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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Happy 85th Birthday to Elder Dallin H. Oaks

Hello, all! Continuing the tradition of posts written to honor our apostles on their birthdays, I am pleased to present this post in tribute of and celebration for the 85th birthday of Elder Dallin H. Oaks. Elder Oaks is one of those whose talks I have grown to appreciate a lot and can relate to. In the Teachings of the Living Prophets Classes that I have had (and I have taken that quite a few times because I have enjoyed it so much), I learned that Elder Oaks always approaches each talk in terms of presenting it as a legal document. That is evidenced by the way he numbers the various points of whatever his subject matter is. With that preliminary note, let's present a brief biography about him.

Elder Oaks was born in 1932, to Dr. Lloyd E. and Stella Harris Oaks. His mother traces her ancestry back to Martin Harris, who, as we know, was one of the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon. His first name was given in honor of the last name of an artist with whom his mother had worked (as the model) for a statue in Springville Utah. His father, an opthalmologist, died when young Dallin was age 7 from complications of tuberculosis. Being the oldest child of his family, the death of his father gave him some unique opportunities to help his mother and to be an example to his younger siblings, which was one thing of which he has frequently spoken.

After his father died, his mother was able to earn a graduate degree at Columbia University and support her family by working to provide adult education opportunities for those who needed it. She also went on to become the first woman to be part of Provo's City Council, and to serve for a time as assistant mayor. In the meantime, Elder Oaks attended Brigham Young High School, where he played football and became a certified radio engineer. Once he started attending BYU, he took many opportunities to be the radio announcer at high school games. At one of those games, he was introduced to June Dixon, the young lady he began dating a short time later and whom he went on to marry.

He was unable to serve as a full-time missionary because he was a member of the National Guard, and there was a possibility he could have been called up to serve during the Korean War. Dallin and June were married in 1952, and he graduated from BYU two years later with a degree in accounting. He went on to study law at the University of Chicago, graduating with his degree 3 years later.

He spent the early part of his professional career clerking for Chief Justice Earl Warren of the US Supreme Court. After that, he practiced law at Kirkland and Ellis. He left that job in 1961 to become a professor at Chicago Law, While in that capacity, he served as interim dean.  He also served on the foundational board of a a Mormon thought periodical. He was also chairman of the university's disciplinary committee,

He took a leave of absence from the University while serving as legal counsel to the Bill of Rights Committee of the Illinois Constitutional Convention. He left the law school for good in 1971 when he was appointed the new president of BYU, a position he held for nine years. He then went on to serve for five years as chairman of the board of directors for PBS, and eight years as chairman of the board of directors of the Polynesian Cultural Center.

In 1980, he was appointed a justice of the Utah Supreme Court, an office he held for the next four years. He was rumored to have been considered by two US Presidents (Gerald Ford and later Ronald Regan) for a nomination to the US Supreme Court.

However, a surprise change in direction for him came in 1984. President Gordon B. Hinckley, then a counselor to the ailing Church President, Spencer W. Kimball, tracked him down via phone call to let him know that he had been selected to become an apostle and member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, filling the second of two vacancies that had risen due to the deaths of Elders LeGrand Richards on January 11, 1983, and Mark E. Petersen exactly one year to the day later. (In fact, it was because of President Kimball's ill health that neither vacancy had been filled for over a year prior to April 1984). Elder Oaks became the junior apostle to Elder Russell M. Nelson, called at the same time.

The difference between Elder Nelson and Elder Oaks is that, in the case of the latter, he was unable to be present at the General Conference in which he was sustained to the apostleship, as he was taking care of judicial obligations for which he was out of town. President Hinckley, in leading the sustaining of these two newest apostles, offered the following explanation:

"With reference to Dallin Oaks, I should like to say that while we nominate and sustain him today, he will not be ordained to the apostleship, nor will he be set apart as a member of the Council of the Twelve, nor will he begin his apostolic service, until after he completes his present judicial commitments, which may require several weeks. He is absent from the city, and necessarily absent from the conference. We excuse him. "

Elder Oaks was ordained an apostle just short of four weeks after being sustained (having been sustained on April 7 and being subsequently ordained to the apostleship on May 3). He had his first opportunity to respond to his apostolic call six months later, speaking on the importance of witnesses, within the context of his new assignment to be a special witness of Jesus Christ.

Over 33 years have passed since his apostolic call. He has filled a wide variety of assignments in his time as an apostle, and has had many opportunities to meet with and speak to Church members in various parts of the world. In 2002, he and Elder Holland were asked to be the first apostles in quite a while to live on-site in two of the Church's geographical areas, with Elder Oaks being based in the Philippines, and Elder Holland being assigned to preside in Chile.

I have an indirect personal connection to Elder Oaks. During the two years he oversaw the Philippines Area (2002-2004), a senior missionary couple by the names of George and Louise Sturt were called as missionaries that served in the area offices. The Sturts have known my family from clear back during the time that they were living in South Africa and there met my mom's family. The Sturts, who because of their kindness to my mom since she came to the United States on a "short vacation" that has now spanned nearly 40 years, are considered to be grandparents to my siblings and me, with their children being adopted aunts and uncles, and their grandchildren being considered our cousins. When my aunt Louise passed away a few years ago after years of failing health, Elder Oaks was one of the very first to offer his condolences to the Sturt family.

But getting back to Elder Oaks, he has known sorrow in his own life. His sweet wife June passed away in 1998. Just over two years later, Elder Oaks married Kristen M. McMain, who has been by his side ever since. In the meantime, since assuming his role in the apostleship 33 years ago, Elder Oaks has gone from being the least senior apostle to now being the second most senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the third most senior apostle overall.

During his apostolic ministry, Elder Oaks has had 67 opportunities to speak during General Conference (and he had one additional opportunity to do so prior to his apostolic call). You can review any of those talks on a wide variety of subjects here. In the meantime, with the May 23 announcement about how President Monson has stepped back from an active role presiding over the Church, I am sure that Elder Oaks is a great help to President Nelson and the two counselors in the First Presidency in shouldering the load of moving the Church forward.

Because he received his call to the apostleship at the age of 51 (making him at that time the youngest apostle since Elder Boyd K. Packer was called 14 years earlier at the age of 47. As he has moved up the ranks of the apostleship, he has consistently encouraged us as Latter-day Saints to live what we believe and to adhere to the principles and doctrines of the Church. Some have said that the fact he was so young when called is a clear indicator that he may one day become President of the Church.

While it is clear to me that the Lord controls the process of prophetic succession, I could see that happening, but I could also see why it wouldn't. Elder Oaks's age makes him just shy of 5 years younger than President Monson and just under 8 years younger than President Nelson. There seems to be an equal chance of both President Nelson and Elder Oaks becoming Church President, just one of them, or neither of them. Time will tell.

In the meantime, I am grateful to have been able to take the opportunity to share more about Elder Oaks. I testify that his apostolic call, along with the calls of all other apostles, has indeed been divinely directed and inspired, as has how and when Elder Oaks has moved up in the ranks of apostolic seniority. Speaking personally, I hope Elder Oaks has had a wonderful birthday, and I hope to see him continue to live and inspire us for many years to come.

That does it for the birthday tribute to this good man. Comments continue to be welcome and appreciated. Thank you for the privilege of your time. Until I come back with my next post, I wish you all the best.

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