Jeanne Cheverton Dunn

Tribute to Jeanne Dunn (June 16, 1925-September 16, 2009)
By Gregory A. Prince

I wasn’t sure what to think of Jeanne Dunn the first time I met her. In 1995, Bob Wright, my co-author of the David O. McKay biography, accompanied me on a visit to the Dunn’s home in Highland, Utah, where we recorded the first of what became several interviews of her husband Paul, concerning his experiences in the McKay administration. Paul was still smarting from the treatment he had received several years earlier following allegations that he had embellished stories that he told from the pulpit—allegations that his fellow General Authority, Robert Simpson, later placed into perspective for me: “We tell these stories, and we embellish them here and there. I’ve been guilty of it, and I know other Brethren have, because I’ve known the true facts of the story. I’ve heard every—well, I can’t say every one, but so many of the Brethren have. When you’re out motivating people and trying to put a point across, why that’s what happens. I find no fault with it.” Jeanne, in turn, seemed both reserved and a bit suspicious upon being introduced to us by Paul, perhaps wondering if we had an ulterior motive in interviewing her husband.

Several months later we returned for another interview, and Jeanne’s demeanor was noticeably warmer, a trend that continued during subsequent visits. After two years and five interviews, during which Paul gave invaluable information on how the Church functioned during the McKay years, he told me that he had been approached by a dozen people who wanted to write his biography, “but Jeanne and I are not comfortable with any of them. We are, however, comfortable with you, and would like you to consider writing my biography.”

For the following year—Paul died one year, to the day, after making the request that I be his biographer—I had frequent and intimate contact with Paul and Jeanne, staying in their home on three occasions as I interviewed them, their family and their friends; and having them stay with us in Maryland for a week, less than three months before his death. I came to know Jeanne well, and I counted her as a valued friend.

Jeanne Cheverton Dunn was not the typical spouse of a General Authority, and therein was much of the reason that her husband was not the typical General Authority. While Paul was a lifelong member of the Church, Jeanne converted to Mormonism as a result of him. She was raised in the Disciples of Christ tradition, which was founded by Alexander Campbell and which produced two highly influential early converts to Mormonism, Sidney Rigdon and Edward Partridge. Her father, Dr. Cecil Cheverton, was a national officer of the Disciples of Christ, a respected and published biblical scholar, and president of Chapman College in California. Jeanne’s conversion to Mormonism thus carried implications that few other conversions carried, and yet the fact that her father and Paul remained the closest of friends for the rest of his life speaks both for Paul’s character, and for Jeanne’s ability to embrace a new faith without severing crucial ties to the old. Dr. Cheverton, rather than Paul’s LDS bishop, performed their marriage ceremony, not long after Paul returned from military service in World War II. Paul told me that he would not be surprised if, upon arriving at the Gates of Heaven, he were to be greeted by Dr. Cheverton, who would say, “Welcome, Paul. Let me show you around this place.”

The influence of Jeanne and her father on Paul was enormous and permanent. When a torn rotator cuff ended a promising professional baseball career at the minor league phase, Paul enrolled in Chapman College, eventually becoming the only LDS General Authority ever to obtain a college degree (bachelor’s) in biblical studies. The Cheverton influence on Paul, both from Dr. Cheverton and from Jeanne, was clear. Paul’s mind was expansive and his worldview was inclusive, qualities often lacking in his colleagues. Jeanne was raised to know the bible, while Paul came to appreciate it later in life and largely through Jeanne and her father. Jeanne understood the scriptures expansively, without ever resorting to prooftexting. There was never a question about the totality of her conversion to Mormonism, and yet she gave it a different, and altogether refreshing flavor.

Jesus instructed his disciples to be in the world, but not of the world, and Jeanne took his words to heart. Her world did not contain walls, a sharp contrast to so many of her fellow Latter-day Saints who choose not to be in the world, instead cloistering themselves in the Great Basin, or in self-constructed microcosms of the Great Basin throughout the world. Her gospel, like that of her husband, was expansive, inclusive, relevant and refreshing. We are the poorer not only for her passing, but also for the paucity of members of this church who share her worldview.

