Who Should Have Been Mormon of the Year, 1990-2007

This final of three posts, covers Times and Seasons reader Last Lemming’s suggestions for Mormon of the Year for the years 1990 through 2007. We already posted on Monday his picks for 1950 through 1969 and on Wednesday 1970 through 1989. I suspect as these posts get into more familiar and more recent territory, more of you will have comments and suggestions about who Last Lemming suggested and who should have been suggested instead.

As I mentioned on Monday, I received this unexpected and fun email message from Times and Seasons reader Last Lemming after we began selecting the 2008 Mormon of the Year. He had made his own selections for Mormon of the Year for each year since 1950!

I found the list fascinating, an entertaining look at Mormons in history over nearly 60 years, and really quite an impressive bit of work to pull together so much information. Last Lemming describes his criteria as follows:

I have generally followed a no-General-Authorities rule, except for McConkie (who was not acting in his G.A. capacity) and, arguably, Barbara B. Smith.  Otherwise, I was very flexible.  [Those selected] could be classified into three categories: 1) those influencing Mormon culture, 2) those representing Mormonism to the world, and 3) those influencing the broader culture  in ways not necessarily linked to their Mormonism.  I tried to limit [those selected] to people who were active at the time of their cited accomplishment. (Some, like Frank Moss, I would stand by even if he wasn’t really active because his accomplishment was easy to identify with his Mormonism.)

I have used my 20:30 hindsight when [making selections] (I can’t claim 20:20 hindsight when I can’t even fill all of the years).  I have not attempted to guess who might have won had Times and Seasons been around to conduct a vote.  Also, there are a fair number of people who could have won in any number of years.  I generally picked them in a year in which they had some notable accomplishment and little competition.

I did not pick anybody twice, unless their contributions were in different areas.  Thus, I gave George Romney two mentions (one for his business activities and one for his political activities), but gave Mitt Romney only one (nothing he did at Bain qualifies, and I treat his Olympics adventure as the beginning of his political career, not the end of his business career).  With regards to businessmen, I generally cited them for giving away their money, not for earning it.  Marriott is an exception, but the Books-of-Mormon-in-the-rooms phenomenon makes him different.

By posting this list, it is not my intention (nor that of Last Lemming, according to his email message submitting this information) to actually select anyone for these years. Rather, I’m posting this in part as a way for those of us who remember a portion of these people to remember, and for those who don’t to learn, and, undoubtedly, a something to be discussed.

I welcome your comments and suggested alternatives. On this particular portion, mostly before my time, I have a few alternatives to suggest. I’ll make my suggestions in the first comment. I’m sure others of you will have many more suggestions.

Like many of you readers, I have mixed feelings about some of the individuals mentioned here. But I can’t deny that all of them had a significant impact, and therefore could have been, at least in retrospect, Mormon of the Year.

1990:     Ty Detmer – for winning the Heisman Trophy after setting a whole bunch of NCAA passing records. (It’s not clear whether he had been baptized at the time.)

1991:    Laurel Thatcher Ulrich – for winning the Pulitzer Prize in history for A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard based on her diary, 1785–1812.
Runner-up: Larry Miller – for building the Delta Center (now Energy Solutions Arena)

1992:    Stephen Robinson – for publishing Believing Christ.

1993:    Betty Eadie – for spending most of the year atop the New York Times Bestseller List for Nonfiction for Embraced by the Light.
Runners-up: Richard & Linda Eyre – for also hitting #1 with Teaching Children Values.

1994:    Steve Young – for winning his second NFL MVP award.

1995:    Jon Huntsman Sr. – for funding the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah.
Runner-up: Richard Paul Evans – for dominating the New York Times Best-Seller lists with The Christmas Box.

1996:    Bay Buchanan – for managing her brother Pat’s campaign for the Republican nomination for president, ultimately winning the New Hampshire primary and three others.

1997:    Alan Ashton – for opening Thanksgiving Point with some of the money he earned from WordPerfect.

1998:    Gerald Lund – for completing the The Work and the Glory series.  (He would be a plausible winner in any year between 1990 and 1998, but 1998 seemed to provide the least competition.)

