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His career decisions were 'seeming accidents'

Elder Samuelson now prepares to lead BYU

Elder Cecil O. Samuelson never intended to take the road that led him from medical school to serve as a dean and vice president of Health Sciences at the University of Utah and eventually to become president of Brigham Young University.

"All of my career choices and ways have been seeming accidents, rather than intentional," said Elder Samuelson, a former medical doctor now serving in the Presidency of the Seventy, days after being named BYU's 12th President.

Elder Samuelson will begin service at BYU May 1, succeeding Elder Merrill J. Bateman of the Seventy who will return to full-time service as a General Authority.

Born Aug. 1, 1941, Cecil O. Samuelson Jr. grew up in Salt Lake City. "My father was a university professor and my mother was a teacher so I grew up with great appreciation and respect for the educational enterprise," he said. "I enjoyed school. But my academic decisions were not as well structured as one might think."

After returning from a full-time mission to Scotland and marrying Sharon Giauque, he received a bachelor's degree in molecular biology and genetics in 1966 before starting medical school at the University of Utah.

"It was in the tumultuous '60s. We were not protesting a great deal, but we had an issue with a faculty member who we thought was not a great teacher. One of the associate deans in the medical school said, 'If you don't like the quality of teaching why don't you try to do something about it?' "

That advice made Elder Samuelson do something rather atypical; he began pursuing a master's degree in educational psychology while he received his medical training.

"I thought maybe I would like to be a professor of medicine," he recalled.

He then moved to North Carolina where he completed his medical internship, residency and fellowship in Rheumatic and Genetic Diseases at Duke University. By the time Elder Samuelson finished his residency in 1973, a good friend of his, John A. Dixon, had been named dean of the University of Utah School of Medicine. He invited Dr. Samuelson to return to Utah and join the school's faculty as admissions dean.

While Dr. Samuelson was not too interested in administrative matters, he was excited to return to his old school, conduct research in his chosen speciality — rheumatology — and pursue his ambitions with respect to teaching and patient care. He also had the opportunity to help the university with some curriculum revisions.

It was always his plan to return to the faculty full time, but then — still in his early 30s — he was given the opportunity to serve as acting dean of the medical school. Later, he was again asked to serve as acting dean, before assuming the regular deanship. From there he became vice president of Health Sciences for the university.

"I didn't ever apply for any of those jobs, and I candidly didn't apply for this job [BYU president]," he said. "But I responded to those invitations, and I am grateful to respond to this one.

"But it is always uncomfortable when people make the assumption that I assumed I would have a career in higher education administration, because that was never the intent."

However, he added, he wouldn't change a thing. He has enjoyed all his career opportunities.

"I enjoy challenges. I enjoy very much helping people who are very, very able, accomplish their goals and purposes and I think that is one of the major responsibilities and opportunities of a university president or any other academic leader."

That requires the capacity, he said, to receive personal satisfaction from the accomplishments of others. "I hope if I have ever been able to help anyone in the past, I will be able to help all the wonderful people at BYU with what it is they are trying to do."

While serving at the University of Utah, Elder Samuelson also had the opportunity to work with Intermountain Health Care on a number of cooperative issues, including moving Primary Children's Hospital from the avenues in Salt Lake City to the university campus.

In 1990 he was offered a job as senior vice president of IHC, a health care system that is nationally recognized with more than 20 hospitals and thousands of employees. He served in that position until his call four years later as a General Authority.

For the Church, Elder Samuelson served as president of the Europe North Area — an opportunity to again serve the saints in Scotland and rekindle old friendships. He later served in the North America West Area Presidency, as President of the Utah North Area, as Sunday School general president and in the Presidency of the Seventy.

One of the great privileges of his Church service, said Elder Samuelson, is working with "remarkable women in the Church" who lead the Relief Society, Young Women and Primary auxiliaries. "One of the great secrets of the success of the work is the strength of the sisters at every level," he said.

Elder Samuelson said that although he will miss the work he is doing now, he and his wife are excited to lead BYU — where he has never been a student or on the faculty.

"I am really excited for this wonderful opportunity — that is to learn firsthand of the great university that I have only watched and admired at some distance in the past."

And in spite of his University of Utah background, Elder Samuelson said he won't have any problem cheering for BYU at athletic events. He said a sign in his office, made by a former employee, seems to say it all:

"Y would U want to be anything but a COUGAR?"

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