The University of Utah lost one of its most ardent football fans with the death of Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin late Monday night.
Joe Wirthlin, the only son of the late LDS apostle, said his father attended the most recent game between the U. and its archrival, Brigham Young University, on Nov. 22 and stayed for the entirety of the U.'s 48-24 win.
During a press conference Tuesday morning, he was asked if his father was happy with the game's outcome.
"Absolutely," he replied, adding, "He had a great love for both teams and for all sports."
Elder Wirthlin was a running back at the U. and later graduated with a degree in business management there, though he eventually received an honorary doctorate from BYU in 2001.
The 91-year-old church leader was in his office as usual on Monday, his son said, and his death was unexpected but peaceful. "My sister (Jane Wirthlin Parker) was with him and he had gone to bed. She said she heard him take two deep breaths and he was gone."
The family called 911 as well as Elder Wirthlin's cardiologist, hoping to revive him. "I think he was gone before they took him" to the hospital. "He went on his own terms," his son said. "He didn't ever want to be a burden to anyone."
Elder Wirthlin's eight children have taken turns staying the night with him since his wife died in 2006, Joe Wirthlin said.
As the third generation head of a family-owned food processing and purveying business, Elder Wirthlin was a successful businessman who taught his children to "be careful what you spend. You worked hard to earn what you have but be careful with what you spend," his son recalled.
"He didn't fear hard times. He knew if he was doing righteous things, he would be OK. He taught us the same, and that if we worked hard, we would never be without. He encouraged each of us to be sure we got an education."
Elder Wirthlin's father taught him the importance of ethics and honesty, his son said, recalling a family story about a time when his father sent him to deliver a food order to someone who ended up overpaying. "When he came back to the plant, his father sent him back with the extra money to make sure she would know what she actually paid," he said.
His business acumen became an asset to the LDS Church when he was appointed chairman of the church's original humanitarian effort. "He was able to give them ideas on how he structured parts of the welfare program," his son said.
Elder Wirthlin and his wife were married for 65 years, and the day she died "was the hardest day of his life." He questioned why she died first, Joe Wirthlin said, and their happy reunion in the afterlife will likely go on "for a very long time."
His legacy for his children, 56 grandchildren and 89 great-grandchildren is one of love, laughter, hard work and the constant encouragement to "carry on. He always felt like whatever goes on in life you have to pick yourself up and keep going."
After his father died late Monday night, Joe Wirthlin said he lowered the U.S. flag at Elder Wirthlin's home to half-staff "but left the Christmas lights on. He's been asking me for the last three weeks when we were going to take the flag down for winter. I said, 'Not yet,' but it's halfway there now."