Get to Know President Dallin H. Oaks, Bold Leader

Contributed By Marianne Holman Prescott, Church News staff writer

  • 2 February 2018

President Dallin H. Oaks answers interview questions at his office in the Church Administration Building in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, January 10, 2018. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.  Photo courtesy of Deseret News Archives.

Article Highlights

  • President Oaks served as BYU president and justice of the Utah Supreme Court.
  • His call in 1984 to be an Apostle has prepared him to serve in the First Presidency.

“I rejoice in the opportunity to give my full efforts to bear witness of Jesus Christ and proclaim the truth of His restored gospel.” —President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency

On April 6, 1984, Utah Supreme Court Justice Dallin H. Oaks was preparing for a confidential meeting with the Public Broadcasting Service board of directors. It was 9:30 p.m., and he was eating dinner in a restaurant in Arizona when he received a phone call from President Gordon B. Hinckley, then of the First Presidency.

“He told me to call him back when I got to my hotel room,” President Oaks recalled. “I assumed he wanted to know about something that happened while I was at BYU or someone I knew there” (Church News, Apr. 1984).

Upon returning President Hinckley’s call, he heard the Church leader’s words—that the Lord had called him, Dallin Oaks, to be a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

“I was stunned,” President Oaks has said of the experience. After “13 sleepless hours,” it was announced to the Church—while he was on an airplane traveling to his meeting in Chicago, Illinois—that he would be a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Church members sustained President Russell M. Nelson to the Quorum on the same day.

“When I got off the plane, I called home to see if it had really happened,” he recalled.

Nearly 34 years later, the seasoned Church leader has responded again to a prophet’s call to serve, this time in the First Presidency. On January 14, President Oaks was set apart to serve as First Counselor to President Nelson. (See related story.)

Childhood

Born on August 12, 1932, in Provo, Utah, to Lloyd E. and Stella Harris Oaks, President Oaks is the oldest of the couple’s three children. His father, a trained ophthalmologist, died of tuberculosis when Dallin was only 7 years old, leaving his mother to raise the couple’s children alone.

After his father died, his mother tried to go back to school and work, but it proved to be too soon. Overwhelmed with responsibilities and overcome with grief, Stella Oaks had her children live with her parents for a time on a farm near Payson, Utah, just 12 miles south of Provo.

“I had a lot of problems in school,” President Oaks recalled in a Church News article. “I just couldn’t concentrate. I remember when we were learning how to do long division. We had to do 20 long division problems a day. Your score was how many you missed. My scores were always around 15 or 16.

“Looking back on it, I’m sure my problems were due to the emotional disturbance of losing my father and mother at the same time. But as far as I was concerned at the time, I was just the dumbest boy in the world.”

The children eventually returned to live with their mother in Vernal, Utah, where she accepted a teaching position. With time—and the help of a loving teacher and supportive mother—Dallin found his bearings in school and went on to do very well in academics.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks with his mother, Stella; brother, Merrill; and sister, Evelyn. Elder Oaks’s father died when he was 7 years old, and his mother raised the three children on her own. Photo courtesy of Dallin H. Oaks, Deseret News.

“I was blessed with an extraordinary mother,” President Oaks said in an article on LDS.org. “She surely was one of the many noble women who have lived in the latter days. … She gave me a great deal of responsibility and freedom. She encouraged me to have a job.”

After a few years in Vernal the family moved back to Provo in an effort to be close to Brigham Young University—his parents’ alma mater. His mother would later become the first woman to sit on the Provo City Council, and she worked as director of adult education for Provo City Schools. Dallin graduated from Brigham Young High School in 1950 and enrolled at BYU.

Family life

As a young man, Dallin’s first job was sweeping out a radio repair shop. Those days sweeping turned into an interest in radio, where he, before age 16, obtained a radiotelephone operator’s license, allowing him to operate a commercial radio station’s transmitter. From that interest came a job in radio, where he would work as both an announcer and a transmitter engineer.

That job would prove to be more than a hobby or source of income. During his freshman year of college at BYU, President Oaks occasionally served as a radio announcer at high school basketball games. It was at one of those games he met June Dixon, a senior at a local high school. A year and a half after they met, the couple married in the Salt Lake Temple. Together they have six children.

