Darais’ father, although coming from humble means, was a true entrepreneur. He went from vending hotdogs to opening three highly successful restaurants. As good as the food was, Darais often shuttled special homemade Greek dishes from his mother’s kitchen to the restaurant for his father to eat. His father also had quite a reputation as a mandolin player, performing at Greek weddings and other festivities. It was Darais’ job to bring his father the mandolin when it was time to perform.
Darais lost his father when he was only 12 years old. His mother died a relatively early death in 1948.
Living so close to the coast, Darais developed a lifelong love for the ocean. He loved everything about it — the warm sand, swimming, surfing, soaking up the sun. Throughout his life he remarked that he was a California boy at heart, and that although he liked the changing seasons, he didn’t really like the cold.
After graduating from Venice High School, Darais attended a local junior college. To help meet expenses he found a part-time job working as a busboy for Twentieth Century–Fox. This was during the grand era of Hollywood, and he had many fond memories of waiting on such silver screen legends as Jimmy Stewart, Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, and Shirley Temple.
A co-worker at the studio gave Darais a copy of the Book of Mormon. The friend left, but Darais’ interest in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continued to grow. Shortly afterward he found a Mormon pamphlet on the sidewalk with the address of the Los Angeles Mission office. This led to missionary discussions and his becoming a member of the Church in 1938.
When the United States entered WWII, Darais was drafted into the army. Serving in the medical corps in North Africa, he spent time in such countries as Iran and Egypt. He rode camels, climbed pyramids, and even kicked up an ancient coin from the sands of the Sahara. He was known as the soldier who threw his cigarette rations away—even refusing to give them to his army buddies.
Returning to the states, Alex prayed that he would be reassigned to an area where he could meet a Mormon girl. He was assigned to Santa Barbara, California. His prayers were answered.
It just so happened that Norma Louise Johnson was studying Food Science at UC Santa Barbara. Norma and Darais had their first date in October 1944 on Friday the 13th. He was ecstatic. He went whistling back to his quarters and announced, “I’ve met the girl I’m going to marry.”
His army buddies, rather amazed, nicknamed him “Speedy.” True to his nickname, two weeks later, on Halloween night, Darais proposed—and Norma accepted. They spent the next nine months getting acquainted. Marriage in the Salt Lake Temple followed. Norma was especially pleased that they were sealed by noted food scientist, Apostle John A. Widtsoe.
Throughout his life, he fulfilled various Church callings, including positions in the bishopric and the stake high council, service in the Provo Utah Temple, and service as a missionary with Norma in Greece.
He lived his life following the belief that a happy man was one who loved his wife, his worship, and his work.
Norma passed away on April 4, 2014.
Soon after Darais returned to California, the war ended. A short time later he and his wife moved to Salt Lake City so Darais could pursue a business opportunity with friends. While exploring this venture he earned additional income using his art talent to design billboards for ZCMI. He even went to work for Cudahy, a meat processing plant. (According to Norma he often came home smelling like a hotdog.) During this time Norma also supplemented the meager family income with substitute teaching.
When the business opportunity didn’t materialize, Darais started to ponder other options, considering his talent for art. He was seriously contemplating a move to Chicago to study at the Chicago Art Institute. One day while he was downtown, he walked in to the Church Office Building and asked if he could talk with the commissioner of Church education. Darais told the commissioner of his plans to study art in Chicago. The commissioner replied, “You don’t want to go to Chicago to study art. Then you’ll just be an artist. What you need to do is enroll at a university and get a broad education in addition to your art training.” Darais considered this advice and asked where such a university might be located. “Why not consider BYU?” he was told.
At this time Darais’ career really started to take shape. He immediately enrolled at BYU for the spring quarter of 1946. Their first child soon followed. (Eventually they became the parents of five sons and two daughters and grandparents to 22 grandchildren and, at last count, 16 great-grandchildren.) After graduating in 1948 Alex attended Claremont Graduate School, completing his MFA in 1952.
Before long he accepted a teaching position at a junior college in San Diego, excited with the prospect of living by the ocean once again. But this wasn't to be. Just after he had signed his San Diego contract, he got a call from BYU, asking him if he was interested in a teaching position. As a student, Darais had often felt that he might return some day. Now he would.
In the fall of 1954 he began a long and rewarding career as a professor of Art and Design. Over the years, while teaching and raising a family, he produced a body of paintings that reflects his life, his philosophy, and his deep convictions. He also applied his artistic talent to various freelance endeavors. He enjoyed creating logos for such businesses as Sundance, Bonneville Bank, and Utah Valley Vitamins. In 1975 the BYU administration asked Alex to create the symbol for the school’s centennial celebration. (Norma gave him the nickname Symbol Simon.)
Along with his talents in paint and design, Darais had a passionate pastime of composing poems, lyrics, and musical scores. These numerous works continue to delight many. Some of his creativity was captured in his book, Little Bird, published in 1990.
Darais passed away peacefully at his Provo, Utah home on August 8, 2007.
- Transcription of Talks from Alex Darais’ Funeral
- "Glimpses: Mormon Abstract" by Stephanie K. Northrup. Published by Mormon Artists Group, January 2010.