Despite living in Qatar, Richard Wilkins committed to role as Scrooge

Published: Thursday, Dec. 22 2011 3:00 p.m. MST

"In early 1843, Dickens had been asked to write a tract on child labor," Wilkins explained. "He had started to write something called, 'An Appeal to the People of England, on behalf of the Poor Man's Child.' Then he gave a speech at the Manchester Athenaeum in October of 1843.

"That night of his speech in Manchester, Dickens came up with and talked about the need and the obligation to eradicate want and ignorance. He said that once the 'dragon of ignorance' was 'chased … from (the) hearth,' even the cold, hard specter of want would recede and be replaced by 'self-respect and hope.' It was after that speech that he started to write 'A Christmas Carol' instead."

International detour

In 1996, Wilkins travelled to Istanbul to address a United Nations conference about the language the U.N. uses to portray issues related to the family. The field of international family policy was not then his area of academic expertise, but it instantly hooked Wilkins, and so in 1997 he founded the World Family Policy Center through BYU Law School.

A variety of circumstances led Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, Qatar's de facto queen and director of the charitable Qatar Foundation, to approach Wilkins in 2005 with an offer to come to Qatar and oversee the Doha International Institute for Family Studies and Development.

Although the proposal piqued his interest, a deal couldn't be finalized until Wilkins successfully negotiated with Nasser on one end and Hale Centre Theatre on the other for an arrangement that would permit him to return to Utah every November and continue reprising his starring role in "A Christmas Carol."

"We know Richard really well, and we know if he wants to do something he's going to make it happen," Dietlein said. "So he told the queen of Qatar, 'I will do this, but I need this amount of time so I can play "A Christmas Carol" at Hale Centre Theatre.' She was very fascinated by this, because she's a very progressive type of a queen. … In our mind there was no question when he said he wanted to come back."

Because he wouldn't be present for rehearsals, Wilkins accepted the fact that his days of being single-cast as Scrooge would become a thing of the past. (David Weekes fills in for Wilkins during all preliminary rehearsals, and then when performances begin the two men switch off playing Scrooge.)

But the sacrifice proved worthwhile, because in short order the job at Doha Institute quickly afforded Wilkins a prominent forum for advancing international family policy.

"The importance of what Richard does is his involvement in the process of formulating international policy," said Susan Roylance, the international policy and development coordinator for the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society. "The Doha Institute holds expert group meetings and creates documents from those expert group meetings, and those documents help guide international policy and push it in certain directions."

His time in Qatar was initially supposed to last for only two years, but Wilkins eventually opted to officially retire from BYU Law School and extend his stay in Doha indefinitely. He and his wife, Melany, now expect to remain in Qatar at least through 2014 for the 20th anniversary of the International Year of the Family.

"I like getting out and doing stuff, and sometimes administration doesn't feel like you're doing anything," Wilkins mused.

"But the positive thing is that I believe that our little center in Doha keeps a very important perspective open and alive on the international scene, and that is that the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society. … Without strong families, things fall apart — and that's also a very strong message in 'A Christmas Carol.' "

EMAIL: jaskar@desnews.com. Twitter: askargo

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