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BYU law professor, well-known Utah stage actor Richard Wilkins passes away at 59

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 27 2012 9:45 p.m. MST

Richard Wilkins (front, right) gets dressed at the Hale Centre Theatre in West Valley City in 2005. Wilkins played Scrooge in the annual production of "A Christmas Carol" for 27 years.

Scott G. Winterton, Dnews

PROVO — Retired BYU law professor Richard Wilkins, an international advocate for traditional family values and veteran local stage actor, died Monday at Utah Regional Medical Center. He was 59.

Wilkins had been hospitalized since collapsing over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Wilkins, an emeritus professor in the J. Reuben Clark Law School, specialized in constitutional law and civil procedure.

Outside the university, Wilkins was best known for his portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge in the Hale Centre Theatre's annual production of "A Christmas Carol." He was in rehearsals for the 28th season as Scrooge, said Sally Dietlein, an executive producer at Hale Centre Theatre.

Dietlein said Wilkins relished the Charles Dickens play "for what it said about the human condition," particularly the treatment of children who worked 15-18 hour days in factories. 

"While Richard was very passionate about it, he loved letting Dickens be the purveyor of that information," she said.

On a personal level, Wilkins over the years shared the stage with members of Dietlein's family.

"It was very much like losing a family member for our children," she said.

Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, said she knew Wilkins on two fronts: as a staunch defender of the traditional family and the occasions he shared the stage with her daughter.

"We have great love for him and incredible respect," Ruzicka said.

Wilkins was respected worldwide for his advocacy of "keeping families together and keeping them close," she said.

In Utah, Wilkins was a "great resource. He'd always take my calls and help me when he could" by drafting legislation on pro-life and pro-family issues at the Utah Legislature, Ruzicka said.

As chairman of the Defend Marriage Coalition, Wilkins campaigned heavily for Amendment 3, which defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman only. The constitutional amendment was approved by Utah voters in 2004.

Ruzicka recalled one of Wilkins' international trips when he was sporting a beard because he was playing the role of Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof" in a local production.

Fellow conference-goers assumed the bearded college professor "wasn't the conservative pro-life guy that he was. He said it opened all kinds of doors for him. He didn't look like the clean-cut BYU professor he normally was," Ruzicka said.

Wilkins' interest and involvement in worldwide issues related to the family began in 1996, when he traveled to Istanbul, Turkey, to attend the United Nations Habitat Conference.

He was selected to make a brief speech following that of speaker who urged delegates to recognize same-sex partnerships, provide government-sponsored child care, and take steps to ensure every woman was employed outside the home.

"My message was different," Wilkins later wrote. "The basic structure of society, I asserted 'is built upon the fundamental values fostered by strong families.'"

Wilkins said the reaction to the speech was remarkable. Some of the preceding speakers hissed at him.

"But most of the delegates in the audience gave me a standing ovation," he wrote. "Indeed, after the speech, I was approached by the ambassador from Saudi Arabia, who embraced me warmly. 'Where have you been?' he asked. Next he asked a very important question, 'What can we do?'"

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