Comments

  1. Steve Evans says:

    Rest in peace, Sister Dunn. Greg, thank you for this glimpse.

    Note to commenters: this is an opportunity to reflect on the passing of a wonderful woman who happened to be the spouse of a wonderful person. We’ll gladly delete anything else you want to talk about.

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    A terrific tribute, Greg. I hadn’t known anything about her.

    Is there an ETA on the biography?

  3. I, for one, loved this piece. I would have never had one clue who Jeanne Cheverton Dunn was had I not read this. (I have just passing familiarity with Paul Dunn as I’m a bit young to remember him when he was in his prime.) I am always talking about how I wish my fellow Saints were more “expansive,” so the last two paragraphs actually really resonated with me. Perhaps they wouldn’t be as appropriate if this tribute was being published in a general interest newspaper, but I think it all works perfectly in the context in which it is being shared here. Thank you for posting it!

  4. Paul Dunn had a BA in Biblical Studies? Why didn’t he write anything, then?
    Gerald Lund has graduate work in Biblical studies, but it’s often so hard to tell. I’d like to see a GA with the academic chops to do it engage some of the issues in Biblical studies.

  5. Thanks for a wonderful tribute to a woman that we should have known more about. And thanks for the indirect tribute to her husband. Cheap shots at Paul Dunn are, sadly, ready currency in the bloggernacle–it’s refreshing to hear a beginning of the other side of the story.

    For many of us who came of age in the 1960s, Paul Dunn was “our” general authority–one of the few speakers in general conference whom we could understand, and who we considered near enough to us to understand us. For too long his extraordinary contributions have been clouded by the way his service as a general authority came to a close.

  6. Julie M. Smith says:

    Thanks for this post.

    And we look forward to the Dunn bio. . . keep us posted on its progress.

  7. “For many of us who came of age in the 1960s, Paul Dunn was ‘our’ general authority–one of the few speakers in general conference whom we could understand, and who we considered near enough to us to understand us. For too long his extraordinary contributions have been clouded by the way his service as a general authority came to a close.”

    Amen. Thank you Mark B. for that.

  8. Anne (U.K.) says:

    I was blessed beyond measure in 1984 when the Dunns came to speak at our stake conference. Our stake was small and our stake building tiny, and on the Sat night session the Dunns took the floor and just kept going all night. At one point the stake pres shrugged smilingly when Elder Dunn asked if he should stop, and said ‘take as long as you want- no-one will leave!’ They were a wonderful couple,evidently devoted to each other, and it remains one of the highlights of my church life to have heard them speak several times over that conference weekend.

    Thank you for this tribute.

  9. What a neat memorial of a Saint who stood for something and made a difference.

  10. Antonio Parr says:

    Beautiful post, both in its eloquence and its insight.

    Thanks.

  11. Thank you for this touching tribute.

  12. When I was serving as a missionary, Elder Dunn visited my mission and gave one of the best talks I have ever heard, and definitely the best talk we ever had an opportunity to hear as missionaries. I still quote from that talk because it was energetic, eye-opening, forthright and a bit controversial. Sample quote: “I don’t care what the scriptures say; I care what the current prophet says they say.” We all loved him and couldn’t get enough of him. I’m really glad to hear that there is a biography in the works and glad to hear these details about him and his wonderful wife. Thanks.

  13. Thanks for this. I look forward to the biography.

  14. John Mansfield says:

    This calls to mind a time Elder Dunn spoke in Artemus Ham Hall on the UNLV campus. The president of UNLV, Robert Maxon, was there and made some introductory remarks before turning the mike over to “Dr. Dunn.” I was struck by the expansive, inclusive quality mentioned here, that Maxon seemed to find it natural to think of Dunn in the same terms he would apply to any Christian minister that came on his campus.

  15. I too look forward to the biography. Thanks for this.

  16. ” Jeanne understood the scriptures expansively, without ever resorting to prooftexting.”