Dallin Oaks was a radio announcer at KOVO when he was a student. He later became a distinguished lawyer, president of BYU, a Utah Supreme Court Justice, and a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Photo courtesy of Deseret News Archives.

On July 21, 1998, June died from cancer. Two years later, Elder Oaks married Kristen M. McMain in the Salt Lake Temple.

Sister June Oaks, wife of Elder Dallin H. Oaks. She died of cancer at age 65. Photo courtesy of Deseret News Archives.

President Dallin H. Oaks and Kristen M. Oaks.

Education and career

In 1954, President Oaks graduated in accounting from BYU with high honors and furthered his education at the University of Chicago Law School.

In a Church News article from April 1984, Sister June Oaks was quoted as saying, “He’d come home and say, ‘There may be smarter guys at that law school, but nobody studies as hard as I do.’”

June and Dallin Oaks with daughters Sharmon and Cheri around 1956. Photo courtesy of Deseret Book.

After graduation, President Oaks began his law career as a clerk to Chief Justice Earl Warren of the U.S. Supreme Court for a year and then moved to a private practice. After working for three years in a private law practice in Chicago, he returned to the University of Chicago, where he taught at the law school. While there he served as associate dean and acting dean.

In addition to a demanding career, he served in a stake presidency and later as a regional representative.

In 1971, Elder Oaks accepted the responsibility of serving as the eighth president of Brigham Young University. For the Oaks family, this was a “happy, exciting” nine years and included the birth of their sixth child after not having a child for 13 years (Church News, 1984). While there, he oversaw the creation of the J. Reuben Clark Law School and the Graduate Business School.

Gordon B. Hinckley, BYU President Dallin H. Oaks, Sister June Dixon Oaks, and Sister Marjorie Peay Hinckley pose for a photo during the BYU Young Ambassador tour to China in April 1980. Photo by Mark A. Philbrick, BYU.

From 1979 to 1984, he served as chairman of the board of directors of the Public Broadcasting Service.

Four months after he completed his service as president of BYU, Utah Governor Scott M. Matheson appointed him to the state Supreme Court.

Of that assignment, he said, “I was pleased to get back into the mainstream of the legal profession. And I loved the job. I couldn’t imagine anything I’d enjoy more than what I was doing on the Supreme Court.”

In June of 1981, Justice Dallin H. Oaks speaks to an issue before him. The case was a Utah Power and Light probe of misuse of campaign contributions. Photo courtesy of Deseret News Archives.

A call to serve in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Although he planned to work on the Utah Supreme Court until his retirement, only three and a half years after his appointment in 1980 he was called to be an Apostle. Sustained as a General Authority on April 7, 1984, during the Saturday morning session of general conference, President Oaks joined the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, but because of his judicial commitments, he was not ordained an Apostle until May 3, 1984.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks was called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in April 1984. Photo by Church Public Affairs, courtesy of Deseret News Archives.

Known for his bold teachings on religious freedom, the doctrine of the family, and gender equality, as well as encouraging young adults to plan dates rather than just “hanging out,” President Oaks has been a strong voice in teaching the doctrines of the gospel during his 34 years as a General Authority.

His assignments have taken him around the world; he presided over and lived in the Church’s Philippines Area from 2002 to 2004.

“With all my heart I pledge my loyalty and support for President Nelson’s loving and inspired leadership,” President Oaks said on the day of his call to the First Presidency. “I rejoice in the opportunity to give my full efforts to bear witness of Jesus Christ and proclaim the truth of His restored gospel.” (See related story.)

LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson, center, is announced as the 17th President of Church, Tuesday, January 16, 2018. At left, President Dallin H. Oaks, First Counselor. Photo by Spenser Heaps, Deseret News.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks answers interview questions at his office in the Church Administration Building in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, January 10, 2018. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks answers interview questions at his office in the Church Administration Building in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, January 10, 2018. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

From left, Elder Lynn G. Robbins, Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, and Elder Carlos A. Godoy meet together in Lima, Peru, on September 11, 2017.

Elders Boyd K. Packer, center, James E. Faust, and Dallin H. Oaks serve on the temple and genealogy executive council, June 6, 1987. Photo courtesy of Church News archives.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Photo courtesy of Deseret News Archives.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks discusses the progress of the Church in Czechoslovakia with Elder Martin Pilka, Czechoslovakia’s first missionary in recent times, March 16, 1991. Photo courtesy of Deseret News Archives.

