PROVO President Cecil O. Samuelson has announced the formation of the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies at BYU.
"The Willes Center, as it has already come to be known, will form an integral part of BYU's Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship," he said.
President Samuelson of the Seventy made the announcement at a luncheon on April 25 attended by members of the Mark and Laura Willes family and accompanied by Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve.
In commenting on the establishment of the Willes Center, Elder Oaks said, "It's a remarkable combination to have the resources, the inspiration of what to do with them and the faith to do it, and that's the story of Mark and Laura Willes in bringing this Willes Center to Brigham Young University."
Mark Willes, the former CEO of Times-Mirror, noted the counsel from President Gordon B. Hinckley when he received his call to serve as a mission president: "Just read the Book of Mormon." That counsel, and a lifetime of devoted reading in the book, helped spark Brother Willes's interest in founding a center whose purpose would be to encourage and support the pursuit of research on this volume of scripture.
He chose to name it for his wife, Laura F. Willes, who, he said, "has taught our children and our grandchildren and our missionaries to love the scriptures, particularly the Book of Mormon."
In her response, Sister Willes said that the idea came as a complete surprise to her, especially because she prefers to remain out of the spotlight. But, she said, she hopes that she represents "all of the brothers and sisters in the Church and all of the men and women in the world who desperately need the Book of Mormon and its teachings."
The Willes Center began functioning immediately, according to Andrew C. Skinner, executive director of the Maxwell Institute.
"We want to open opportunities for capable researchers to begin and continue research efforts on the Book of Mormon," Brother Skinner said, adding that the center will "promote the study of the Book of Mormon both as an ancient text and as a publication in the modern world." The Willes Center "will award scholarships, sponsor lectures and symposia, and assist in publications and media productions."