    This is a wonderful tribute to a woman who developed her gift of intelligence and used it with wisdom to live by the spirit.

  17. Paul Dunn changed my life. I was privleged to be one of his 400 missionaries. Sister Dunn was always there to provide the needed and sometimes stern course direction. I entered the mission field about 18 months after I joined the Church and even though I didn’t recognize it at the time, I desparately needed their guidence and counsel. To my great blessing, I received it from them. A major part of their personalities flow through my being.

    I was able to maintain a relationship with them after the mission. Whether in their home or in his office, I continued to feel their influence. I very much am a better man because they were in my life. I will always miss them.

  18. Gregory Taggart says:

    Wonderful read. Elder Dunn was one of my favorites as well. It’s not surprising to learn that he was equally yoked to a fine woman. That said, did you really need to use disparaging generalizations about the saints in general and other General Authorities in particular to tell the story of this great couple?

  19. Frequently, disparagement is in the eye of the beholder.

  20. I find that comment deeply disparaging to me, Kristine.

  21. I assure you no disparagement was intended, MCQ. :)

  22. That may very well be, but as you acknowledged, disparagement is in the eye of the beholder, not the disparager.

    I think this is all the result of your schwanky new hair color. You would never have been so disparaging back when you were a blonde.

  23. Are you disparaging my hair?

  24. oh, you two!

  25. Thank you for this tribute, Greg. Looking forward to more on the Dunns from you.

  26. I too thank you for this tribute. I’m very much looking forward to the Dunn biography. My wife and I have the greatest love and respect for the Dunn’s daughter (one of them, anyway) and son-in-law. He was our bishop while in a BYU married student ward, and she remains one of the most charitable women I have known.

  27. What an insightful introduction to someone I wish I could have known. Thank you for that! I read with relish your McKay Biography and I look forward to the Dunn biography. Paul H. Dunn’s books were instrumental in my coming back to the church when I was a young man. I will always be grateful to him.

  28. Mark Brown says:

    Thank you for this tribute. I wish I had known more about her, and I look forward to the biography.

  29. Gregory Taggart says:

    Kristine, I was referring to these two statements:

    1. Paul’s mind was expansive and his worldview was inclusive, qualities often lacking in his colleagues.

    2. Her world did not contain walls, a sharp contrast to so many of her fellow Latter-day Saints who choose not to be in the world, instead cloistering themselves in the Great Basin, or in self-constructed microcosms of the Great Basin throughout the world.

    In the eyes of this beholder, Prince unnecessarily disparages others in those two statements even as he, justifiably, praises Elder Dunn and his wife Jeanne. And by the way, you have great hair, or so I’m told.

  30. Molly Bennion says:

    Gregory Taggart, histories supporting #1 are widely available. And I wish you could meet many of the students who come from Utah to study here “in the mission field” and who live in very Mormon enclaves, socialize together and resist even using physicians who are not LDS. Some are just passing time until they can return to mecca.

  31. Gregory, knowing Greg Prince’s writings to the extent that I do, I’d feel pretty grounded in speculating that he has a long mental list of citations behind each of those assertions. I think these so-called disparagements are really of the essence for this remembrance. It’s faint praise to say that someone did just what everyone else did; in order to spell out the difference that a person makes, it is often necessary to make clear what exactly it is that they were different from.

  32. Molly’s right–these are not the most attractive features of Mormon culture. Gregory is also right–it’s not particularly diplomatic to belabor those points in this context.

    Moving along…

  33. Gregory Taggart says:

    Molly, I’m not one of Prince’s stereotypical cloistered members. I’ve lived and worked in “the mission field,” and I’ve met all kinds of members and read all kinds of histories. I even have friends who are not Mormon. (I know, it’s hard to believe I have friends.) And I stand by my point: Prince unnecessarily disparaged members of this church and their priesthood leaders–even using intensifiers (often, stark, so many) to make his point stick. Helly belly, he even made sure we knew that members did their cloistering business “throughout the world.” What does that have to do with the Dunns?

