February 17, 2006 by Earl Taylor
On Monday, January 9th, 2006 at 1:50 in the afternoon, our good friend and founder of NCCS, W. Cleon Skousen, passed away peacefully at his home. In just 11 days from then, he would have turned 93 years old.
How does one write about the life of such an accomplished and beloved man? We present below an edited transcript of the eulogy delivered by Dr. Skousen’s son, Eric, at his funeral service on January 14, 2006.
Dr. W. Cleon Skousen was born on a kitchen table in a small home in Raymond, Alberta, Canada on the night of January 20, 1913. His first name is Willard, after his paternal grandfather, but his mother called him Cleon which means “one to take the place of” as his parents had lost their first child, a boy named Ezra, the preceding year.
His parents, Roy and Rita Bentley Skousen, were American citizens so Cleon was too, though he always felt a special attachment to his Canadian roots.
Cleon was raised on a dry farm in Raymond and attended elementary school there until he was ten years old, completing the fifth grade. His family then moved to southern California, eventually settling in San Bernardino where Cleon completed his elementary school education. He then lived for two years in the Mormon colony of Juarez in Mexico taking care of his grandmother and attending Juarez Academy. When she died Cleon returned to San Bernardino, graduating from high school in 1930. He represented the senior class, speaking on “The Molding of an American.”
President Heber J. Grant called Cleon to serve a mission in England for his Church at age 17. After arriving home, Cleon went to work for his father in the road construction business, working for a year in Arizona and New Mexico. He then began his college studies at the San Bernardino Valley Junior College and at the end of his freshman year was elected student body president. His skills as a public speaker and a debater had been honed since before his mission service, and in college he began to consistently win speech and debate contests. In December 1934, he won the Western States Extemporaneous Speaking Award, competing against student speakers from many other two-year and four-year colleges. Cleon had a fine tenor voice and played the lead in the college’s production of The Vagabond King, a roll which required some very fancy sword play.
Cleon graduated from San Bernardino Valley Junior College in June 1935. The local Rotary Club felt so confident in his abilities that they encouraged him to run for mayor of San Bernardino. But Cleon wanted to continue his college studies, so they loaned him money to go back to George Washington University in Washington, D.C. to study law. However, Cleon needed a job while he was in school and obtained employment with the Department of Agriculture. Within weeks it was obvious that there was no future in this do-nothing desk job, so at the suggestion of his roommate, he applied for work at the Federal Bureau of Investigation — the FBI. Competing against 500 other applicants, Cleon successfully obtained employment with the FBI and began work as a messenger while he continued his law school studies at night.
For several years prior to coming to Washington, D.C., Cleon had his eye on a popular and pretty brunette named Jewel Pitcher who lived in San Bernardino and attended church with his family. They developed a special interest in each other before Cleon left. When Cleon’s mother visited him on a trip back East, she remarked on the increasing popularity of “that Julie Pitcher” with the boys back home. Becoming alert to the situation, Cleon proposed with a wedding ring, via another federal service, the United States Post Office, and they were married in the Salt Lake Temple on Friday, August 13, 1936. They spent their honeymoon traveling through the southern states on their way back to their Washington, D.C. honeymoon apartment.
Cleon soon found himself teaching the Gospel Doctrine class in his ward. When challenged by a disbelieving member of his class concerning the reality of prophecy and prophets, Cleon and Jewel researched a book which Cleon compiled and published called Prophecy and Modern Times. It is still in print today.
The year 1940 was a watershed year for Cleon and Jewel. They began their family when David was born February 11th. Cleon passed the Washington, D.C. bar exam a few days later and graduated with an LL.B. Degree in June 1940. With that degree he was made a Special Agent in the FBI and was trained in firearms and the martial arts, at Quantico, Virginia. In 1972, his degree was upgraded to a Juris Doctor Degree as the studies he had completed more than 30 years before were now equivalent to this higher degree.
A second son, Eric, was born in July 1941. About this time Cleon’s reputation as a public speaker became increasingly evident to his FBI administrators. As an Administrative Assistant to J. Edgar Hoover, Cleon often took speaking assignments for him and helped establish a favorable public image of the FBI and its Director.
In 1943, Cleon was called as Stake Mission President under Stake President Ezra Taft Benson.
A third child, a daughter named Julianne, was born in June 1944. One year later, Cleon was assigned to the Los Angeles office of the FBI. The family relocated to the Eagle Rock area of Los Angeles. Within a year, Cleon and another Special Agent, John L. Sullivan, developed a series of training courses for the local police departments and traveled throughout southern California presenting these intensive week or two-week courses.
As part of his Church’s centennial celebration of the entrance of the pioneers into the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, Cleon wrote The Story of the Mormon Pioneers which his Seventies Quorum used for missionary work in southern California. It was reprinted many years later and distributed on Temple Square as a missionary tool.
Another daughter, Sharon, was born in September 1947 and another son, Harold followed in February 1950. During these years, Cleon’s Sundays were packed with speaking assignments in church meetings and firesides. He was also representing the FBI with speaking assignments throughout the nation.