From left, John Langmore; Keith Nielsen, Sydney Stake Mission President; Arnold Cummins, Camberra District President; Slade Beard, Camberra District director of Public Affairs; Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Photo depicts the handover of Encyclopedia of Mormonism and scriptures. Photo courtesy of Deseret News Archives.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks in October 1985. Photo courtesy of Deseret News Archives.

Dr. Dallin H. Oaks, Justice of the Utah Supreme Court. Photo courtesy of Deseret News Archives.

Newly sworn-in Chief Justice Richard J. Maughan administers the oath to Dallin H. Oaks, former BYU president. Photo courtesy of Deseret News Archives.

Utah Supreme Court Justice Dallin H. Oaks, 51, is called to be an Apostle. He was named to the high court in 1980 after serving nine years as president of Brigham Young University. Photo courtesy of Deseret News Archives.

BYU President Dallin H. Oaks speaks in Madrid. Photo courtesy of Deseret News Archives.

BYU President Dallin H. Oaks greets Elder Marion G. Romney at a graduation banquet. Photo courtesy of Deseret News Archives.

BYU President Dallin H. Oaks doesn't have a lot of spare time, but what he does have he spends with his family. Here, he pushes his youngest daughter, Jenny, in a backyard swing. Photo courtesy of Deseret News Archives.

Dr. Dallin H. Oaks as president of BYU. Photo courtesy of the Deseret News Archives.

Dr. Dallin H. Oaks at the J. Reuben Clark Law Building. Photo courtesy of Deseret News Archives.

President Spencer W. Kimball, BYU President Dallin H. Oaks, Elder Howard W. Hunter, and Dr. Daniel J. Boorstin chat before BYU commencement. Photo courtesy of Deseret News Archives.

President Harold B. Lee, left, President Joseph Fielding Smith, and President N. Eldon Tanner sit with Dr. Dallin H. Oaks, new president of BYU, during inauguration rites for Oaks at the Provo campus. Photo courtesy of Deseret News Archives.

Hon. Carl Albert, left, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Rep. Gunn McKay, U.S. congressman from Utah, right, present part of the 15-volume U.S. Code to Dr. Ernest L. Wilkinson and President Dallin H. Oaks of Brigham Young University. Photo courtesy of Deseret News Archives.

President Dallin H. Oaks of Brigham Young University demonstrates his prowess at driving a tractor when administrative officials were guests at the university’s 700-acre farm near Spanish Fork. Photo courtesy of Deseret News Archives.

Proud dad and BYU President Dallin H. Oaks stands with his daughter Mrs. Sharmon Ward at her graduation. Photo courtesy of Deseret News Archives.

BYU President Dallin H. Oaks, top right, joins the Young Ambassadors in a cheer before taping in Kyiv, Soviet Union (now Ukraine). Photo courtesy of Deseret News Archives.

Dr. Dallin H. Oaks with Elder Ezra Taft Benson at BYU commencement. Photo courtesy of Deseret News Archives.

BYU President Dallin H. Oaks, left, gets a handshake and hug from President Spencer W. Kimball. Photo courtesy of Deseret News Archives.

Dr. Dallin H. Oaks, president of BYU, with President Spencer W. Kimball. Photo courtesy of Deseret News Archives.

1975 Centennial Founder’s Day featured BYU President Dallin H. Oaks riding in horseless carriage. Photo courtesy Deseret News Archives.

BYU President Dallin H. Oaks delights basketball fans as BYU mascot “Cosmo the Cougar” during a 1978 basketball game. Photo courtesy of Deseret News Archives.

Dr. Dallin H. Oaks, president of BYU, speaks with students on campus. Photo courtesy of Deseret News Archives.

Dallin H. Oaks speaks to a capacity crowd at his inauguration as president of Brigham Young University in 1971. Photo courtesy of Deseret News Archives.

BYU President Dallin H. Oaks. His early broadcast training helped him develop his skill at public speaking. Photo courtesy of Deseret News Archives.

Dallin H. Oaks, director of the Union Pacific Corp. and Union Pacific Railroad Co. Photo courtesy of Deseret News Archives.