This is a sad day for Mormon History buffs. I have just learned that Richard Van Wagoner passed away on Saturday. He has written several book on Mormon History. I blogged about his Sidney Rigdon book, and he recently completed The Complete Discourses of Brigham Young. Here is a list of some of his books. I’ll try to add more information as it becomes available.
I just spoke with Tom Kimball of Signature Books. Tom knew Richard very well since Richard had published several books through Signature. I understand Richard’s funeral on Saturday in Lehi, Utah. Tom expects Richard’s obituary will be available in the Salt Lake area newspapers in the next few days.
I understand Richard was mowing his lawn on Saturday. He didn’t feel well, so he went in the house to rest. He never woke up. It’s really sad. He was just 64.
When he wasn’t writing Mormon history, he worked as a clinical audiologist. Ironically he lost hearing a few years ago. Through technological advances, he regained his hearing. I had the pleasure to meet him at the Mormon History Association meetings this past summer.
He wrote for Dialogue: a Journal of Mormon Thought. Here’s a list of articles he wrote for Dialogue. Tom said Richard coauthored an article with Steven C. Walker on seerstones. Tom said the article was ground-breaking in revealing new information. Van Wagoner also wrote an article in 1995 for Dialoge showing that there were no contemporary accounts of Brigham Young being transfigured into Joseph Smith following the martyrdom.
Van Wagoner had just finished his part of a 3 volume biography of Joseph Smith to be published in the fall of 2011 or early 2012. The Van Wagoner volume is titled, “Joseph Smith, the Life of the Mormon Prophet, Volume 1. The early years, 1805-1831.” (The other authors are Scott Kenney and Martha Sonntag Bradley.)
As I mentioned before, this is a great loss in the Mormon History community. He will be greatly missed.
UPDATE 10/12/2010. The Salt Lake Tribune is reporting he died on Sunday, rather than Saturday. ( wonder if it was the early hours of Sunday morning rather than Saturday night.) Here’s the link to the Tribune:http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/lifestyle/50454913-80/utah-van-wagoner-mormon.html.csp
I loved this quote from the Tribune.
“I’ve long considered Richard one of the finest historians of my generation and a helluva nice guy to boot,” historian Will Bagley said in an e-mail to the AP. “His contributions to Mormon and Utah studies are beyond measure.”
Its always sad to lose a contributor to something you enjoy, but on an up note, that is exactly how I want to go out. You might say he was lucky in his demise. That is said with all respect due him.
I just added a link to the Tribune article. There’s a great quote from Will Bagley.
Bishop Rick, you raise an interesting point that I don’t mind going into. I have had the experience of watching a sister die via cancer, and a brother die instantly in a car crash. My father has often said that he would like to die in his sleep. I guess in a way, none of us want to die a painful death.
However, when by brother died, our grief counselor said an unexpected death is the worst experience for the survivors, because there is no chance to say goodbye. Having experienced both kinds of death, I heartily agree. My sister suffered for 21 months before dying. I was there the night before she died, when she was essentially unconscious. It was a painful experience to be sure, but a memory that I treasure. I did have my chance to say goodbye, and I am grateful she is no longer suffering.
On the other hand, my brothers death was like a punch in the gut without warning. My goodbye was in the mortuary, learning of his broken bones and the fact that he died instantly. In a way I’m glad that he didn’t suffer, but it seems so wrong. Unlike my sister, he was a healthy. He was a fun, happy father, and great brother. I can’t shake the feeling that he shouldn’t have died. He was driving the speed limit, wearing his seatbelt, going to Las Vegas for a family vacation. He had just given a talk in church a week or 2 before his death. That talk was a bit of a comfort as he had recently been called as a ward missionary. Now his mission is on the other side of the veil.
Given the 2 options, I want to say goodbye to my family before I die, even if I have to suffer cancer. It is easier to deal with for the living (though it is still extremely hard.) Ideally, it would be nice to go without pain, but I don’t want to inflict pain on my family by dying unexpectedly either.
May you outlive all your friends and family and die in your sleep.
Actually that doesn’t sound so great either.