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

Published: Saturday, Sept. 5 2015 10:21 a.m. MDT

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin speaks at General Conference on Oct. 4, 2008. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) 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.
Joseph B. Wirthlin Jr., son of Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, speaks to the media Tuesday at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City during a press conference about his father's passing. (Courtney Sargent, Deseret News) Joseph B. Wirthlin Jr., son of Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, speaks to the media Tuesday at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City during a press conference about his father's passing. (Courtney Sargent, Deseret News)
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."
Newly sustained President Thomas S. Monson hugs Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin after conference on April 5, 2008. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Newly sustained President Thomas S. Monson hugs Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin after conference on April 5, 2008. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)
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."
Joseph B. Wirthlin Jr., son of Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, is seen in a camera image speaking to the media Tuesday at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City during a press conference about his father's passing. (Courtney Sargent, Deseret News) Joseph B. Wirthlin Jr., son of Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, is seen in a camera image speaking to the media Tuesday at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City during a press conference about his father's passing. (Courtney Sargent, Deseret News)
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.
Joseph B. Wirthlin Jr., son of Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, speaks to the media Tuesday at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City during a press conference about his father's passing. (Courtney Sargent, Deseret News) Joseph B. Wirthlin Jr., son of Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, speaks to the media Tuesday at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City during a press conference about his father's passing. (Courtney Sargent, Deseret News)
"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."
His father served as presiding bishop of the church, and Elder Wirthlin's dream as a young man was to be a missionary in Germany, just as his father had been. That dream came true when he served in the German-Austrian and the Swiss-Austrian missions from 1937-39.
An accomplished athlete, he played football for the University of Utah, from which he graduated with a degree in business administration. He also received an honorary doctorate from Brigham Young University in 2001. He and his wife were married May 26, 1941, in the Salt Lake Temple and are the parents of eight children.
He believed in a daily plan of each day's activities. "I make a schedule of what I am going to do and stick to it. I have learned that half an hour of planning will save several hours during the day."
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin addresses students during the graduation of the LDS Business College at the Assembly Hall on Temple Square in May 2005 in Salt Lake City. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin addresses students during the graduation of the LDS Business College at the Assembly Hall on Temple Square in May 2005 in Salt Lake City. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)
His daughter, Jane, recalled waking "at 5 in the morning and hearing him at the typewriter," typing his schedule for the day. And Elder Wirthlin used time wisely even when eating meals with his family.
"He wasn't around much before or after dinner," his daughter Elisabeth said. "But we always had gospel discussions at the dinner table. I felt like he really tutored us in the church."
Elder Wirthlin loved the scriptures and would make time to read them. Elisabeth said, "Many times I would wake up and go downstairs and see him studying the scriptures at 4:30 in the morning."
Before his call to full-time church service, he was a prominent business leader in Salt Lake City. He was also president of a trade association in Utah.
Elder Wirthlin served just less than 17 years in the bishopric of the Bonneville Ward, then seven years as a counselor to Elder Russell M. Nelson in the Bonneville Stake presidency in Salt Lake City. Elder Nelson spoke once of Elder Wirthlin's faith and willingness to work.
President Ezra Taft Benson shakes the hand of the newest member of the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, on Oct. 5, 1986. (Deseret News archives) President Ezra Taft Benson shakes the hand of the newest member of the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, on Oct. 5, 1986. (Deseret News archives)
"There was hardly ever a Sunday night when I didn't get a call from him asking if there was any more he could do for me," Elder Nelson said.
He also served for about four years as first counselor to Elder Nelson in the Sunday School general presidency before being called as an Assistant to the Twelve in April 1975.
When he was sustained as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Wirthlin said, "I've loved every assignment I've ever had in the kingdom. And in that service, every day seemed like Sunday, because it was in the service of the Lord."
"There is an old proverb," Elder Wirthlin was wont to say, "which says, 'An inch of gold will not buy an inch of time.' We must put a sufficiently high value on time. It is valuable and should not be wasted."
Elder Joseph Wirthlin, who played tailback at the U., speaks at fan appreciation night in Salt Lake City in August 2004. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Elder Joseph Wirthlin, who played tailback at the U., speaks at fan appreciation night in Salt Lake City in August 2004. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)
He was called to the First Quorum of the Seventy on Oct. 1, 1976, and to the Presidency of the Seventy on Aug. 28, 1986. Elder Wirthlin was sustained a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Oct. 4, 1986, and ordained an apostle on Oct. 9, 1986, at age 69.
He often spoke of his faith in Jesus Christ and encouraged others to develop their faith as well.
"My life really is anchored to the testimony that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ," he said.
In another conference, he said, "I wish I could engrave on every heart what I so keenly know and feel. I bear unwavering testimony that our Heavenly Father and his divine Son, Jesus Christ, rule and reign and that we must all understand that the gospel is everlasting."

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