The Quorum of the Twelve Before They Were Called: Dallin H. Oaks

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Dallin H Oaks
Dallin H Oaks, coutesy of lib.byu.edu

Dallin H. Oaks serves as an apostle of the Quorum of the Twelve for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He also used to be a radio announcer, a lawyer, a professor, a university president, and a Utah Supreme Court Justce. In this biography of Dallin H. Oaks, read about the stories of his life, his strong work ethic, and his amazing experiences in following spiritual promptings.

Lessons and Stories from His Youth

Early Trials

Dallin experienced sorrow and trials at a very young age. Before he was eight years old, his father, Lloyd, was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Despite all of the medical treatment and priesthood blessings he received, Lloyd did not improve. He passed away, leaving Dallin’s mother, Stella, a widow raising three children, all under the age of eight.

Their trials continued when Stella left her children with her parents so she could attend Colombia University in New York. She wanted to earn her masters degree so she could better support her children, but Stella struggled with the passing of her husband, the separation from her family, and the workload. She suffered from an emotional breakdown and had to undergo medical supervision for several months.

However, Stella had the love and support of friends and family and would recover emotionally and spiritually. She supported and raised her family heroically on a teacher’s salary. Dallin H. Oaks later said that she was “extraordinary” (Life’s Lessons Learned ; “Dallin H. Oaks”).

Portrait of Dallin H. Oaks with his mother and siblings
Dallin H. Oaks with his mother and siblings, courtesy of LDS.org

School Problems

When Dallin was a young boy, he did not enjoy school. His fourth grade teacher was an old man who publicly graded and announced the scores of his students’ arithmetic assignments. Dallin was always at the bottom of the class with very few of his answers correct. He felt humiliated and dumb, remembering that once some boys threw snowballs at him and called him stupid.

So how did this struggling schoolboy become a hardworking lawyer? He attributes this to his mother and his fifth grade teacher, Miss Pearl Schaefer. Stella got a teaching position in Vernal, Utah, and moved her family there. Dallin’s new teacher was very kind and helped him to learn and grow. He later said, “I am forever grateful for a marvelous mother and a wise and loving teacher. Their faith in me encouraged me in the thought that I could amount to something” (Life’s Lessons Learned).

Radio Announcer

Dallin H. Oaks started earning money when he was about 11 or 12 to help his widowed mother. His first job was to sweep out a radio repair shop and test the tubes he found on the floor to see if they could still be used. He developed an interest in radio, and before he was 16 he earned his first-class radiotelephone operator’s license. He operated the radio station’s transmitter and—after his voice changed—became an announcer as well (“Dallin H. Oaks”).

However, Dallin did his radio announcer job a little too well. He remembers one time after offering the sacrament prayer in church, a girl came up to him and said that he sounded like he was reading a commercial. Dallin was very embarrassed and ashamed, later saying, “After 50 years that rebuke still stings.” He made sure to be more careful about the sacred nature of the prayers after that incident (General Conference talk “The Aaronic Priesthood and the Sacrament”).

Courtship and Marriage

First Meeting June

Dallin continued to be a radio announcer when he was a freshman attending Brigham Young University. He was announcing for a high school basketball game when he met June Dixon, a high school senior from Spanish Fork who was on drill team. After the game, she “stood around until I was introduced.” After the next basketball game, Dallin offered June a ride home and their courtship began (Ensign article “Dallin H. Oaks: The Discipline Edge”).

Dallin and June Oaks wedding
Dallin and June Oaks wedding, courtesy of LDS.org

38 Years of Marriage

Dallin and June were married in the Salt Lake Temple on June 24, 1952. Though they were very poor while Dallin went to law school, June sacrificed and never complained while raising their six children. She was diagnosed with cancer and after struggling for a year, June passed away on July 21, 1998 (Deseret News article “June Oaks dies of cancer at age 65”).

In the Ensign article “Elder Dallin H. Oaks: It Begins by Following the Other Apostles,” Dallin attributes much of the success he had in his life to June. He says:

She just brought out the best in me. I think I could never have gotten past first base without her. June has kept me from getting pompous and self-important.

Portrait of Dallin H Oaks with his wife and children
Dallin H. Oaks with his wife and children, courtesy of LDS.org

New Love

June knew that she would die before Dallin, so while she was struggling with cancer, she told her four daughters that they should help Dallin find a new companion who would fit well into the family. After her death, when the time was right, the daughters approached Dallin and told him that they were ready for him to remarry so he would not be alone.

