Elder Oaks Recognized as “Pillar of the Valley”
Contributed By By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer
“He’s more than a pillar of this valley. He is a humble genius, a devoted disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, and an eloquent example to me and to many millions throughout the entire world.” —Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve
Elder Dallin H. Oaks’ roots are deep and his branches wide in this central Utah community, a fact made abundantly clear March 28 when the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce bestowed upon him the 2014 Pillar of the Valley Award.
With family, friends and colleagues in attendance, Elder Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles received the honor at a dinner held at the Utah Valley Convention Center.
In a brief interview at a pre-dinner reception, Elder Oaks said, “I just feel very humble and grateful that I would be honored in the place where I was born, in the place where I grew up and graduated from high school, the place where I returned after years away to be president of the university and where I have half of our family living in Utah County. This is where my parents are buried, and this is where I’ll be buried.”
Three of Elder Oaks’ six children and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren live in the area, as does his only sister, Evelyn, and her husband, retired medical doctor Lyman Moody.
Elder Oaks’ life was highlighted in a specially produced video presentation shown at the event and in the remarks of speakers.
Jenny Oaks Baker, acclaimed violinist and daughter of Elder Oaks and his first wife, Sister June Oaks (who died in 1998), performed two selections.
Born at home in Provo on August 12, 1939, Dallin Oaks almost didn’t survive the birth. The quick thinking of his father’s sister, nurse Nettie Remington, saved him, as she sprayed chloroform on his body, causing him to gasp and take his first breath.
“Most of the formative experiences of my life took place in Utah Valley,” Elder Oaks remarked in the video.
That included faith to overcome the grief over the death of his father when he was eight. “At the time of our father’s death, it was a terrible shock, and Dallin did go through some very difficult times,” Sister Moody said, also in the video.
His law school education and legal career, beginning as a clerk to Chief Justice Earl Warren of the U.S. Supreme Court, were recounted, as well as his professorship at the University of Chicago law school.
In the video, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, “When Elder Oaks was named president of BYU, I think many in the Church, maybe most, said, ‘Dallin Who?’ ”
But he made his mark at the university, and then served as a Utah Supreme Court justice before his call as an apostle.
“Along with my love for him, which is very personal, is my wonderful respect and admiration for him as an apostle,” Elder Holland said in the video.
Speaking live, Elder Russell M. Nelson spoke of his and Elder Oaks’ calls to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on the same day in April 1984.
But that was not their first meeting.
They met in 1965 when Elder Nelson, a prominent heart surgeon, went to the University of Chicago where he was being recruited for the university’s medical school and hospital. Elder Oaks, then a faculty member, was assigned by the university to try to persuade him to settle in Chicago.
The recruitment effort failed. But Elder Nelson recalled, “He changed my life then, and he still does.”
“He has precision in thought, Christlike kindness, prophetic vision,” Elder Nelson said. “He’s more than a pillar of this valley. He is a humble genius, a devoted disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, and an eloquent example to me and to many millions throughout the entire world.”
Sister Kristen Oaks, his wife, said, “There are two things I think are so wonderful about him: his constancy and his wisdom.”
She spoke of one of his well-remembered general conference sermons, “Good, Better, Best” and said: “I’m so thankful that Elder Oaks has made consistent lifetime ‘better’ choices to strengthen and love our family and has daily, diligently given his very best in service to his Heavenly Father.”
Elder Spencer J. Condie, emeritus General Authority who was a sociology professor at BYU under President Oaks, spoke of being with the apostle last year in Illinois when he spoke at the re-enactment of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s habeas corpus hearings. [See the news story.]
“Notwithstanding the fact that his audience consisted of many who were not of his faith, in conclusion, Elder Oaks bore his testimony that he and millions of his countrymen consider Joseph Smith to be a prophet of God,” Elder Condie said.
Bill Fillmore, who was student body president at BYU the first year Elder Oaks presided there, remembered “the mighty change that came over the campus of the university as this young, 38-year-old lawyer was made president.”
“I had the opportunity of being with him at several meetings and was always struck by how well he listened, how thoughtful he was, how insightful and also how decisive,” Brother Fillmore said.