    With that, I’ll ride my high horse to another blog and rant there for a bit, give you folks a rest.

  34. “Are you disparaging my hair?”

    Heck no! Schwanky = awesome in my book. But looking that good can give some people attitude.

  35. Gerald G. Fuller says:

    I was a convert to the Church at age 54 in 1984. I have known of no General Authority who I felt was not worthy of his calling. I cannot say that I have had a favorite overall at any time, but I always held Elder Paul H. Dunn in high esteem. I do see what the author was talking about when he contrasted the views of Elder Dunn and his wife with the apparent views of many other Latter-day Saints possibly including some General Authorities.

    My main sore spot is in the idea that “Mormonism” is more or less than Christianity in its truest and more pure form, even now still undergoing construction and perfection.

  36. Note to Greg Prince: How about rewriting the offensive sentences as follows:

    “Paul’s mind was expansive and his worldview was inclusive, [a quality for which most of] his colleagues [were also well known].”

    and

    “Her world did not contain walls, [and in that way she was stereotypical] of so many of her fellow Latter-day Saints who choose not to [wall themselves off from] the world, [even when, to some, they may appear to be] cloistering [] in the Great Basin, or in self-constructed microcosms of the Great Basin throughout the world.”

    To my liberal Mormon friends: I can make similarly helpful revisions to general conference talks if anyone is interested.

  37. Bostonian Saint says:

    Thank you very much for this wonderful glimpse of and tribute to Sister Jeanne Dunn. It was my privilege to know them both when Elder Paul H. Dunn was President of the New England Mission. The Dunn’s had an incredible impact in New England and on the missionary work because both were so well liked and warmly received, not only by the local Latter-day Saints but by New Englanders as a whole. President Dunn’s down to earth demeanor coupled with his western friendliness and openess went over very well with the Yankees of New England. Sister Dunn’s warmth, dignity grace and charm immediately let the proper Bostonians know that here was a lady with whom they could relate. Sister Dunn was a woman with a deep appreciation of the fine arts, music, theatre and history. Her manners were impeccable, her speech was warm, sincere, cordial, and if necessary, commanding. Yet through it all, she emanated the presence of a great lady. I remember one day when President Dunn was in his office listening to his daughter recite a litany of what she perceived as her mother’s flaws. President Dunn heard her out and then said, “Now you should remember that you are talking about the woman I selected out of all the world to spend my eternity with. You are my daughter and I truly love you, but in a few years you’ll be all grown up and move away with a husband of your own. But your mother and I will be together forever. I think you had better go back and talk to your Mom and resolve your differences.” I was touched to hear this affirmation of love and loyalty given as a gentle prompting to his daughter to reconsider her recent indictment of her mother. My closest friend spent nearly half of his mission on President Dunn’s staff while I was member of the University Ward that met in the meetinghouse on Longfellow Place that so recently burned. The mission offices were in the same building and so I was a fairly frequent visitor to the mission office. President Dunn and I would often speak and when I had occasion to go with him to the mission home Sister Dunn and I would have brief discussions of art, local history and the theatre. Our last meeting was in their home in Highland when Sister Dunn came in as President Dunn showed me his excellent library with it’s moving bookcases. We chatted about all that had happened since we were last in New England and she was just as warm and friendly as if just a few weeks had passed since we last met. Now with them both gone, my circle of Church friends has grown smaller and dimmer. I will look forward to seeing them both in our reunion beyond the veil.

  38. I was a youth in the Church at the time Elder Dunn had his active ministry in the Seventy, he was one of my favorite general authorities and I owned eight books he wrote personally. One commenter asked, “why didn’t eh write anything?”

  39. I really enjoyed Elder Dunn’s books. The stories, whether true or not, all had great points to be made and were very entertaining. He was a good man, who did many good things in his life, and I think we often forget that.

    Greg, thanks for the info on Sister Dunn. I hope both can find rest after such a difficult time in their latter years due to the “scandal.”

  40. #38 “One commenter asked, “why didn’t eh write anything?””

