William D. Oswald still remembers the pain of approaching his father one night as a sophomore in high school to tell him he was quitting the football team.
As football coach at East High School in Salt Lake City, the elder Oswald had groomed his son to fill a spot on the squad. For years the two had played catch with a football in their backyard where the elder Oswald taught his son the finer points of the game. Since he was 10 years old, the young Oswald had his own uniform and accompanied his father to practices and games, sitting beside him on the bench as the team mascot.
The decision to leave the team came particularly hard to the elder Oswald, who had coached state championship teams and notable students such as Russell M. Nelson and Joseph B. Wirthlin, now of the Quorum of the Twelve.
Still, at 5-foot 2-inches tall and 105 pounds, the young Oswald knew he could make a hole in the wall, but it would be a small hole.
Brother Oswald's father accepted his son's decision and encouraged him to join the debate team. There, Brother Oswald excelled, winning state debate championships during his junior and senior years.
The night before the young Oswald was to deliver one of the graduation speeches to the East High School class of 1954, Brother Oswald's father came into his son's bedroom to compliment him on his accomplishments and acknowledge that he'd made the right decision.
Over the years, Brother Oswald's ability to defend and persuade in oral argument has proven to be one of his distinguishing talents. As he begins his new calling as second counselor in the Sunday School general presidency, he leaves a 32-year legacy in law where he was instrumental in writing the Utah Redevelopment Agency law. The business district of downtown Salt Lake City is, in part, the result of his creative ability to help cities develop aging and blighted areas into vibrant commercial centers.
Brother Oswald also took the lead in negotiating for 300 parcels of property and rights of way across the Salt Lake Valley for the creation of the Utah Transit Authority commuter TRAX line.
Brother Oswald's service in the Sunday School general presidency is actually a second opportunity to serve in the same capacity. Twenty-four years ago, before leadership of the general Sunday School was assigned to the General Authorities, Brother Oswald served as a counselor in the presidency to Russell M. Nelson, now of the Twelve.
With the change in Sunday School leadership announced in April general conference, Brother Oswald basically resumes where he left off.
One of the rich experiences of his life was serving as the bishop of President Spencer W. Kimball, an often times imposing experience when the Church president joined Bishop Oswald on the stand during sacrament meetings.
"People would ask why President Kimball was special," Brother Oswald said. "I'd say, because he did everything better than anyone else. If someone was ill in the ward, he'd be the first to ask if it would be all right for him to call. When there was a request for payment of the annual ward budget, there would be a letter by Monday with amount paid in full.
"He'd greet me in the hall, and with a big hug and kiss on the cheek, he'd say, 'I want you to know I love you.' Whatever else happened that day, good or bad, the love of the president of the Church made everything right," Brother Oswald said.
Brother Oswald married Mavis Morris, the youngest of 12 children, in the Salt Lake Temple in 1961. They have six children and reside in the Monument Park 2nd Ward, Salt Lake Monument Park North Stake. Their first grandchild was born three days before they left for Vladivostok, Russia, where he served three years as mission president, having returned July 1.
"They are the best missionaries in the world," he said, speaking of the mission, and how it extends over 36 percent of the country, including five of Russia's 11 time zones. "I'm still going through withdrawal."
E-mail to: [email protected]