Good bye, old friend

Richard S. Van Wagoner

We received a shock yesterday when we learned that Richard Van Wagoner had died Sunday. He was only 64 years old. His daughter, Jenny Woods, called to tell Gary Bergera that Richard had become fatigued on Saturday after mowing the lawn, lay down to rest, and never woke up.

Richard was a great friend and colleague. We admired him as a trailblazer in Mormon studies. His award-winning Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess, will remain the definitive study of Rigdon for years to come. A member of our editorial board, Richard was an engaging, caring, inquisitive, beautiful individual. We will miss him dearly.

Lavina Fielding Anderson, also on our editorial board, responded to the news by writing that “Richard was both a rare historian and a rare human being. His scholarly output over the years, starting with A Book of Mormons, co-authored with Steven Walker, is a classic work. Richard broke new ground with his one-volume history of polygamy and his biography of Sidney Rigdon. I’m reading his five-volume compilation of The Complete Discourses of Brigham Young (Joe Geisner’s favorable review of it is coming out in the fall issue of Journal of Mormon History) and learning an amazing amount of information about Brigham. I edited an early draft of his biography of Joseph Smith in New York. I thought there wasn’t much new that could be said about that period and was amazed at what Richard found.”

“Besides that,” Lavina continued, “Richard was a fine human being—someone who loved his home town and worked tirelessly to make Lehi a better community. He came out of his divorce with affection intact for Mary. Everyone knew how much he loved his children. I was perhaps most impressed with how quietly and consistently he made significant sacrifices to be involved in a significant way in the lives of his grandchildren. His gentle passing is a blessing for him, but it leaves me, and probably many of us, with words of love and appreciation unsaid to this good man in our lives.”

Scott Kenney, co-founder of Signature Books, agreed with Lavina, writing that “Richard will be sorely missed, not only by the Mormon history community, but by the residents of Lehi he served and family members who relied on him to nurture and effectively help raise grandchildren. I will always remember the last time he visited—to loan me his Sidney Rigdon papers. While we chatted, an eight-year-old grandson who lived with him called to see when he was coming home. Richard was so gentle and reassuring. I don’t remember the first time I met Richard, but he was an enthusiastic member of Signature’s first board of directors. It was a joy to be with him.  For more than thirty years he was a generous, supportive friend and colleague. His passing saddens me thoroughly.”

The funeral will be held Saturday, October 16, at 12:00 noon in the LDS Chapel at 435 E. 300 N., Lehi. There will be a viewing Friday evening from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at the Wing Mortuary, 118 E. Main, also in Lehi.