    I specifically meant dealing with issues that only one exposed to Biblical scholarship would be aware of and capable of treating, not general Church books.

  41. I graduated from high school in SoCal in 1969. Paul H. Dunne was “our” GA.
    .
    I hope this biography covers his paripatetic work establishing the Institute of Religion system here. As I recall, he was acting Director and usually teacher for several at once, traversing the landscape to keep the program functioning.
    .
    One of his stories that became a pivot point in my understanding of priorities was when he had to make a presentation for, as I recall, either approval to build an Institute building or recognition of a program at one of the schools. He had just 3 hours to finish his preparations when a troubled Institute student came to him and said, “I need to talk with you — NOW.” Elder Dunn recounted that the student “took the whole three hours. We lost the (building/recognition), but we saved the boy. I believe that I made the right choice. If it had been your boy, you would believe I made the right choice too.” (emphasis added).
    .
    Since then, I’ve tried to remember that if our Church, programs, buildings, etc — and families — are given to save people, we shouldn’t sacrifice people for the tools that are given to save them. I have come to suppose that this is an underlying message in Pres. Monson’s apparently-rambling talks about helping one widow, one boy, one person: he’s telling us what he sees as the priority.
    .
    In this light, my answer to #4 and #40 is that Elder Dunn was more concerned with using the tools to save people than in analyzing the tools.
    .
    Amazon currently lists these books by “Paul H. Dunn” as available:
    • You Too Can Teach (1962)
    • The Ten Most Wanted Men (1967)
    • Have Ye Inquired of the Lord? Y Speeches of the Year, (1969)
    • Win if You Will: Thirteen Winners Show How. Personal Accounts As Told to Paul H. Dunn (1972)
    • I Promise You….I Challenge You (1973)
    • Meaningful Living (1975)
    • You & your world (1977)
    • Anxiously Engaged (1978)
    • Look at your world (1978)
    • Win If You Will – Thirteen Winners Show How (1979)
    • The Birth That We Call Death (1980)
    • Mini Sermons for Everyday Living Volume 1.: Paul H. Dunn Live on Cassettes (1981)
    • Your Eternal Choice (1981)
    • The Human Touch (1983)
    • Success Is…. (1983)
    • More Faith Than Fear: The Los Angeles Stake Story by Chad M. Orton and Paul H. Dunn (1987)
    • Sports Series: Paul H. Dunn and Steve Young (Audio Cassette – 1989)
    • The Light of Liberty (1998)
    .
    “I Promise You….I Challenge You” was instrumental for my wife as she helped a new (non-LDS) neighbor in Michigan get a perspective on her life. It was two complimentary books. The front and back covers were entitled either “I Promise You” or “I Challenge You”, printed upside down from each other so that each either would serve as the front cover. Regardless of which you choose, you could read one-per-page promises or challenges, then turn the book around so that the facing page became its compliment. Pick a challenge / here’s the promise — or — pick a promise / here’s the challenge. It was a remarkable model for how the two are joined (cf D&C 130:20-21, “There is a law, irrevocably decreed…)
    .
    I look forward to having this book help me reminisce about an old friend who worked very hard to build the kingdom.

  42. Weren’t there three southern Californians that were “your” general authorities back then, manaen? Howard Hunter, Robert Simpson and Paul Dunn? Pres. Hunter was my stake president (Pasadena Stake) when I was born, Robert Simpson had been instrumental in helping my maternal grandfather get more involved in the church (in the Inglewood Ward in the 1930s and 1940s) and Paul Dunn was the seminary supervisor when my dad taught early morning seminary in the early 1950s. But, of the three, Elder Dunn was the one who really connected with the youth.

  43. Elder Dunn visited our stake in 1982 and held a women’s meeting and my Mom went and she still talks about it. I still have his tapes about missionary work and various other topics and thought they are great! Any idea when his biography will be ready? I am really looking forward to it!

