiped out the people’s will with the Lawrence v. Texas case (states are not allowed to make laws against sodomy was the specific ruling, but the vague language led to many future attacks on marriage).
In summer 2003 I suggested Richard and Melany as speakers at a homeschool conference, as the keynote speaker to which we invited the public—again to talk about defending the family. We got several hours of information from them, and were able to spend more time together. (They even attended a workshop I taught on literary analysis, which Melany later told me they were using with their youngest son, whom they were homeschooling at the time.) Sometime after the keynote speech I talked with Richard about what to do, now that we had this information. My skill is in gathering information and being able to write it in a way that people can understand, but I had no connections or credentials to get anything published. He said it was good to have the viewpoint of a mother, and that I shouldn’t let that stop me.
Within a couple of months I had written a piece, using much of the information he gave me, and we exchanged emails during an editing process so I could get the references for all the data I included. The piece got published because of his recommendation. In fact, every piece I wrote over the next couple of years, in the defense of marriage, was published because of his recommendation—with the exception of the Houston Chronicle piece shortly before the 2005 Texas Constitutional Amendment to define marriage. But even that was published because he gave me the credential of a voluntary position as writer for Defend Marriage. 
This past spring I re-published some of those pieces on this blog, with links to their original publications:
·         In Defense of Marriage 
·         Defining Marriage and Making Cream Sauce (I co-authored with Richard Wilkins)
·         The Gay Marriage Fantasy
·         Why Texas Will Vote to Protect Marriage—No Matter What You Call Us

Richard was the one to introduce me to historical scientists of marriage: Vico and Unwin. Information about them is included in several of my published pieces, also at Spherical Model. I’m not sure where he learned of them, but they are now oft-quoted. We both needed to see some original information, so he asked me if I could get hold of Unwin’s research. I did an interlibrary loan and was able to obtain a copy of the near-century-old study and send it to Richard. I wrote a three-part blog post on what we learn from Vico and Unwin, starting with “Devaluing Marriage and Family = Decay of Civilization”    
In addition to specific protection of traditional marriage, Richard opened my eyes to the demographic changes leading to lower and lower birthrates worldwide. I wrote about Demographic Winter in June 2011; the diagrams in this post were first shown to me by Richard Wilkins, which I recorded in my notes.
If there is any single source of information that has affected what I write at in defense of marriage, and in fact the entire “Family Is the Basic Unit of Civilization” section of Spherical Model, that source has been Richard Wilkins. That will continue to be so, because he has shown me where to go for continued information. Defending marriage was something he did as a personal calling, as a service to God. There were so many ways he could have been making money instead. He joked about it being “our expensive hobby of saving the world.”
Richard and Melany had a home near Brigham Young University, where we started taking college kids in 2005 (and our daughter still attends there). Plus, I am from Utah and still have family there, so we started visiting them when we were in town. I always felt honored if they could find time to see us. They are gracious hosts (and good cooks), beyond anything our friendship could offer them. Conversations were always lively and valuable. And they included our children, as well as us adults, as having opinions totally worth listening to.
Richard preparing for role of Scrooge,
photo from Salt Lake Tribune
We only spent a relatively minimal time talking shop; there was so much else the Wilkins’ were interested in. I learned along the way that Richard is very musical. He had taken piano lessons from a teacher who lived just two blocks from my childhood home (the teacher had a couple of kids my age that I knew through school and church--it's a small world). Melany is also musical, which I knew from our first conversation, and I found out her field was theater.
Eventually we learned of their participation in the annual Hale Community Theater production of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Richard started playing the central role of Ebenezer Scrooge back in 1985, when he was in his early 30s, way too young to look the part without a lot of theater makeup. We left Utah in 1984, and never got the chance to see him perform. He managed to keep performing even during the years in Qatar; he had a month’s leave every winter. The cast began rehearsals without him, and he would arrive ready to go just days before performances began. The local news stories following his death centered on his relative fame for this role, with the worldwide protection of marriage only in the background. But the performances were about to start for the season. The stories talked about how he relished the role of Scrooge (among other theater roles he performed over the years).
He had a voice that worked well for theater, but also for speaking. This last month there was some discussion about the Daniel Day Lewis performance of Lincoln, with a higher, more piercing rather than basso voice of earlier portrayals. The description reminded me of Richard. When he gave a speech, his voice shifted in pitch, toward tenor from baritone, and carried easily through a big room. In normal speech, he was still animated and lively. And he had a marvelous booming laugh—such that it was almost startling in a small room. At the last dinner we had with him in May (myself, my daughter and her fiancĂ©-now-husband), Richard told us a memorably funny story, with full animation and laugh, and we have repeated it to each other several times since. What a delight!
There’s that image of Scrooge, when he wakes up Christmas morning and becomes aware he hasn’t missed it—and he has more time to live differently and happily. That happy, joyous Scrooge is how I picture Richard: “And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge,” “as good a friend…as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.”
It is a blessing to find such a friend, who served so well. I recalled a quote this week, from another man who lived such an exemplary life. The Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley, quoted yet another prophet, Spencer W. Kimball: “President Spencer W. Kimball, who was such a great example of this principle, once said to me, ‘I feel that my life is like my shoes—to be worn out in service to others.’”  Richard was such a man—worn out in service. He was so energetic, so effective, he accomplished whatever the Lord asked of him, and, at only 59, he did it in fewer years than we would have preferred. We will miss him. But we feel privileged to have known him, and look forward to a next-life day when we can joyfully get together again.
* The title "Each Life That Touches Ours for Good" is hymn 293 from Hymns, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint.

1 comment:

  1. I discovered your blog while searching for information on Richard Wilkins. I recently found out about him and his great, tireless efforts to defend the family from a past professor of mine. I took a child and family advocacy class in college and feel called to act in this capacity. I am now volunteering with United Families International and only wish I would have known and spoken with Mr. Wilkins before he passed away. Thank you for your posts about him, it's helped me come to know him better.

    It's wonderful to find a fellow advocate of the family and of marriage. It is my belief that there truly is strength in numbers, especially in this specific pursuit. Please contact me via email ( - I would appreciate learning more about efforts you've expended, information Mr. Wilkins taught you, etc.

    Jenny Cooper