I received an unexpected and fun email message after we began selecting the 2008 Mormon of the Year from Times and Seasons reader Last Lemming, who had made his own selections for Mormon of the Year for each year since 1950!
In this first of three posts, we will include his suggestions for the years 1950 through 1969. We will follow on Wednesday morning with his picks for 1970 through 1989 and on Friday morning for 1990 through 2007. I suspect as these posts get into more familiar and more recent territory, more of you will have comments and suggestions about who Last Lemming suggested and who should have been suggested instead.
I found the list fascinating, an entertaining look at Mormons in history over nearly 60 years, and really quite an impressive bit of work to pull together so much information. Last Lemming describes his criteria as follows:
I have generally followed a no-General-Authorities rule, except for McConkie (who was not acting in his G.A. capacity) and, arguably, Barbara B. Smith. Otherwise, I was very flexible. [Those selected] could be classified into three categories: 1) those influencing Mormon culture, 2) those representing Mormonism to the world, and 3) those influencing the broader culture in ways not necessarily linked to their Mormonism. I tried to limit [those selected] to people who were active at the time of their cited accomplishment. (Some, like Frank Moss, I would stand by even if he wasn’t really active because his accomplishment was easy to identify with his Mormonism.)
I have used my 20:30 hindsight when [making selections] (I can’t claim 20:20 hindsight when I can’t even fill all of the years). I have not attempted to guess who might have won had Times and Seasons been around to conduct a vote. Also, there are a fair number of people who could have won in any number of years. I generally picked them in a year in which they had some notable accomplishment and little competition.
I did not pick anybody twice, unless their contributions were in different areas. Thus, I gave George Romney two mentions (one for his business activities and one for his political activities), but gave Mitt Romney only one (nothing he did at Bain qualifies, and I treat his Olympics adventure as the beginning of his political career, not the end of his business career). With regards to businessmen, I generally cited them for giving away their money, not for earning it. Marriott is an exception, but the Books-of-Mormon-in-the-rooms phenomenon makes him different.
By posting this list, it is not my intention (nor that of Last Lemming, according to his email message submitting this information) to actually select anyone for these years. Rather, I’m posting this in part as a way for those of us who know about at least some of this list to remember, and as a way for those who don’t know the list to learn, and, undoubtedly, as something to be discussed.
I welcome your comments and suggested alternatives. On this particular portion, mostly before my time, I have a couple alternatives to suggest. I’ll make my suggestions in the first comment. I’m sure others of you will have many more suggestions.
Like many of you readers, I have mixed feelings about some of the individuals mentioned here. But I can’t deny that all of them had a significant impact, and therefore could have been, at least in retrospect, Mormon of the Year.
1950: Juanita Brooks – for publishing The Mountain Meadows Massacre.
1951: Ernest L. Wilkinson – for taking the leadership of BYU, which he would totally reshape over the next 20 years.
1952: Merlo J. Pusey – for winning the Pulitzer Prize for Biography for Charles Evans Hughes.
Runner-up: Pete Harman – for opening (in Salt Lake) the first Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant.
1954: Arthur Watkins – for presiding over the Senate committee that censured Joseph McCarthy.
Runner-up: Douglas Stringfellow – for promoting to national audiences (while serving in Congress) his false claim to have changed the course of World War II, being exposed, and dumped from the Republican ticket.
1955: Arnold Friberg – for completing his series of paintings illustrating the Book of Mormon.
1957: J. Willard Marriott – for opening the first Marriott hotel (actually, a motel and I don’t know whether it had Books of Mormon in the drawers from the start).
Runner-up: Naomi Randall – for writing “I Am a Child of God.”
1958: Bruce R. McConkie – for publishing Mormon Doctrine.
1959: Billy Casper and Gene Fullmer – the former for winning the U.S. Open golf tournament; the latter for winning (for the second time) the middleweight boxing championship.
Runner-up: George Romney – for promoting the high-gas-mileage Rambler as part of a “dinosaur-busting” strategy as CEO of American Motors, and even initiating research into electric-powered cars.
1960: Vernon Law – for winning Major League Baseball’s Cy Young award. (The award was not split between leagues until 1967.)
1961: Hugh Nibley – for publishing The Myth Makers and beginning the series in the Improvement Era that would become Since Cumorah. (Another lifetime achievement award that could go to another year.)
1962: Reed Benson and W. Cleon Skousen – the former for becoming head of the Utah chapter of the John Birch Society; the latter for promoting the paperback copy of his like-minded book, The Naked Communist.
1963: Vaun Clissold & Wendell Mendenhall – for realizing the visions of Matthew Cowley and David O. McKay for the Polynesian Cultural Center.
Runner-up: Helen Andelin – for publishing Fascinating Womanhood.
1965: Henry Eyring – for being elected president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. (Another lifetime achievement award.)
1966: Eugene England & Wesley Johnson – for founding and serving as the initial editors of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought.
1967: George Romney – for generating a lot of buzz as a candidate for the Republican nomination for President, and for sabotaging the effort with his brainwashing remark.
Runner-up: David Kennedy for chairing the Presidents Commission on Budgetary Concepts, whose report informally governs the presentation of the federal budget to this day.
1969: Jay Seegmiller – for receiving the United States Public Health Distinguished Service Award for his role in discovering the biochemical basis of the Lesch-Nyhan syndrome.