Dallin Oaks, BYH football player
Dallin Oaks, BYH Class of 1950

Friends See Oaks' Lighter Side;
Stern LDS Apostle Knows Humor
Can Be Fun and Effective

by Peggy Fletcher Stack
The Salt Lake Tribune

Legend has it LDS apostle Dallin H. Oaks once was involved in a ``bank robbery.''

In the late 1940s, young Oaks and several friends from Brigham Young High School in Provo staged an Al Capone caper as a teen-age prank.

With hats pulled low and draped in trench coats, they charged into a Provo bank carrying violin cases.

It was part of his now-guarded fun side.

They took no money and had no weapons. Thus, they got in no serious trouble.

But the story lives on in the Oaks inner circle. Elder Oaks even boasted about it in college.

Today, as the 163rd Annual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opens on Temple Square in Salt Lake City [April 1993], few of the faithful will see the humorous side of Elder Oaks, increasingly one of the most high-profile members of the Council of the Twelve.

He declined to be interviewed for The Salt Lake Tribune conference profile of a general authority, but friends and relatives who have known him during his 61 years were eager to share anecdotes.

``People think of Dallin as stern because that's his demeanor over the pulpit,'' says his brother, Merrill, an Provo ophthalmologist. ``But that's not the way he was.''

Historian G. Wesley Johnson, who was in the ``Brickers'' social club at Brigham Young University in 1951 with Elder Oaks, says: ``We were always dressing up in funny costumes and pulling pranks on the Tausigs [a rival social group].''

All agree he is a spellbinding raconteur.

``Dallin was the life of the party in Chicago,'' says Marvin Hill, a BYU historian who was a student at the University of Chicago with Elder Oaks.

Utah Supreme Court Justice Christine Durham, who served with Elder Oaks on the state high court, says, ``No matter how heated the discussion [among the justices] might have become, Dallin could invariably tell a story that would get everyone laughing.''

Another justice told The Salt Lake Tribune that whenever lawyers droned on with oral arguments, Justice Oaks would begin sliding down in his seat.

``Some lawyers were so long-winded, they eventually could only see the top of Dallin's head.''

Good thing the bald apostle also is known for retorts.

He once told former law clerk Fred Voros: ``The Lord made many heads and those less beautiful he covered with hair.''

Aware that his shiny scalp identifies him, the apostle ``goes around town on personal business wearing a beret,'' says H. Ross Hammond, Elder Oaks' brother-in-law.

The apostle's playful side, however, is matched by a passion for work.

Elder Oaks' father died when he was 8 years old, leaving him as the eldest son -- the man of the Provo family.

Twelve-year-old Dallin got a job sweeping a radio-repair shop and began studying radio engineering.

``When he was not much bigger than the boy in `Home Alone,' he took a bus by himself to Denver to take the radio-licensing test,'' says Mr. Hammond.

Young Dallin passed the test and worked for years as a radio technician and announcer for KCSU in Provo.

In high school, he played tackle on the same team as LeGrand Young, Steve Young's father. Mr. Young went on to college ball; Mr. Oaks just went to college.

At BYU, he simultaneously pursued an accounting degree and a young woman from Spanish Fork, June Dixon. One of her family names was ``Call''; he loved to tell people he was ``dating a Call girl.''

``Dallin became a great student once he got married,'' says Merrill Oaks. It was 1952 and the future apostle was 19.

After graduating from BYU, Elder Oaks attended law school at the University of Chicago on a three-year, full-tuition scholarship.

He graduated with honors, clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren for a year, practiced law in Chicago and finally got a teaching position at the University of Chicago.

While in Chicago, the Oaks family expanded to include five children -- three girls and two boys.

When a group of young LDS faculty and graduate students at Stanford University in 1966 began publishing Dialogue, a scholarly magazine for Mormons, they naturally thought of their old friend in Chicago. Elder Oaks served on the magazine's national advisory board for about four years.

``He was committed to intellectual exchange,'' says Wesley Johnson, one of the founding editors. ``Though Dallin was a conservative and careful reader, I had the impression that he really believed in this enterprise.''

Then in 1971 at the age of 38, Elder Oaks was drafted to replace Earnest L. Wilkinson as president of BYU.

During his nine-year tenure at the Mormon flagship university, he pushed for ``quality, consolidation and refinement,'' Vice President Robert K. Thomas once said.

The library holdings doubled, stricter educational standards were put in place and support mechanisms for women faculty were established.

Elder Oaks even had time to co-author a book on LDS history.

And the Oaks' last daughter was born.

After nearly seven years at BYU, Elder Oaks worried that he was becoming ``self-satisfied, stale and closed to new ideas.'' Two years later he stepped down as president and almost immediately was appointed to the Utah Supreme Court in 1980.

Then one April evening in 1984, Elder Oaks was dining with other judges in an Arizona restaurant when the 52-year-old Utah justice got a telephone call.

``He stood at the cash register listening while President [Gordon B.] Hinckley called him to be an apostle,'' says his brother-in-law, Ross Hammond. ``He accepted immediately, then returned to dinner and continued the conversation as if nothing had happened.''

(c) 1993 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Media NewsGroup, Inc. by NewsBank, Inc.

Dallin H. Oaks, President, BYH Class of 1950
BYH Class of 1950, Senior Class President

Famous Fake Bank Robbery Gang
Famous Fake Robbery

Dallin H. Oaks
Oaks Biography

Brigham Young - Biographies
BYH Biographies