- Brigham Young University. Office of the President (Creator, Organization)
Conditions Governing Access
Conditions Governing Use
115 boxes (57.5 linear ft.)
3 oversize (3.5 linear ft.)
Brigham Young University has had a president since Brigham Young Academy was changed to Brigham Young University in 1903. While the school was still called Brigham Young Academy the head officer was titled principal.
The Board of Trustees delegates to the University President the responsibility to conduct the operations of the institution and administer the policies enacted by the board. Since 1996, the President of the university has also been a General Authority of the Church.
Past and present Brigham Young University presidents include George H. Brimhall (1903-1921), Franklin S. Harris (1921-1945), Howard S. McDonald (1945-1949), (acting president) Christian Jensen (1949-1951), Ernest L. Wilkinson (1951-1971), Dallin H. Oaks (1971-1980), Jeffrey R. Holland (1980-1989), Rex E. Lee (1989-1995), Merrill J. Bateman (1996-2003), and Cecil O. Samuelson (2003- ).
Rex Edwin Lee was born February 27, 1935 in St. Johns, Arizona. He showed considerable potential in school and his teachers pushed him to excel. He spent summers working in the sawmill business that his family owned—the sawmills were located in Arizona and New Mexico. By his sophomore year in high school, Rex had set his sights on becoming a lawyer. When the time came to choose a college, his teachers counseled him to attend the University of Arizona and his family counseled him to attend Brigham Young University. A deal was struck that he would attend Brigham Young University for one year and if he didn’t like it he could then transfer to the University of Arizona.
In the fall of 1953, Rex and three friends loaded their possessions into a 1943 Chevrolet and made the 600-mile trip to Provo, Utah. They arrived in Provo late in the evening to discover that the supply office for their dormitory was closed and so, while they were able to get into their rooms, they had no mattresses, no sheets, no blankets or pillows, and no electricity. Rex felt very alone and was ready to return to Arizona. He instinctively knelt in prayer and the stifling discouragement soon gave way to a healthy anxiety. After one quarter, Rex had decided that BYU was where he wanted to complete his undergraduate education. After completing his first two years of college, Rex accepted a call to serve as a missionary in the Mexican Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After his mission, Rex returned to BYU in 1958 to finish his undergraduate education. Soon after his return to campus he bumped into Janet Griffin and began to court her. They were married in the Mesa Arizona Temple on July 7, 1959. Rex served as student body president of BYU from 1959-60 and upon graduation was accepted to study law at the University of Chicago. Rex graduated first in his law school class in 1963 and accepted a one-year appointment as a law clerk for Justice Bryon R. White of the United States Supreme Court.
When Rex’s appointment with Supreme Court ended in 1964, he moved his family to Arizona, where he had been hired by the Phoenix law firm of Jennings, Strouss, Salmon & Trask. Rex was made a partner in this law firm three years later. In 1971 the Lees learned that BYU’s board of trustees had announced that the university was going to establish a law school. Rex was soon visited by Ernest L. Wilkinson who invited him to come to Salt Lake City to meet with the committee charged with finding a dean for the new school. Several months later, Rex received a phone call from Harold B. Lee inviting him to become the law school’s founding dean. Rex served as dean until 1976 when Edward H. Levi (then the U. S. attorney general) invited him to serve as assistant attorney general over the Civil Division of the United States Department of Justice. Rex accepted the invitation and served until January 1977. He then resumed his duties as dean of the law school. In 1981 Rex was nominated for Solicitor General of the United States and his nomination was approved in July by the full Senate. He served from 1981 until 1985 when he resigned.
Following his resignation he accepted a position with the Washington, D. C. law firm Sidley & Austin with a focus on appellate cases. This decision seemed to mean giving up his association with BYU’s law faculty. He approached the BYU administration to tender his resignation and was pleasantly surprised to discover that the university had no problem with him splitting his time between the law school and the firm as long as the Lees lived in Provo—a solution that proved acceptable to everyone. This arrangement continued until 1989 when Rex was called to serve as President of Brigham Young University at which time he continued as a member of the law firm Sidley & Austin. Rex served as university president until 1995 when he resigned due to failing health.
Rex and Janet G. Lee raised a family of seven children—Diana, Tom, Wendy, Michael, Stephanie, Melissa, and Christie—while Rex pursued his career. The importance of his family was brought home to Rex in 1987 when he learned that he had cancer. Aggressive treatment caused the cancer to go into remission. The cancer reappeared during his tenure at Brigham Young University and eventually claimed his life on March 11, 1996.
Note: The container list begins with box 92 and proceeds to box 108 before beginning with box 1 and proceeding to box 91. The reason for this is that the Correspondence (May 1989-July 1990) subseries was discovered and integrated into the collection after the original completion date of October 2002. This subseries was processed in October 2003 and comprises boxes 92-108. This subseries documents the beginning of Rex E. Lee's presidency and intellectually belongs at the beginning of the container list where it has been placed.
Other Finding Aids
Immediate Source of Acquisition
- Brigham Young University
- Brigham Young University--Hawaii Campus
- Brigham Young University. Student Academic and Advisement Services
- Brigham Young University. University Relations Division
- Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- Apostles
- Colleges and Universities
- Education, Higher -- Utah -- Provo
- Files (Records)
- Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies
- Lee, Janet, 1938-
- Lee, Rex E., 1935-1996
- Minutes (Records)
- Mormon Church -- Apostles
- Provo (Utah)
- Ricks College (Rexburg, Idaho)
- Speeches, addresses, etc., American
- Register of Office of the President records
- J. Gordon Daines III
- October 2003
- Description rules
- Language of description
- Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant, 2007-2008
- October 2003: GilEADized to correct small errors. Updated to DACS and CCLA compliance by Nate Smith. Revised.