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

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

Conference delegates, largely at the insistence of the heads of the Arab delegations, adopted an agenda that included defining the marital relationship as one between "a husband and a wife."

Afterward, Wilkins launched the World Family Policy Center at BYU to continue his work on international issues affecting the family.

Fellow law professor Lynn Wardle said Wilkins was respected worldwide as a family law expert, evidenced by the many emails sent by legal scholars in the Middle East, Europe and South America following his death.

Wardle said Wilkins was an eloquent speaker who excelled in legal argument and analysis.

"He had a gift," Wardle said. "He wrote the best legal briefs I've ever read."

After law school, Wilkins clerked for a federal circuit judge and then became an assistant to a solicitor general, arguing a half-dozen cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, Wardle said.

"He was just barely out of law school. He was brilliant," he said.

Whether on stage or in the classroom, Wilkins held his audience at rapt attention, Wardle said.

"He had dramatic flair. He held his audience when was performing and when he was teaching," he said. "He was also the kind of person who could trudge along on the administrative details. He will be sorely missed."

One of Wilkins' greatest strengths was developing international networks of legal and family scholars to collaborate on issues of mutual interest, Wardle said.

Wilkins presented major papers at conferences in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, North and South America, and Scandinavia. He also taught a course on international human rights in Beijing, China, and made presentations to numerous United Nations bodies and commissions.

Wilkins retired from the university in 2009, devoting his full attention to The Doha (Qatar) International Institute for Family Studies and Development, where he was the managing director.

Susan Roylance, who worked extensively with Wilkins on international issues regarding the family, said he had a distinctive, joyous laugh. 

"If you were in the mall and Richard was in the mall and you heard that laugh, you'd know it was Richard," she said. "It was a laugh that was full of joy. It just bellowed out."

But Roylance said Wilkins' lasting legacy is his work to influence international policy regarding the natural family. As a respected law professor, Wilkins' involvement "gave additional credibility to what we were trying to do," she said.

Roylance recalled that Wilkins arrived late at the Istanbul conference that launched his interest in international family issues.

"When he signed in, I personally felt the angels in heaven rejoiced," she said. "It was an amazing experience to know he was there."

Wilkins is survived by his wife, Melany Wilkins. They are the parents of four children. Funeral arrangements are pending.

E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com

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