1999:    Chris Cannon – for serving (in his capacity as a member of the House Judiciary Committee) as an impeachment “manager” (essentially a prosecutor) against Bill Clinton during his trial in the Senate.

2000:    The “Doe” Family – for winning their Supreme Court case against the Santa Fe Texas School District in which they (along with a similarly anonymous Catholic family) challenged the practice of public prayers at high school football games.
Runners-up: James Sorenson and Scott Woodward – for establishing the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, which now has a database of over 100,000 DNA samples.
Preston J. Waite – for overseeing the 2000 Census and making the decision not to count overseas missionaries as Utah residents, thereby denying Utah an additional congressional seat. (He was serving as 1st Counselor in the Suitland, Maryland Stake presidency at the time.)
Rulon Gardner – for winning the Olympic gold medal in Greco-Roman Wrestling (heavyweight division) by defeating three-time defending champion Alexander Karelin, widely considered to be the greatest Greco-Roman wrestler of all time.

2001:    Darius Gray – for facilitating the release on CD of the Freedman’s Bank records (while serving as president of the Genesis Group).
Runner-up: Orrin Hatch – for his leadership on the stem-cell research issue in the face of strong opposition from his usual allies.

2002:    Mitt Romney – for rescuing the 2002 Winter Olympics and being elected Governor of Massachusetts.
Runner-up: Jay Bybee – for writing the “torture memo.”

2003:    Elizabeth Smart – for surviving her highly-publicized kidnapping.

2004:    Arthur “Killer” Kane – for being fascinating enough to make New York Doll, the documentary filmed about him during the year, so outstanding.
Runners-up: Jared & Jerusha Hess – for producing Napoleon Dynamite.
Ken Jennings – for kicking serious butt on Jeopardy.

2005:    Richard Bushman, Gregory Prince & William Robert Wright, and Edward Kimball – for publishing the most awesome trio of Mormon biographies ever; i.e. Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, and Lengthen Your Stride:  The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball.  (Either Bushman or Prince & Wright could have won this outright, but I didn’t want to omit any of them.)
Runner-up: Ryan Benson – for winning on The Biggest Loser.

2006:    Stephenie Meyer – for reaching #1 on the New York Times Best-Seller List for Children’s Chapter Books with New Moon, the second book in the Twilight series. (She would be a plausible winner in any year between 2005 and 2008, but 2006 seemed to provide the least competition.)
Runner-up: Benji Schwimmer – for winning on So You Think You Can Dance.

2007:    Harry Reid – for becoming Senate Majority Leader, the first Mormon to achieve that rank.
Runner-up: Dr. Jeffrey “Big Love” Cole (a fictional character on the TV show House M.D.) – for shattering all sorts of stereotypes, but not (unfortunately) House’s jaw.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

27 comments for “Who Should Have Been Mormon of the Year, 1990-2007

  1. Jay Bybee? Not enough people know him, or that he was Mormon. Frankly, he deserves to stay in obscurity for his “torture memo.” But Mitt Romney definitely in 2002. He did very well in saving the Olympics.

  2. Embraced by the Light?


    I wish I could help you on the Detmer question since he was dating one of my roommates that year, but I can’t recall with certainty if he joined the church before or after the Heisman.

    Looks like a decent list! Very interesting, Last Lemming!

  3. Steve Young won the Super Bowl in 1995, though. Do we count his award as an “NFL Season” or “Calendar Year”?

    (And I’m pretty sure the MVP was technically awarded in January 1995.)

  4. And to agree with #4, Ty Detmer was *not* a member when he won the Heisman. In fact, that was a joke around the BYU campus in Fall 1991, that baptism and marriage that summer had made him soft, and that’s why his numbers dropped.

  5. Great choice for 2000. I’ve often wished I knew who the Doe’s were so I could shake their hands.

  6. Is it me, or does this seem like a weaker group that other periods. Jay Bybee? Alan Ashton? Elizabeth Smart?

  7. Martin,

    It’s not just you. There are several slots where I am hoping for better suggestions. (And note that with Ty Detmer’s disqualification, the 1990 slot is now vacant). But I make no apology for recognizing Jay Bybee. Whether we like it or not, that memo was huge. And Adam has a point. Twenty years from now, we will recognize achievements that barely register today.