After praying for guidance, Dallin made some inquiries among his colleagues and was eventually introduced to Kristen McMain. She was an educational adviser and BYU professor of curriculum, and Dallin would marry her in 2000 (Life’s Lessons LearnedLDS Living article “What LDS General Authorities Say About Their Wives”).

Dallin and Kristen Oaks
Dallin and Kristen Oaks, courtesy of LDS.org

Blessings From Following the Gospel

The Lord’s Promise of Tithing

Despite the fact that Stella was a widow raising three children on a teacher’s salary, she never neglected to pay her tithing. Dallin noticed that they were sometimes lacking in material possessions and once asked his mother why she paid a portion of her small salary to tithing. This was her response:

Dallin, there might be some people who can get along without paying tithing, but we can’t. The Lord has chosen to take your father and leave me to raise you children. I cannot do that without the blessings of the Lord, and I obtain those blessings by paying an honest tithing. When I pay my tithing, I have the Lord’s promise that he will bless us, and we must have those blessings if we are to get along.

Dallin, like his faithful mother, has always paid a full tithe. Whenever some good fortune passed his family’s way, he always attributed it as a blessing of tithing (LDS.org article “Tithing Brings Blessings”).

Sabbath Day Blessings and a Father’s Example

Dallin worked as a radio announcer throughout high school and college. Since the radio broadcasted every day of the week, he often worked on Sundays. But before Dallin left for law school in Chicago, his mother told him that his father never studied on the Sabbath when he attended medical school. Stella said that Dallin’s father:

…felt he would do more in six days with the help of the Lord than he could do in seven days without it. He believed that by refraining from studying on the Sabbath—even in the difficult challenges of medical school—he would receive the blessings of the Lord.

Dallin, like his father before him, refrained from studying on the Sabbath. Even though he had to work very hard in law school and was gone from 7 A.M. to 11 P.M. every Monday through Saturday, he kept the Sabbath as the Lord’s day (Life’s Lessons LearnedEnsign article “Elder Dallin H. Oaks: It Begins by Following the Other Apostles”).

Lawyer and Stake Missionary

One of the busiest times in Dallin’s life was when he was a lawyer in Chicago. He was an associate in a large law firm that kept him working so hard, he often did not get home until after 9 P.M.

Then Dallin was called not only to be a stake missionary, but to be a counselor in the stake missionary presidency as well. For this calling, he would need to give his time to gospel study, proselyte 40 hours a month, and attend other activities. “I couldn’t see how I could work fewer hours and still keep up with what was required in my work. Yet, I could not say no to a calling that I felt was from the Lord.”

Dallin did decrease his work hours, and surprisingly his work did not suffer but improved. He remembers the times he was blessed in his work, such as when he received a late-afternoon assignment that normally required night work. Dallin would pray and then begin the assignment, receiving promptings of where to look in the firm library and what to write. He would be able to quickly finish his assignment for work, which gave him time for his assignment for the Lord (Life’s Lessons Learned).

Spiritual Promptings

Warnings of the Spirit

Dallin H. Oaks once said:

Personal revelation is part of my faith and part of my approach to life. All my adult life I’ve had responsibilities for which I’ve needed a lot of extra help, but when I’ve had the assurance of the Lord’s help, I’ve never been afraid to go ahead.

Throughout his life, Dallin H. Oaks has received spiritual revelation that has guided and protected him (Ensign article “Dallin H. Oaks: The Discipline Edge”).

Dallin was hunting deer in the mountains and shot down a large buck. While he cleaned and secured the carcass for retrieval the next day, it had become dark. Dallin was unfamiliar with the mountain and was several miles from the road, but he knew the general direction that would eventually lead him there.

Dallin hiked down the mountain in the pitch-black night. He found a gully to walk along, letting it be a sandy path to guide his feet. He continued to walk until he received an impression to stop. He did so, but did not know why because it was too dark to see anything. Dallin picked up a rock from the ground and tossed it in front of him. There was silence for a few moments, then he heard a clattering of rocks from a ways away. Dallin realized he was standing on the edge of a drop off.

When Dallin returned to the mountain the next day, he found the drop off again and saw that it was at least 50 feet tall. “I was glad I had heard and heeded a warning. Where did that lead? It saved my life” (BYU Devotional “Where Will It Lead?”).

The Lord’s Will

Dallin was serving as the second counselor of his stake presidency when the president proposed building a new stake center. Dallin immediately thought of four to five reasons why they should not use the location that the president had picked. He voiced his opinions to the stake president who suggested that they pray about the decision throughout the next week.

