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Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, oldest apostle, 91, dies at home

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 3 2008 8:20 a.m. MST

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin speaks at General Conference on Oct. 4, 2008.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, the oldest living apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, died at 11:30 p.m. Monday at the age of 91.

A press release from the LDS Church said Elder Wirthlin had gone to bed at his Salt Lake City home and died peacefully of causes incident to age. His oldest daughter, Jane Wirthlin Parker, was present. A member of the family had been staying and caring for Elder Wirthlin, whose wife, Elisa Young Rogers Wirthlin, died two years ago.

The release said Elder Wirthlin had continued to work at his office right up until the Thanksgiving holiday. His funeral is scheduled for noon Friday in the Salt Lake Tabernacle.

Elder Wirthlin's last major public appearance was at the church's most recent semiannual general conference in October, when he shared an address many church members have since used in lessons and as a guide in dealing with personal challenges. Titled "Come What May and Love It," he spoke of a challenge after his football team lost a tough game.

As he complained about the game to his

mother, he received advice that he said had stayed with him all his life.

"Joseph," she said, "come what may and love it." She had taught them to "trust in themselves and each other, not blame others for their misfortunes and give their best effort in everything they attempted."

"When we fell down, she expected us to pick ourselves up and get going again," he said. "In spite of discouragement and adversity, those who are happiest seem to have a way of learning from difficult times, becoming stronger, wiser and happier as a result."

He also spoke of death, saying "life will continue on the other side of the veil. There we will be given new opportunities. Not even death can take us from the eternal blessings promised by a loving Heavenly Father."

He reminded Latter-day Saints that top church leaders are not immune from challenges that members face. "There may be some who think that general authorities rarely experience pain, suffering or distress. If only that were true. The Lord in his wisdom does not shield anyone from grief or sadness."

Elder Wirthlin lost his wife on Aug. 16, 2006, when she died at age 87 of causes incident to age. He spoke of his heartache at the following general conference but expressed confidence in eternal life and Jesus Christ's power over death.

He was born June 11, 1917, in Salt Lake City to Joseph L. and Madeline Bitner Wirthlin. From his own account, he was about 7 years old when his lifelong commitment to the gospel took root.

"I was in a fast and testimony meeting when a humble brother bore his testimony. He spoke with such fervency that it electrified me to the point that I partook of his great spirit as to the truthfulness of the gospel."

He recalled his childhood fondly. "We had many rabbits and chickens in our backyard. It was my job to help care for them."

And he was always doing odd jobs in his father's business. "In my early teens, I was a janitor. In high school, I got up early to deliver to accounts that required early service."

Doing his chores at home, working in his father's business, participating in athletics and attending school left him little idle time.

When dating his future wife, Elisa Rogers, he would go to work in the morning before school started, attend classes from 8 a.m. to noon, and go back to work.

"When we had dates, it would be 9 or 10 p.m. before he could even come over," Sister Wirthlin once recalled.

He didn't even have time to pick out a romantic setting to propose to her.

"We became engaged at the pump, the center of everything at the university campus. That's where we would meet after his classes and before he left for work."

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