  44. Greg, a wonderful tribute. Can’t wait for the book.

  45. 42.
    Mark B,
    .
    Yes, all three were “ours.” But Paul Dunn was the one I knew of down here. My maternal grandparents lived in the LA Stake 1940-1964, at 77th and Crenshaw. Granddad was on the high council there. They knew Robert Simpson well but by the time I had much awareness of it, he and they had been called to Utah: he as a GA and my grandfather was hired as the Church’s head of organ maintenance. In Utah, granddad once got me and some friends GenCon seats behind the choir in the Tabernacle. The camera zoomed in on me just as I yawned fiercely. Granddad wrote one of the last manuals for the old adult Aaronic Priesthood program.
    .
    Even with that, I grew up in OC and wasn’t aware of the magnificent LA stake center, until I attended a Stephen Covey fireside there in 2005. When it was built in 1930, it was the most expensive non-temple building the Church had constructed. They have photos of all their stake presidents in the main corridor, as well Pres. Heber J. Grant at their groundbreaking and Pres. GBH at it’s renovation’s rededication on the 25th anniversary of the priesthood revelation. Two of the stake presidents who you may know are LeGrand Richards and John E. Carmack.
    .
    Because of my involvement with the Southwest LA (Watts) branch , I began attending the Los Angeles LDS African-American Affairs firesides. At the beginning of one of these in the same building two years ago, they had a woman stand that had been baptized that afternoon and asked everyone to welcome her after the meeting. I did and we were married in Feb. of this year.

  46. 42
    Mark B.
    .
    BTW, my paternal grandparents were in one of the Inglewood wards that met on Centinela 1941-1982.

  47. Glenn Smith says:

    Thank-you for a glimpse into the lives of a beloved General Authority and his sweetheart. He was the favorite of most of the LDS baby boomers. The post brought some great memories to mind. I look forward to reading the biography.

  48. My previous comment was censored. No offensive language or any such nonsense, just an honest observation about Greg Prince’s article.

    How…predictable.

  49. Steve Evans says:

    Barney, see comment No. 1. If by “predictable” you mean “I guess you admins did exactly what you said you’d do,” then yes, predictable.

  50. I love reading biographies. I wish there were more biographies about our leaders. I would love to read one about Elder Hartman Rector Jr. also a favourite among members, or Elder Adney Y. Komatsu, the first Asian General Authority. Mind you biographies about numerous apostles are lacking too.

  51. Seriously, Barney, look at No. 1 again.

  52. manaen

    My maternal grandparents lived on 68th Street, 2 blocks east of Crenshaw Boulevard from sometime in the mid-20s until about 1967. That had to be the same ward. I remember going to church with them in that building on Centinela back in the early 60s.

  53. Max Evans says:

    This was a great tribute and I very much enjoyed it. It really give some deeper insights into some of the great stories that I remembered from his tapes when I was young. Expecailly the one where he said he was having dinner with his future wife’s family and her father asked the difference between our Church and theirs and Bro. Dunn said: “I don’t know but we’re right and your wrong.” I loved that story, and I love it more now.

    PS I do think a couple of the statements were a little disparaging. However, I love living in the Mission Field (somewhat) and hated living in Utah. I like visiting though.

  54. Bostonian Saint says:

    RE: #56
    Max, actually what Dr. Cheverton asked Paul Dunn was what our Church’s position was on the Isaiah question. Paul Dunn responded, “I don’t know know, Dr. Cheverton, “But we’re right and you’re wrong!” No doubt that after graduating from Chapman College and becoming a General Authority, he could articulate a far better answer to that still debated question.

  55. Greg — Thank you so much for these insights into Sis. Dunn. I loved her husband since I had a chance to hear him speak at a Stake Conference in 1979-1980 (don’t recall exactly when). I very much look forward to their biographies from your hand.

    Gregory — I have no trouble jumping Greg when I think he’s out of line (he can attest to that) but I really don’t think he’s disparaging anybody here. He’s pointing to places where the Dunns were other than the way their peers appeared to be, at the very least. I think he approves of these things the Dunns exhibited, but that doesn’t mean he’s putting down everybody else.

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