By Sean Bingham
Richard Gunn has worked in the BYU Department of Travel Study for nearly 50 years, but as of Aug. 31, his travels will come to an abrupt halt as the department officially closes.
“I”m very, very sad about it,” Gunn said about the department closure. “I think it”s a mistake.”
BYU Assistant to the President for University Communications, Carri Jenkins said terrorism and crime throughout the world are the main reasons for the closure.
“When Travel Study would go into an area, they would really explore that area, but now it is very limited what can be seen and traveled to,” she said.
Gunn, however, said he doesn”t feel threatened at all when he travels.
“I know there”s a threat abroad,” he said. “But we”re not a target. I feel safe when I”m in China. I feel no threat when we”re in India.”
He also said he feels that Travel Studies were a stepping-stone into many countries, particularly for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and that it”s sad to see it go.
“We are a worldwide church,” he said. “We need to understand each other.”
Gunn has been to more than 120 countries and conducted more tours than anyone else in the history of the BYU Travel Study Department.
During this time, he has had many wonderful experiences while conducting tours all over the world.
Gunn said one of the highlights of his career was when he conducted a travel group through South America and was able to meet the members of the southern most branch of the LDS Church in southern Chile.
“They brought out the very best for us,” he said.
He said it was wonderful just to see these people and witness how the BYU travel group”s presence touched them. On that same trip, the group sailed to Antarctica and learned about Magellan.
Gunn said the captain of the ship stuck the ship”s nose south into the ice and said, ”You”re the farthest south anyone has been this year.”
He said he remembers going to Tahiti and scuba diving for the first time, early in his career.
“I saw the world underwater that day,” he said.
The Holy Land, however, is where Gunn said he would go if he could only go to one place.
“It”s good to see the Garden Tomb,” he said.
Art Watkins also worked for BYU as a conductor of Travel Study tour groups for 35 years and he too said it”s sad to see the department close.
Watkins was among the first to tour Europe with BYU in 1952. He said on the tour the group was able to meet the pope. The group all shook his hand and Max Rogers, who Watkins said was the first chairman of Travel Studies, offered the pope a copy of the LDS Church”s standard works.
Rogers explained that the book contained all of the Church”s beliefs and asked the pope to put the book in the Vatican.
“As far as we know, this was the first time that our scriptures were handed over to the pope,” Watkins said.
On the same trip, the group met the King of Denmark.
“It was a very memorable tour,” Watkins said.
Gunn has three final tours scheduled before the department closes and said he never tires of going back to these places and loves learning about different cultures.
“The whole world,” he said. “I want to put it in my pocket.”