While attending as an invited speaker at a youth conference in California years ago, Brother Bradley R. Wilcox met a young man who didn’t want to be there. He joined the teenager under a shady tree, and soon they were discussing the youth’s favorite topic — skateboarding.
Brother Wilcox asked the teen to show him some skateboarding moves and was impressed. He invited the youth to do a skateboarding demonstration at an Especially For Youth event that summer. The young man initially resisted, but he warmed up to the idea and agreed.
In the process, the young man had a life-changing experience and found his testimony of the gospel, Brother Wilcox said.
“He got to EFY on a skateboard, but he left as a missionary.”
The account is one of many such experiences in Brother Wilcox’s life that demonstrate his deep love for the young people of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“I’ve spent my life with children, teenagers and young adults. I love the youth,” said Brother Wilcox, who was sustained as second counselor in the recently reorganized Young Men general presidency at April 2020 general conference.
Bradley Ray Wilcox was born to Ray T. and Val C. Wilcox on Dec. 25, 1959, in Provo, Utah. Except for some childhood years spent living in Ethiopia, he was raised in Provo with a family he called full of “wonderful examples.”
During his junior high years, Brother Wilcox was often teased or felt left out at school because he wasn’t interested in sports. At a time when most young men activities involved tossing out a basketball, a leader named Brad Allen recognized the young teen’s interests and encouraged him to pursue them. In many ways, Brother Wilcox sees his own experience reflecting the direction of the new Children and Youth Program.
“I never felt too needed until he reached out to me,” he recalled. “Because of a leader who spent time with me and encouraged me to develop my talents, I knew I could contribute in the Church. Because of my parents and Church leaders, I knew I was a child of God and that I had great worth. When peers made fun of me, I never took their rejection as evidence that I was not a good person, but that they did not know me well enough. I figured if they knew me they would like me. That perspective got me through some rough middle school years with my self-esteem intact.”
Those experiences gave Brother Wilcox empathy and helped him be more sensitive to the needs of others. He never wanted anyone else to go through what he had faced. He said hello to everyone he passed — a habit he still has today. As he became involved in student government and other activities, he looked for ways to serve and make everybody feel welcome and included. “I tried to worry more about others than myself,” Brother Wilcox said. During his final year of high school, he was voted “Most Loved Senior” by his peers.
“That award meant more to me than anyone could have imagined,” Brother Wilcox said. “Some of the students who stood and clapped for me were the very ones who had rejected me in middle school.”
Another pivotal point in his spiritual life came while serving a full-time mission to Viña del Mar, Chile. His testimony was firm before leaving, he said, but the adversity of adjusting to a new language and culture led him to have serious questions about his relationship with God.
“I had to stop and say, ‘Why am I here? Where is God? Does He know that I’m here? Is He aware of me?’ That started a process of reading the scriptures, praying and learning. With the help of a wonderful mission president, Gerald J. Day, I came to know for myself in a much deeper way that God is there and He is involved in our lives. Chile will always be sacred ground for me because that’s where I strengthened my testimony and found a personal relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.”
“I learned there’s a place for everyone in the Church.”
After returning, Brother Wilcox became good friends with Doug Gunnell, whom he liked so much that he asked, “You don’t happen to have a twin sister I could marry, do you?” As a matter of fact, he did — her name was Debi and at that moment she was serving a mission in Guatemala. When she came home, Doug invited Brother Wilcox to come to the sacrament meeting where she was going to speak. Debi noticed Brad walk in and sit down with her family. Her first impression of him was positive.
“I wrote in my journal that night that I met a guy by the name of Brad Wilcox, and he seems like a really nice guy,” Sister Debi Wilcox said. “What stood out is the love that emanated from him.”
About a year later, the couple married in the Provo Utah Temple on Oct. 7, 1982. Today, they live in Provo and are the parents of four children.
Selecting a career path was not easy because Brother Wilcox was interested in many fields, including journalism, English and history. When he took an aptitude test in high school, the results indicated he should become a priest or rabbi.
“That’s not very good news for a Latter-day Saint kid,” he said.
Next on the list was elementary school teacher, which meant he could teach a variety of subjects. The idea was appealing. Both his parents were teachers and he knew they had made a positive difference in many lives. He wanted to do the same.
Brother Wilcox earned a bachelor’s degree in education from BYU and taught for three years before returning to get a master’s degree at BYU and later a doctorate degree at the University of Wyoming.
Brother Wilcox completed his bachelor’s at BYU in 1985. That summer he also spoke for the first time at Especially For Youth, a weeklong event featuring gospel learning and fun activities. He wouldn’t stop speaking and directing that program for the next 35 years and marveled when EFY became FSY — For the Strength of Youth — a part of the new Children and Youth initiative. He recalls attending the first international version of EFY in Australia together with another teacher, Matthew Richardson. Brother Wilcox is amazed at how the program has grown.
“That program is where I found my love of working with youth,” he said. “I’ve been involved with EFY and FSY for my whole adult life, and I’m thrilled to be able to see this program now reach so many more kids. I know the difference it can make.”
Brother Wilcox has served in many Church leadership callings. Each has provided memorable experiences and lessons, but two stand out.
Brother Wilcox was called to help a single mother in his Provo ward with her autistic son. Each Sunday for four years, his duty was to help the young boy make it through Primary. While not the easiest calling, it helped prepare Brother Wilcox and his family to care for a grandson with autism years later. Now he is grateful for those who are called to help his grandson.
“I learned there’s a place for everyone in the Church,” he said.
Another meaningful calling was returning to Chile to serve as mission president of the Chile Santiago East Mission with his wife from 2003 to 2006.
In March 2006, President Gordon B. Hinckley came to rededicate the Santiago Chile Temple, and more than 63,000 toured the temple open house.
“Our missionaries were very involved with helping people to that open house,” Brother Wilcox said. “We saw the power of the temple and the impact it had on so many lives.”
These and many other experiences have prepared Brother Wilcox to serve with the Young Men general presidency, Sister Wilcox said.
“Every little experience he’s had, every talent, has prepared him. He just seems to have an ability to connect with youth and make a difference. Young people listen to and trust him. They know he sincerely cares,” Sister Wilcox said. “I think he has been prepared for this calling for a long time.”
At a time when young people are facing problems such as poor social and communication skills, an inability to deal with pressure and weak spirituality, Brother Wilcox said, “The gospel offers solutions to all those problems. The Savior is the solution to every problem.”
“I’m going to give this calling my very best effort. During general conference, I loved the little video clip of President (Russell M.) Nelson speaking to the Primary children and telling them ‘the Lord loves effort.’ I’m going to take him (President Nelson) at his word.”