J. Reuben Clark Law Society

An Honorable Life Worth Emulating: J. Reuben Clark


By Kathryn Latour

Gordon Madsen, Keynote Speaker

The annual Law Society Leadership Conference was held at BYU and Aspen Grove on October 3-4, 2019. Nearly 200 members and guests attended from such far-flung areas as New Zealand, Brazil, Fiji, and Provo, Utah. The conference kicked off with a luncheon with keynote speaker, Gordon Madsen, a former state legislator and assistant attorney general in Utah. A current co-editor of the business and legal papers in the Joseph Smith Papers Project, Brother Madsen delivered a stirring talk on J. Reuben Clark. Brother Madsen, who knew President Clark personally, recapped his remarkable life, many of which details can be found on the JRCLS website. However, a few personal notes bear mentioning. The first was that at a funeral of a less-honorable man whose vices were smoothed over in the eulogy, President Clark told Harold B. Lee, “When I die you will probably be one of the speakers. Be kind to my weaknesses but don’t lie about them … and if you can’t say anything good about me, bear your testimony and sit down.”

Brother Madsen next recounted many of President Clark’s notable achievements. The first among many outstanding achievements was as an Assistant Solicitor with the US State Department, followed by his appointments as Under Secretary of State, Acting Secretary of State, delegate to numerous international conferences as the US’s chief representative, co-codifier of a treatise on International Law which was adopted by treaty in the US and other nations, and finally serving as counselor to the US Ambassador to Mexico, Dwight Morrow, who President Clark then succeeded in the same post.  He served under six US Presidents from Teddy Roosevelt to Herbert Hoover.
 
As impressive as these appointments of state were, it was his moral fortitude that rendered President Clark’s life so noteworthy. Brother Madsen recounted one story when Prohibition was the law of the land. During President Clark’s tenure as Ambassador to Mexico, he followed the US law and served no alcoholic beverages in the US Embassy. However, embassies of other countries were under no such constraints. An Ambassador from a foreign country knew of President Clark’s religious aversion to alcohol and thought he could force President Clark to choose between his church and his country. When hosting a party which included the Clarks, this Ambassador personally took a tray of cocktails and presented it before them. President Clark knew the protocol that if an Ambassador-host offers another Ambassador something and it is refused, it becomes an insult from one country to the other. Therefore, the Clarks dutifully each took a cocktail and held it. However, sometime later when a waiter with an empty tray came close enough for them to deposit the unused drinks on his tray, they did so, avoiding both a breach in protocol and an offense toward their own morals. Said Brother Madsen, “Generally thereafter, fruit juices were made available to the Clarks.”
 
Another indication of his high morals occurred when President Clark was asked by US President Roosevelt to return to Washington on special assignment to assist in international conferences and projects, some of which extended for months. He was encouraged by then President of the Church, Heber J. Grant, to accept those government assignments because “Grant felt the service rendered and the contacts and associations Clark made rebounded to the church’s benefit.” Notwithstanding President Grant’s encouragement, President Clark was heavily criticized from within and without the church for appearing to abandon his church responsibilities. President Clark never acknowledged the critics nor supplied the justification for his actions. He merely stated, “Speaking personally, I am more or less accustomed to criticism. Not a little of my life has been spent in public office. …Criticism seems to be an inescapable accompaniment of the doing of righteousness, strange as that may seem.” 

                                     
 
Clark at Columbia Law School
Clark at Columbia Law School

Finally, Brother Madsen interjected his own personal story about President Clark. When he and his wife were engaged, they wanted President Clark to perform the sealing as he was a friend to both their fathers. Brother Madsen and his fiancé, Carol, met with President Clark’s secretary who told them their prospective wedding date would not work with President Clark’s schedule as he would be out of town. She told them that it was possible he could perform the ceremony if they moved the time from the afternoon to early morning, to which the Madsen’s readily agreed. She cleared it with President Clark who said he would be honored to marry them at 8:00 in the morning of the appointed day. On the way home, the Madsen’s began rearranging their plans to fit President Clark’s, but upon arriving home, they were met with a phone call from President Clark’s office. His secretary asked what time they had initially planned to marry. Brother Madsen said, it did not matter as they were happy to change their plans. She insisted, to which they said that Finally, Brother Madsen interjected his own personal story about President Clark. When he and his wife were engaged, they wanted President Clark to perform the sealing as he was a friend to both their fathers. Brother Madsen and his fiancé, Carol, met with President Clark’s secretary who told them their prospective wedding date would not work with President Clark’s schedule as he would be out of town. She told them that it was possible he could perform the ceremony if they moved the time from the afternoon to early morning, to which the Madsen’s readily agreed. She cleared it with President Clark who said he would be honored to marry them at 8:00 in the morning of the appointed day. On the way home, the Madsen’s began rearranging their plans to fit President Clark’s, but upon arriving home, they were met with a phone call from President Clark’s office. His secretary asked what time they had initially planned to marry. Brother Madsen said, it did not matter as they were happy to change their plans. She insisted, to which they said that 3:00pm had been the original time. “’Just a minute,’ she said. A few minutes passed before she returned to the phone and said, ‘President Clark wants to marry you when you want to be married. If you will be in the sealing room by 2:45pm he, as he said, will be honored to perform the ceremony.’” Brother Madsen concluded that the counsel he gave them on that special day remains fixed in memory.

 
After interjecting several quotes by President Clark who Brother Madsen asserted is the most quoted counselor of any First Presidency, he concluded with this thought, “I trust that these reminiscences and quotes self-evidently indicate how J. Reuben Clark led and followed. If so, you don’t need further elaborating, beyond reminding that he loved, he lived, he served and he taught what he knew to be true—honorably. That is leadership. It strikes me as well that to assume his name brings with it the duty and honor to follow his example.”
 
May we as members of the Law Society that bears his name, be inspired to follow his example in our personal and professional lives.



Posted: 2019-11-22

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