December 4, 2012
From the desk of Carol Soelberg:
In the family arena, it seems we often deal with extremes. This week is no exception. We have some wonderful news to share but some very sad news as well. Good news first! The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which we reported on last week did NOT pass the U.S. Senate this morning in a vote of 61 to 38 (falling five votes short of the two-thirds majority necessary to ratify).
We hope you recognize that your voice DOES make a difference. Thank you for contacting your Senators with an urgent plea to not allow passage of the dangerous treaty! We can certainly celebrate this victory!
Now for the sad news.
Last week the pro-family movement lost one of its most cherished advocates when Dr. Richard Wilkins died unexpectedly. As I have reflected on Dr. Wilkin’s life, I have felt a swell of gratitude for the incredible people who have dedicated so much of their lives to the preservation of families. As you read Tom Christensen’s memories of this great man, I think you, too, will feel a reverent appreciation for many hours and means of sacrifice that have gone into creating a safe future for YOUR family.
Dr. Wilkins was one of our first advocates at the United Nations and has been a strong component of UFI for many years. UFI offers deep felt sorrow and prayerful sympathy to his family and the world at this time of passing.
Memories of a Pro-Family Giant
In the waning days of November, one of the world’s best men passed away: Richard Wilkins. Richard was a delightful personality, a devoted father and church man, and a powerful advocate of the traditional family on the world stage. I am honored to have lived in his shadow and to call him my friend.
I first met Richard after being invited by United Families International to attend a UN conference in Istanbul. I was an elected city councilman at the time and Richard was a BYU law professor. I decided to go to Istanbul after attending a meeting in UFI President Susan Roylance’s home where Richard addressed the major issues in the extensive UN “Habitat II” draft document. I was so impressed by Richard that I felt confident to go and knew we could make a difference.*
When I returned from Istanbul, I joined UFI and attended a few meetings. When the Chairman of the Board, Steve Goodman, was critically injured in a car accident, I filled in for Steve. Richard encouraged me to keep the organization alive and helped funnel volunteers to help put the organization back together. We met in Richard’s office during that first year.
Since UFI had very limited resources and staff, I personally travelled with Richard to UN conferences. Meanwhile, Richard established himself as a key figure in the World Congress of Families movement and later convened annual international seminars on family policy at BYU known as the World Family Policy Forum. Richard also brought wonderful BYU students along with him to the UN conferences, most notably a young law student now a US Senator, Mike Lee, who was an outstanding family advocate in Rome and New York.
Even though Richard walked with presidents, prophets, and popes, he never lost his common touch nor contagious sense of humor.
I smile when I think about UFI’s sensational policy director, now Arizona Senator Andy Biggs standing with Richard in the lobby of a hotel at the World Congress in Geneva in front of a large poster set up by BYU students featuring a full head shot of Richard Wilkins. “Big head, Richard,” Andy quipped. Richard smiled awkwardly and disclaimed responsibility for the poster. The poster was gone the next day.
Richard had a gracious, tender, and righteous heart. In Nairobi, things were not going particularly well for us, and Richard, with tears in his eyes, asked a few of us to kneel with him in prayer in one of the back rooms in the UN building. Things rapidly improved after that. I will never forget his tight embrace and humble expression of appreciation for my efforts as we departed from Nairobi.
I don’t recall Richard ever turning down a speaking invitation if he was available. He would lend his name and reputation to any start up organization seeking to aid the cause. He was so eloquent and interesting that he touched hearts and minds all over the world and raised millions of dollars for BYU, who featured Richard prominently in its fundraising campaigns. He could have been a rich man in the legal world where his unique abilities were in great demand, but he chose to give it up for a modest income pursuing the cause of the family.
A few years ago, after an international conference in Seoul, Richard and I shared a cab to the airport. In the airport, Richard went to one side of the small terminal and I to the other. After checking in my bags, I walked around the terminal to find Richard. I couldn’t find him. Later, I learned that Richard, who was slightly unstable because he apparently suffered from MS, had collapsed, bumped his head on the hard floor, and knocked himself out. While I was standing less than one hundred feet away, Richard had been hauled on a stretcher to the nearest hospital. It was not Richard’s time to go. He had a greater mission to perform.
Last week Richard was called to his mission on the other side.
Richard collapsed at home; about to leave for one of his other beloved endeavors – theatrical performance. But this time there was no recovery. When Richard was taken off life support in the hospital, his family surrounded him and gave him a spontaneous standing ovation.
Even though Richard is no longer alive to perform, speak, and lift hearts on this earth; his message, example, and memory will never die. He is with his God whom he served so well, and his parents whom he dearly loved. His lifetime companion Melany, children and grandchildren will be with him again one day for they are an eternal family.
Bravo, my friend. Your work will continue.
* For a summary of “the miracle in Istanbul” see my article of April 14, 2011. Both Richard and I were invited to speak at the Istanbul conference: Richard in the plenary session and I in the working group session. Richard, with his amazing knowledge and writing/speaking ability, formulated the text for both speeches that proved to be critical to the outcome.
Tom Christensen, former CEO of United Families, is a successful father, attorney, and politician. He has written extensively on the natural family and has addressed UN delegations in behalf of UFI in Istanbul, New York, Nairobi, the Hague, Lisbon and Geneva. __________________
We invite you to reflect on those you know and love who help protect and strengthen families. Make sure they know they are appreciated. And if you find in your heart the means to contribute to United Family International’s continuing effort to preserve the family, it would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!