Remebering my time as secretary to Pres. Ernest L. Wilkinson

By Jan Izatt

For Mormon Times

Published: Friday, June 10 2011 6:30 a.m. MDT

Sister Wilkinson gave me the most wonderful bridal shower a girl could ever have, catered by BYU and attended by all the secretaries on the top floor of the administration building. She was one of the most kind and gracious women I have ever known.

On the night of our reception in one of the floors of the Wilkinson Center, I kept waiting for President Wilkinson to make an appearance, for he had assured me that he would. When the reception was over and he had not shown up, I was really disappointed.

While relaying my disappointment to a friend of mine, she said, “We rode up in the elevator with him and he had a large, wrapped package under his arm. We got off the elevator, but he didn’t.”

No one could figure out where he went. Then one of the secretaries who knew President Wilkinson pretty well said, “How does this scenario sound? He ‘thought’ he remembered which floor your reception was on, and assumed it was on the top floor, so he went up there. As he gets off the elevator he sees ‘a wedding reception’ and thinking it was yours, gives his gift to the little boys at the door.

"When it finally dawns on him that he has the ‘wrong’ wedding reception, he leaves, but cannot bring himself to ask for his present back, so he just goes home.”

It made perfect sense. We chuckled a long time over that scenario. But the worst part for me was wondering what Sister Wilkinson thought when she never got a thank you note.

Two years after we had been married, we made a trip to Utah and visited BYU campus. I especially wanted to say “hi” to President Wilkinson, but his secretary told me that he was home getting ready for a meeting with the board of trustees.

I remembered well the stress of getting all the paperwork ready for that monthly meeting. As secretaries, he would call us from the president’s home, and one of us would meet him out front and hand him everything through the window of his car.

“Hand me your little boy and you make the run,” she said to me.

Gleefully, I grabbed the huge stack of papers and ran down stairs just as he pulled up in his yellow Lincoln. I ran around the car, handed his the papers through the window and just then he recognized me.

“What are you doing here?” he said with a grin on his face. I told him about the visit to Utah. Then he said, “Well, is your husband happy?”

“Yes, I believe he is”, I replied.

“Well, good,” and he stomped on the gas and away he went.

That was the last time I saw him.

On a personal level, President Wilkinson could be demanding and harsh, but I soon realized that his motive was “to get the job done.” I saw a softer side of the man. And I can honestly say, besides my mission, and up until then, those years were the best two-and-a-half years of my life.

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