When Dallin prayed, he received a strong impression that he was wrong and “that I was standing in the way of the Lord’s will, and that I should take my worldly wisdom and get out of the way.” Dallin humbled and agreed with the location. Soon after construction, Dallin saw that his reasons against the location turned out to be incorrect and that the spot was perfect for the chapel. He also learned that the Lord’s ways were higher and more knowledgeable than his (Life’s Lessons Learned).

Dallin H Oaks and other BYU dignitaries visit China
Dallin H Oaks and other BYU dignitaries visit China, courtesy of new.byu.edu

Miracle in Chicago

Dallin remembers a time where he experienced the dangers of Chicago and the protection of the Lord. He and June drove a sister to her home after a ward officer’s meeting. June sat in the car with the keys while Dallin escorted the sister to the apartment. Dallin waited in the lobby for a group of young men to pass, then walked out. But when he reached the driver’s side of the car, one of the young men raced back with a gun in his hand.

The young man pushed the gun into Dallin’s stomach and demanded money. But all Dallin had to show was an empty wallet and no watch. The young man then demanded for the car keys, and Dallin told him they were in the car. The young man told Dallin to make June unlock the doors, but Dallin refused. The young man threatened to take Dallin’s life.

The young man continued to make demands and Dallin continued to refuse them. June agonized over what to do and prayed fervently to the Lord, receiving a feeling of peace and that everything would be alright. Dallin and June felt some hope when a bus pulled up nearby. But the only passenger to exit quickly hurried away and the driver, though he saw what was happening, did not offer any assistance.

The young man became more and more agitated. Then Dallin saw an opportunity to grab the gun without risking his own safety. Dallin felt confident he could wrestle it out of the young man’s hands and was about to do so when he received a strong spiritual impression. He knew that if he gained control of the gun, he would shoot and kill the young man, having his death on Dallin’s conscience for the rest of his life.

Instead, Dallin followed a prompting. He put his hand on the young man’s shoulder and said, “Look here. This isn’t right. What you’re doing just isn’t right. The next car might be a policeman, and you could get killed or sent to jail for this.” The young man only responded with his demands, but with less anger than before. When Dallin refused them once again, the young man hesitated, then ran away. Dallin got into the car and he and June prayed in thanks for their safety (General Conference talk “Bible Stories and Personal Protection”).

Double Checking for a Spiritual Prompting

Dallin was editing a casebook filled with hundreds of court opinions. The work was finished, and he was about to send it to the publisher when a particular court opinion caught his eye. Dallin had an uneasy feeling about that court opinion, so asked his assistant to double check it and make sure everything was correct. His assistant did so and found nothing wrong.

Yet Dallin still had the uneasy feeling about the court opinion. He went to the law library himself to look it up. There he found several new publications which showed that the case had actually been reversed in an appeal. Dallin made the neccesary changes in the casebook and was saved from professional embarrassment (BYU Devotional “Revelation”).

Dallin H Oaks as president of BYU
Dallin H. Oaks with Spencer W. Kimbal and another commencement speaker, courtesy of lds.org

“I Will Call You From There”

Dallin had been serving as president of BYU for several years when he was given a notice of release and started to look for other job opportunities. One that particularly interested him was the vacancy in the Utah Supreme Court. However, this position paid much less than the other options he was looking at.

Dallin and June went to the temple to seek guidance for the decision. No matter how hard Dallin tried, he could not get thoughts of the Utah Supreme Court out of his head. After saying a final prayer, Dallin heard the whisperings of the Spirit tell him to “Go to the court and I will call you from there.” Dallin did so and enjoyed his time there. A few years later, he would be called from it as an apostle (Life’s Lessons Learned).

After He Was Called An Apostle

Dallin H. Oaks has served as a counselor in his stake presidency twice and as a regional representative. In May of 1984, he was called as an apostle in the Quorum of the Twelve (“Dallin H. Oaks” ; “Elder Dallin H. Oaks”).

Current photo of Dallin H. Oaks
Current photo of Dallin H. Oaks, courtesy LDS.org

When Dallin was in law school, he once told June, “There are a lot of guys over there at the law school who are smarter than I, but none works any harder.” He is known for his spirit of hard work and his motto, “Work first, play later,” or as his family jokingly says, “Work first, play never.” However, Dallin states that “I don’t do anything for fun. I just have fun at what I do” (Ensign article “Elder Dallin H. Oaks: It Begins by Following the Other Apostles”).

Dallin H. Oaks works hard in his calling and always relies on the loving guidance of the Lord in order to follow through on His path and help lead the Church.

To learn more about Dallin H. Oaks, check out his Facebook Page or visit the links below.