    Bear your testimony on-camera to Frank Spangenberg (who has to be at least as intimidating as David Johansen) and I will switch you with Killer Kane.

  8. I think we should get a collective award to the Bloggernacle in 2003 or thereabouts. Or at least a runner-up. Or at least an runner-up on the alternates list for the also-considered category.

  9. The Does in 2000 definitely deserve their slot. The school prayer lawsuit was the culmination of much abuse directed by a members of one hyper/supermajority against other religious minorities.

    Being Texas, I can imagine that the lawsuit was filed amid concerns for their personal welfare and safety.

  10. Adam has a good suggestion for 2003, but I want to get a little more personal than “The Bloggernacle,” which wasn’t even named until the following year. The founding members of a certain group blog that began in that year might be good candidates, but some might interpret that as more than a little self-serving. Who else was actively blogging in 2003? It seems Dave Banack might be a candidate, but perhaps there are others.

  11. If you are looking for a good candidate in the blogging world in general, why not Jeff Lindsay, creator of Mormanity? I don’t know if we really have any LDS bloggers who are well-known by the world at large, and i would seriously doubt any of them would really qualify for Mormon of the Year, but it seems to me that Jeff was definitely one of the earlier of the LDS bloggers. (Of course, his Cracked Planet was starting much earlier, and his blog didn’t start until what, 2004 or so?) Just a thought…

    I would have placed the Hesses or Ken Jennings above Arthur Kane, simply because I know that I had never heard of him previous to reading this post, but I know plenty of people, especially non-LDS who, upon learning I was LDS, would comment about either Napoleon Dynamite or Ken Jennings. (And I live in the midst of corn and soybean fields in Illinois!)

  12. For generating publicity as a Mormon, Ken Jennings certainly surpassed the others. Maybe a few hundred thousand people saw New York Doll? And didn’t New York Doll premiere at the 2005 Sundance, anyway?

  13. Arden Pope’s work on air pollution might be a better bet for something in the mid-90s. EPA regulations proposed in 1997 were based on it — and his only competition that year is apparently Ashton’s Thanksgiving Point.
    In fact, Arden’s first papers used inversions in Utah Valley during the Geneva Steel era to get the effects of particulate matter on health outcomes.

    Here’s a recent article he published on the effects of air regulation on decreasing mortality. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jan/22/air-pollution-life-expectancy

  14. Thanks for the info on Pope. I’ll add him to my list (although it might be years before I actually offer another proposed list).

    As for the 2004 selection, y’all are probably right that Ken and Napoleon will age better than New York Doll. I’ll keep that in mind when I do my next list. (Who knows. NYD might become a cult classic among punk rockers). But my citation of Kane was timed to reflect the filming of the movie, not its release (which occurred after his death).

  15. In fairness to Bybee it should be pointed out that he did not author the torture memo. The memo was written by John Yoo (who is very proud of the fact) and approved by Bybee who was Yoo’s superior at OLC. Perhaps this is splitting hairs as Bybee’s name is on the memo.

  16. I watched New York Doll. There are certain youth who could really benefit from seeing it. (And others, of course, who would never understand why I’d make that claim.)

    The imagery of Arthur Kane, ravaged by a lifetime of transgression, rage, and regret, working in a family history center, kind of encapsulates an example of what repentance can do, what it cannot, why it would be better to avoid the sinning in the first place, but also what kind of person comes out of the repentance process.

    And watching him try to explain bits of Mormonism to his old bandmates as they make nervous jokes about it is a touchstone of common experience. What Mormon hasn’t had to go through that, after all?

  17. On stem cell research, it was Oregon Senator and Church member Gordon Smith not Orrin Hatch who started the legislative effort. As I understand it, Smith got Hatch to sign on to have a more senior conservative senator on the bill to get more support.

    I heard Smith give a great speech about his view of what the D&C says about when life begins and how it impacted his legislative actions. Smith should be your runner up and not Hatch for 2001. Also, any LDS congressman outside of UT deserves more credit as they had to overcome the anti-mormon bias in the electorate.

Comments are closed.