Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Robert J. Matthews
I used to spend quite a bit of time at my Grandma Elsie's house in Evanston, Wyoming, when I was little. "Grandma" Elsie was actually my great-grandmother, Elsie Gulliver, who'd converted to the LDS Church in England as a young woman and left, as she described it, "the green lanes of England for the sagebrush of Wyoming." She married my great-grandfather, Roland Matthews, another convert from England, after both had come to this country by way of Salt Lake City, and eventually they made their home in southwestern Wyoming, where Grandpa Roland was a barber.
Grandpa Roland was long gone before I was born, so I never knew him. But I loved my time at Grandma Elsie's little version of an English cottage in Evanston, complete with its own English cottage garden outside. I loved her tales of the Royal Family, her British mannerisms and traditions, her little porcelain bric-a-brac, her cakes, and her love of all things English.
Of all the treasures I remember being in her home as a young girl, I especially remember how she kept a photograph of her youngest son, her baby, Robert, on her dresser, alongside a photograph of his bride, Shirley. She spoke of him frequently and with special tenderness. She'd raised a large family, seven boys and just one girl. My grandfather, Victor, was the oldest of this brood, and Robert, well, Robert was the caboose. She loved him dearly.
So when I think of my uncle Bob, it's framed in the special tenderness of the eyes of his mother, eyes that eventually were clouded over and unable to see clearly except through the heart.
"Uncle Bob" went on to greater things than just his sphere in Evanston, finishing his studies and entering the LDS Church Educational System. Eventually he became Dean of the College of Religion at BYU. Probably his most significant achievement and most noted distinction, however, is in being the first person from the LDS Church that the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (RLDS) ever allowed to view or handle the original manuscripts of the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible (or "Inspired Version," as it has been alternately known), and he was instrumental in bringing the fruits of his efforts back to the LDS Church. He has been a popular educator for many years, in Seminaries and Institutes, and as a college professor. He is a popular speaker at devotionals, firesides and BYU Campus Education Week programs, and a highly respected author and scholar, particularly on the New Testament, John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul, and the Joseph Smith Translation. When the LDS Church decided to compile an Encyclopedia of Mormonism, he was central to that effort.
On the occasion of his 80th birthday last year, several of his collegues honored him with the publication of a collection of essays in his honor, A Witness for the Restoration: Essays in Honor of Robert J. Matthews.
During my own time at BYU, I took both semesters of New Testament from him, and came to appreciate him not only as an uncle but as a New Testament scholar, and a gifted teacher with a wry smile, a twinkling eye, and an ever present sense of humor. He is well loved for a reason. I will always treasure the unique way he autographs books--with a weather report, "Partly cloudy today, some sun. Looks like it might rain. RJM"
Robert J. Matthews.