The Character of W. Cleon Skousen
Last month we recounted the wonderful facts in the life of Dr. W. Cleon Skousen. Throughout this last month, as I have contemplated the contributions that he made during his life, I could not help but think about the number of occasions in which I was privileged to be personally tutored by Dr. Skousen. The following are from observations I made during the many times I was fortunate enough to be with him. These are characteristics which have helped me smooth out some rough edges in my own life.
For several years during the mid 1980s, we had the privilege of hosting Dr. Skousen and his wife in Arizona for a few weeks during the winter. It was the time he was writing The Making of America. We would try to keep others from knowing he was in town, an idea that was blown the first time he went to church. He would write during the day or night, but preferred the night when he would be undisturbed. I had the pleasant task of going to his apartment periodically and carrying each chapter to the post office to be sent back to headquarters. I always hesitated going because I never knew when he was napping. Once in a while when he came to the door, I could tell I had awakened him, but he would welcome me in as though he was just expecting me, sit me down, offer me food and drink, ask about my welfare, tell me of some exciting thought he had written about, and share perhaps some personal insights which I have come to treasure. I cannot recall one time when he made me feel the time of my visit was inconvenient for him, even though I knew I had disturbed his routine. Those interviews have become precious memories for me.
Dr. Skousen made many friends during his lifetime and some were closely involved with him in the work of teaching the Founding Fathers’ formula for freedom, particularly after he founded the Freemen Institute. On several occasions, He would remark to me how grateful he was for those few people who really stuck with him through thick and thin. He said to me that he had seen a lot of people come into the freedom effort. Many were very talented. They would stay for a while and contribute greatly to the cause, then for whatever reason, would fade into the background and pursue other courses. He said that, for whatever reason, there are very few that had really stuck with him in this effort. For those he was particularly grateful.
I have seen Dr. Skousen in times of great disappointment, when those whom he thought were his true friends turned out to be lesser friends. Perhaps they were still supportive of the cause, but they were not as involved as perhaps they could be. Over the years, some people have made great promises to him, promises of financial support, promises of involvement, but as it is with human beings, sometimes performance does not always follow promises. But I never found him to be really very critical, just observant. One time he expressed to me the feeling he had that he was so grateful that the Lord had so blessed him so as to be able to be involved in this work on a fulltime basis.
One of the interesting anecdotes which Dr. Skousen discussed with me one time was the way in which he solved the problem of fixing tickets for politicians when he was Chief of Police of Salt Lake City. In his book, Notes for the New Chief, he writes as follows:
One of the things I greatly admired about Dr. Skousen is the fact that if his research produced a conclusion, he would not depart from it. Some people have been very critical of Dr. Skousen for drawing certain conclusions from his study of history. I have come to learn that those persons usually have certain agendas by which they are driven and want history to prove them right so badly, that they reject the literal meaning of historical fact and research. You will notice that Dr. Skousen's works are always very well footnoted. That's because some people, who have desired other conclusions, have accused him of poor research or drawing his own conclusions. As I personally have followed the footnotes which he has given, I have not only found them to be accurate, scholarly work, but I have realized, after reading those sources, that I would come to the same conclusion he did.
An honest researcher is always open to new ideas which will be developed by further and newer research. I have heard Dr. Skousen say on numerous occasions, that he has done it as good as he could; that perhaps others can do it better; and, if others discover new research or new facts he would welcome it, but he has done it the best he could from the research that was available to him. To me, that's an honest scholar.
Once in a while, as I move about the nation teaching the message of the Founding Fathers, I am confronted by someone who says, “Well, I don't agree with a Cleon Skousen”. My response is usually: “What specifically don't you agree with him on?” The person usually can't come up with specifics, but says he just heard such comments from others.
Dr. Skousen was always a person who never wanted to hurt or disparage another person. He would go out of his way to make another person feel good, even a person who didn't agree with him. I always thought it interesting, and perhaps to him it was a little difficult, that while it was not in his nature to spread gossip about others and to try to cast others in a negative light, still, as an honest researcher, he had to sometimes conclude that there had been some very unscrupulous characters, even ones in places of great influence, who had worked tirelessly to destroy our God-given freedom.
One of the remarkable things I learned and observed from Dr. Skousen was that, of the many times I was with him, I always came away having learned something. Whether it was an encounter for just a few minutes or if it was a time I was with him for several hours, I do not recall a time when I didn't come away having learned something. I don't know whether it was intentional on his part or whether it was just the way he was, but he was always teaching. I remember feeling on many occasions that, even though he wanted to hear my opinion on things, I always wanted to hear from him, because it seemed that what I had to say was always so trite. And I knew that if I listened intently to what he was saying, I would always learn something much more interesting.
We could all benefit by implementing this characteristic in our own life, but I have a long way to go to make my teaching as interesting and appealing as what I found Dr. Skousen's to be.
Even though the subjects he taught were based on solid principles and to him were “cut-and-dried”, so to speak, his approach to teaching them was so soft and moderate that he endeared his students to him as they learned. In the subject of politics, it is easy to take fixed, immovable positions, especially when one believes his opinion is based on solid, timely principles. Many times I observed Dr. Skousen's masterful art of influence in bringing people around to his conclusions without appearing overbearing. He may have been taught this by one of his admired mentors, Benjamin Franklin, who said:
Dr. Skousen expressed to me that the Lord had so blessed him on several occasions with such success in his writing that he was able to accumulate a little savings. With these funds he was able to found the Freemen Institute. To my knowledge, he never took any money in the way of salary or wages. Some of his expenses would be paid by the organization, which relied wholly on contributions from many people, but he never took any for himself. As a matter of fact, he was quite embarrassed that perhaps just the appearance of some personal expenditure might look to others that he was somehow benefiting personally from the contributions of others.
Some will remember in the early 1980s, when a good friend offered to sell him his used Lincoln Town Car at a price lower than a used Ford or Chevy would have cost him. Dr. Skousen needed another car, but was embarrassed to even think about what others would think if he went around driving this fancy Lincoln Town Car. He decided to buy it from his generous friend, but would always park it around the back and out of sight so that others would not think he was using their contributions to enrich himself.
Quite contrary to that situation, I know of several occasions when he personally paid for expenses or other obligations incurred by people at the Freemen Institute just to help them out or prevent embarrassment—all in the spirit of furthering the cause.
Perhaps no writing about Dr. Skousen could better portray the character of this man better than what he wrote himself. In his book, The Third Thousand Years, Dr. Skousen entitles his first chapter, “Who are God's Chosen People?” Here, in part, is what he wrote:
To me, W. Cleon Skousen was one of God's master servants, who became so because of his actions and his character. His memory gives us great hope to also be anxiously engaged in such noble causes, to carry on the work of spreading the message of freedom which he so magnificently packaged, and to bring about much righteous influence among our fellow men.