2014 BYU President’s Award Winner: Margaret Pope
No one forgets meeting Margaret McConkie Pope. Her enthusiasm and fire for life leave a mark. Once you’ve met Margaret, you stay met. That’s how she lives life - robustly, - which helps explain how she generated 2,000 referrals while serving as a Temple Square missionary with her husband, Bill.
Margaret was born in 1923 in Moab, Utah. “From day one,” she and her five brothers were taught to love the Lord, keep His commandments, and look forward to the future because the Lord “is our partner,” she said.
While in her youth, Margaret learned the value of charity from the example of her parents. She remembers walking hand in hand with her mother to Relief Society meetings and service projects. “I grew up knowing that’s what you did,” she said.
Margaret met her husband at the University of Utah, where both were students. Bill was studying engineering while she was studying education. On their first date, while talking for two hours, she asked what was most important to him.
He said he wanted to grow up, go on a mission, and keep the commandments. She felt that was a response that would satisfy her district court judge father - and it did.
Bill eventually sold his Harley Davidson motorcycle to buy an engagement ring. They were married in the Salt Lake Temple in 1943.
Margaret was a supportive wife and mother for the next several years during Bill’s assignments as an officer in World War II, his college education, his employment at American Oil, and finally his career as a professor of chemical engineering at BYU.
One evening while Margaret was preparing dinner for their family of four children, Bill said, “Oh, Margaret, there’s a letter here for you from Dallin Oaks, president of BYU. Should I open it and read it to you?”
Bill began reading the letter: “I am calling you to be a teacher of the Book of Mormon. You will be the first lady who has ever taught in the School of Religion.” The next day Margaret was in President Oaks’s office accepting the call. She would teach the Book of Mormon class on campus for the next 27 years.
Bill became chair of the Chemical Engineering Department at BYU and founded a manufacturing company, Megadiamond, in 1966. Later they invested in US Synthetic, a business founded by their son. In time the Popes felt they should sell part of their shares in US Synthetic.
They received the money from selling the shares and thought, “What are we going to do with this money?” says Bill.
Helping the poor was their focus, and they felt that a great way to help people rise from their circumstances was to help them become experts in their fields through education. The Popes were among the original 12 to join BYU’s President’s Leadership Council.
“We love BYU,” Margaret said. “We love what they stand for. We love what they teach.”