OBITUARY: by John BallantyneNews Weekly
International advocate for family values dies
, December 22, 2012
Richard G. Wilkins, born 1953; died November 26, 2012.
Richard G. Wilkins, a distinguished US law professor, a one-time Assistant Solicitor-General and an international family activist, has died aged 59. He collapsed the morning after Thanksgiving, failed to regain consciousness and died in hospital a few days later.
Few people know about how, in 2002, Wilkins played a pivotal role in splitting the Howard Coalition government over the question of whether Australia should sign up for the International Criminal Court.
Wilkins was a prominent member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormons). He was a top-performing student at Brigham Young University, where he would later be made the Robert W. Barker Professor of Law.
In the 1980s he was appointed Assistant Solicitor-General, serving under a Reagan appointee, Rex E. Lee.
He was also an accomplished actor who, every December, from the age of 32, starred in a stage version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, at the Hale Centre Theatre in Utah, playing the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge.
During the early 1990s Wilkins drafted laws for the Utah legislature in a bid to limit abortions in the state. He saw in Scrooge’s Malthusian aversion to the “surplus population” a prototype of fashionable modern thinking in favour of abortion and euthanasia.
Wilkins was founding chairman of the Defend Family Coalition, a group which has fought against the legalisation of same-sex marriage.
In 1996 he published a study on the importance of language in United Nations policy statements.
Austin Ruse, of the US-based Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), has praised Wilkins for having become “one of the most effective pro-life and pro-family advocates at the international level”. Ruse said: “He was a constant presence in the halls of the UN and delegates rushed to consult with him. As a law professor with great love in his heart for his fellow man, they knew they could trust him.” (Friday Fax, C-FAM, November 30, 2012).
In 2002, Wilkins flew from Utah to Melbourne and spent three days speaking to audiences of the National Civic Council and Endeavour Forum, Inc., warning them about the risks to Australia’s sovereignty if the Howard Coalition government ratified the International Criminal Court (ICC) treaty. The Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, in particular, had been promoting the cause for some years, both here and overseas, and Australia’s signing up to the ICC was seen as a forgone conclusion.
Wilkins extended his Australian stay when an opportunity arose to visit Canberra. In one day, he managed to speak to a senior minister, members of the Joint Committee on Treaties and a meeting of Coalition backbenchers.
Within three weeks of that visit, the majority of the outer ministry and of Coalition backbenchers were opposed to the ICC, and the Howard cabinet was split down the middle. Undoubtedly, Richard’s time in Canberra was pivotal in mobilising Coalition sentiment and bringing about this outcome.
Bronwyn Bishop, who led the backbench revolt, explained to the ABC: “If there’s a risk that one of our servicemen and women could be charged, before that court, that’s a risk that’s too great and I have my attitude is when in doubt, vote no.” (7:30 Report, June 18, 2002).
A political commentator later observed: “The fact that John Howard nevertheless ratified the treaty, thereby defending the international reputation of Alexander Downer, was an early sign that, the Tampa notwithstanding, he was not the cultural warrior many assumed him to be.”
Back in the States, Wilkins faced growing opposition at Brigham Young University from left-liberal colleagues who made it increasingly difficult for him to continue his work.
Wilkins moved to the Arab state of Qatar, where he set up the Doha International Institute for Family Studies and Development under the sponsorship of the Sheika of Qatar, the third wife of Qatar’s emir. The institute has hosted important conferences across the world, and earlier this year produced a book, The Family and the MDGs: Using Family Capital to Achieve the Eight Millennium Development Goals.
Wilkins delivered his last talk, “The family as the cradle of international human rights”, at Brigham Young University on June 28 this year.
In November, he had just completed rehearsals for his 27th annual season of performing in A Christmas Carol, when he collapsed and died.
He never tired of Dickens’ story and, each year, with the approach of Christmas, he would reflect on Scrooge’s transformation from flint-hearted curmudgeon into jovial benefactor.
In a 2008, he told The Salt Lake Tribune: “Every year it gives me a reality check. Which way am I going? Am I more like Scrooge after all these years, or less like him?”
Wilkins leaves behind his wife Melany, their four children and eight grandchildren.
Postscript: further tributes to Richard Wilkins
Pro-family activists from around the world have paid tribute to Richard Wilkins’ life’s work.
Allan Carlson, founder of the World Congress of Families — the next annual convention of which will be hosted next year in Sydney (May 15-18, 2013) — said: “Richard was one of the greatest and most energetic advocates of the natural family.”
Janice Shaw Crouse, of the Beverly LeHaye Institute and Concerned Women for America, said, “Richard was one of the most dedicated and strategic members of our pro-life/pro-family coalition. He stood firm on principle while engaging opponents with charm and wisdom. He understood the power of principle as well as the influence of personal relationships. He will be sorely missed, both as a colleague and as a friend.”
Babette Francis, coordinator of Australia’s Endeavour Forum, Inc., remembered Richard Wilkins with great affection. She said: “Others have paid tribute to his great service to the cause of life and family, but I most appreciated Richard’s ability to see the funny side of some of the predicaments in which we found ourselves.
“At the UN’s Habitat Conference in Istanbul in 1996, right at the top of the feminist wish list was ‘Special Housing for Lesbians’. How does one deal with that? To reject it out of hand would seem churlish, and I could sense Richard was smiling inwardly while he politely demurred citing ‘cost structures’.
“We shared many jokes, such as his ‘Creation’ story (not found in Genesis!): When God offered Adam the perfect companion, a woman who would be beautiful, who would cook and clean for him and bear his children and would never complain about anything, Adam asked ‘And what is this going to cost me?’ God answered, ‘It will cost you an arm and a leg.’ Adam thought for a while and then asked, ‘What would I get for just a rib?’
“My last memory of Richard is at Mount Martha on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, where we had an appointment to meet the eminent physician and family activist, Dr Joe Santamaria, at the Francis family’s beach house. It was a beautiful day and Richard looked longingly at the sea and said he would love to have a swim — so I said, ‘Well, why not?’, got him some shorts from the house and we both swam till sunset.”