He wrote and published his famous The Real Story of Christmas in 1949. It is still in print. Twenty years later, it was dramatized with music and was broadcast by KSL radio for several years at Christmas time with Francis Urry as the narrator.
A surprising shift in careers occurred in 1951 when he was asked by BYU’s new President, Ernest L. Wilkinson, to join the administrative staff as Director of the Alumni Association. He moved his family to Edgemont, Utah and soon found himself involved in much more than the Alumni Association. When his assistant, Ray Beckham, took over that assignment, Cleon began to teach classes in religion and debate as well as directing the fund-raising and student recruitment programs at the ‘Y’. His debate teams won two national championships and student enrollment, especially from California, increased markedly.
He continued his public speaking and was hailed in 1952 as a “modern Demosthenes” for the amazing number of speeches he was giving each year. In July of that same year, a daughter, Kathleen was born. Cleon was asked by the First Presidency to give a series of 13 Sunday night talks on KSL radio which were so popular that his assignment was extended another 13 weeks. Those speeches were published in 1953 as the book The Challenge of Our Times.
Cleon culminated 14 years of gospel research by publishing The First 2,000 Years in the Fall of 1953. This book has gone through nearly 50 printings and is still in print. It is widely read, especially when students undertake a study of the Old Testament.
In August 1954, another son, Paul, was born and his last child, a son named Brent, was born in November 1955.
Another career change loomed in 1956 when the mayor of Salt Lake City, Adiel Stewart, sought for a new chief of police to reorganize and strengthen the department. It was becoming increasingly obvious that national crime syndicates were attempting to “open up” the city. At the encouragement of President David O. McKay and leaders of the Masonic and Catholic communities in Salt Lake City, Cleon accepted the position and moved his family to a home at 2197 Berkeley Street, the home he would reside in for the rest of his life and in which he would die.
Cleon moved quickly to eliminate many sources of illegal activity and found himself constantly challenged by the media and disgruntled “old guard” politicians. But by the summer of 1959, he had completely eliminated public prostitution and gambling, had the tavern owners organized to eliminate illegal drinking, had a K-9 Corps of police-trained dogs working with his officers which made them more than doubly efficient, and was admired for running, what Time Magazine later said, “a model police department.”
In 1958, Cleon published The Naked Communist, an in-depth study of the international Communist conspiracy, based on research he had done since early in his FBI career. The book sold moderately well until October 1959 when President David O. McKay held it up during his General Conference address and recommended that every member of the Church read it. Within hours, not a single copy could be found in Salt Lake City bookstores. Over the next two years the book rose in sales to become a national best seller and is still in print today.
Just as The Naked Communist was being published, Cleon was asked by the editors of The Improvement Era, to write a series of articles about raising boys. Based on his training in the FBI with the Yale Institute of Child Development, he completed this series and compiled it into another best-selling book called, So You Want to Rise a Boy? When asked why he never wrote a book on raising girls, he gave a typical male response: “I never could figure them out!”
By 1960, the political winds in Salt Lake City had changed and a new mayor was elected who felt that Cleon was too tough in enforcing the law. The mayor manipulated the City Council and with trumped-up charges had him fired. The public outcry was so great that a new radio program called “Public Pulse” was created on KSL radio to air the citizens’ protests. The mayor later said that firing Chief Skousen was the worst political mistake of his career. But worse than that, Cleon’s model department programs were dismantled, his faithful assistant chiefs fired, and within two months the Deseret News reported that crime had increased, on the average, by 22% throughout the city.
Within days of Cleon’s dismissal, his mailbox was flooded with unsolicited job offers, including a position as vice-president of the American Can Company. However, he accepted two other jobs instead. One was as the Field Director for the American Security Council and the other was as Editorial Director of the largest magazine for law enforcement at the time, Law and Order, a job he held for 15 years. He also continued to speak more widely against the encroaching threat of Communism, both inside and outside of the United States.
Just as he was settling into these new assignments he was encouraged to run for governor of the state of Utah. He lost in the convention by only 12 votes, which he later confided was the best thing that could have happened to him as he was anxious to pursue his anti-Communism crusade with other American patriots.
On October 16, 1961, he addressed a crowd of over 15,000 at the Hollywood Bowl. His speech was interrupted many times by standing ovations. He shared the podium with many Hollywood stars and politicians, including the owner of Life magazine who had come to apologize for his magazine’s attack on the newly rising anti-communist movement in the U.S. This program was later broadcast on nationwide television.
In 1964, Cleon’s younger brother Leroy died, leaving a widow and ten children. Quietly, Cleon became a surrogate father to this family, helping in every way he could to give them a father they no longer had.
Between lengthy speaking assignments, Cleon began a new career as a tour guide which lasted until 1985. These tours took him to the Holy Land 30 times, to South America several times and twice around the world. During his last tour of the Holy Land, he made a series of popular videotapes for Living Scriptures called “Visit Israel with W. Cleon Skousen.”
