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

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

Another time President Wilkinson asked me to find a certain document. I looked everywhere, but could not come up with it. Then he suggested that I go over to the archives across campus and look in all the dusty boxes over there.

Two hours later, tired and covered with dust, I told him that I could not find it. His reply made my day. “Well,” he said with that sly little grin of his, “if you can’t find it, then I guess it doesn’t exist.”

It was President Wilkinson’s practice to “clean off his desk” every Saturday. One of his secretaries took her turn every third Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. I wasn’t aware of this practice until I was informed that it was my turn. Armed with steno pad and pencils, I arrived in time and began the worst experience of my young life.

Whenever he paused, I wrote in long hand above the shorthand. When the day was over, I had a steno pad full on one side and almost full on the other. I grabbed letterhead paper, carbons, envelopes, etc. and went home and began fasting.

I told my two roommates what had happened, and the three of us spent the entire weekend trying to figure out my shorthand. At times, because I remembered the theme of the memo, we made one up. We worked until bedtime Saturday, worked on it after church until almost midnight and because he had given me all day Monday to transcribe my notes, we worked on it again several hours Monday night.

When I walked into his office on Tuesday morning to present my huge stack of memos and letters, I just knew that this was the last day I would be working for President Wilkinson. He harrumphed his way through, signing as he went. Suddenly, much like my first interview, he slammed his fist on the table, and I nearly jumped out of my skin.

“Don’t you know that all my rough drafts are triple spaced? Remember next time,” he said.

And with that, he handed me the whole pile, all signed, and all I had to do was get them ready for delivery. It was a miracle.

When Steven Covey was hired as an assistant to President Wilkinson, he was very young and very eager to please. One day as I was taking dictation and President Wilkinson was pacing, the door opened and in walks President Covey with an ice cream cone, evidently purchased from the Wilkinson Center across campus.

He greeted President Wilkinson and handed him the soft and melting ice cream cone. What President Covey had not yet learned was that President Wilkinson never ate sweets. But President Wilkinson, not wanting to offend him, accepted the cone, said “thank you” and held the cone far from his nicely pressed suit.

When President Covey left, President Wilkinson looked absolutely startled. Then, all at once, it was as though the proverbial “light bulb” went on over his head, and he handed the ice cream to me and said, “Here, you eat it.”

After a few of seconds of watching me hold the dripping cone in one hand, trying to hold my steno pad with one elbow and trying to take dictation, President Wilkinson said, “That will be all.”

Gratefully, I took the offending ice cream cone with me as I stifled a laugh, and only when I had cleared the door to the president’s office, I burst out laughing. Of course the other secretary came over and wanted to know what was so funny, and when I told her she laughed, too. It was the greatest thing that had ever happened in the president’s office. Thank you, President Covey.

A few months before I was to be married, doctors discovered a tumor in my abdominal cavity that they suspected was malignant. I needed surgery immediately. President Wilkinson called about eight of the brethren on the top floor of the administration building, including David B. Haight, Covey, both presidents’ assistants and President Joseph Bentley.

We all knelt in a circle on the carpet in President Wilkinson’s office. I was operated on the next day, and the tumor was benign. President Wilkinson also sent a lovely bouquet of flowers to me in the hospital.

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