Cleon also wrote, Fantastic Victory, the story of Israel’s miraculous six-day military triumph over its enemies in June 1967. It also includes prophecy concerning the Jewish nation. A miracle itself, Cleon wrote this book in an astonishing three months.
In 1967, President David O. McKay asked Cleon to return to BYU to teach religion and also to develop an in-depth study course to teach the students about the U.S. Constitution. In 1971, Cleon obtained a copy of Tragedy and Hope by Dr. Carroll Quigley of Georgetown University and discovered to his amazement that much of what he had learned in the FBI about subversive activities in Europe and the U.S. were being discussed openly by Dr. Quigley, as if to say, “Look what we have done!” Cleon immediately wrote a review of the book and published it under the title The Naked Capitalist and within months it had sold hundreds of thousands of copies and it continues to sell today.
Cleon established the Freemen Institute on July 4, 1971. This research institute, located off-campus, was filled with his extensive political library and students were invited to read both sides of any political issue from original sources. By 1975, Cleon had developed a compact but scholarly 12-session study course on the background, principles and political philosophy of the American Founding Fathers as contained in the U.S. Constitution. These courses immediately became popular in places far from the university and eventually tens-of-thousands of people had taken them. The result was remarkable on many fronts, especially at election time, when educated Freemen would support freedom-loving candidates for office and sometimes successfully run for office themselves.
In 1972, tragedy struck the family when his daughter, Kathleen, died of kidney failure. She had been kept alive for nine years with a newly developed kidney dialysis machine and her mother and a brother ran this machine several times a week for many years. There was great hope when Kathy received a transplanted kidney but it failed and she passed away just two days after her 20th birthday. Even 30 years later, Cleon could not speak of this loss without breaking down in tears.
After the election of 1980, Cleon was appointed to the Council for National Policy, a think tank of influential politicians, scholars and academics that lent support and advice to President Ronald Reagan’s administration. Among the many solutions Cleon proposed included suggested programs to convert the Social Security system to private retirement accounts and a plan to completely wipe out the national debt. Cleon was never a tax protestor but campaigned for several proposals to eliminate the federal income tax, including the famous Liberty Amendment, which among other things, would return federally owned land to the states and preclude the federal government from being involved in any activities that competed with private enterprise.
His book, The Five Thousand Year Leap, published in 1981, for the first time outlined the 28 basic principles on which the American government was founded. It continues to be used by students of political science throughout the world.
By the end of 1982, the Freemen Institute had become a national organization named The National Center for Constitutional Studies (NCCS) and was headquartered in Washington, D.C. Seminars were held for members of Congress and their staffs.
In 1984, Cleon completed and published Isaiah Speaks to Modern Times, a comprehensive commentary on this prophet’s writings.
In 1985, the NCCS published Cleon’s masterful The Making of America which was immediately attacked by the liberal media and resulted in Cleon’s appearance on coast-to-coast television to discuss and refute their claims. It has been adopted by many schools as their standard American government text.
After 16½ years of service, Cleon resigned as President of the National Center for Constitutional Studies on his 75th birthday in 1988 and undertook two writing projects of great personal importance. The first was a two-volume account of the life of the Savior entitled Days of the Living Christ. The second was his political magnum opus detailing the attempts by men throughout history to establish good governments and an expansive description of the Millennial government under which we shall soon live. He called it The Majesty of God’s Law. Both of these books are still in print. Cleon’s books have reached millions of readers in the Christian, Jewish and Islamic communities. Cleon was also a prolific speaker and gave an estimated 15,000 speeches in his lifetime. He often averaged more than 500 speeches a year and on one trip to the southern states gave 46 speeches in just one week.
Cleon’s twilight years were very active as a trusted advisor and confidant. Cleon and Jewel maintained a beautiful home in Salt Lake City that became a mandatory stopover for any person with political aspirations both in Utah and beyond. Friends and visitors included ecclesiastical leaders of all faiths, politicians from all major parties, and students of all ages.
He was loved and did love with all his heart. He is survived by two brothers, Ervin and Keith, his wife Jewel, and seven children, 48 grandchildren and 67 great-grandchildren.
(End of son Eric’s remarks)
W. Cleon Skousen has touched the lives of many more people than will probably ever be known. His teachings and writings have inspired tens- and probably hundreds-of-thousands to be more faithful in their religious beliefs, more active in learning about and preserving liberty in America, and more devoted to their families. Perhaps we will share some testimonials of these in the future.
I will never forget the moment when, with Cleon’s help and encouragement, a close friend of his won a seat in the United States Senate. Cleon was afterwards asked by a television reporter if he enjoyed having so much power. He responded with, “I am a teacher. A teacher doesn’t look for power. A teacher looks for influence.” It may yet be said that W. Cleon Skousen has influenced more people to do more good than nearly anyone else since the days of the Founding Fathers. He often expressed the desire to live long enough to see how it would all turn out. As that time draws near, perhaps he has better perspective now.
Earl Taylor, Jr.