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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
A Marine salutes after presenting the flag to sister Barbara Perry Friday, June 5, 2015, in the Salt Lake City Cemetery during graveside services for Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

SALT LAKE CITY — Elder L. Tom Perry's 41 enthusiastic and indomitable years as an LDS apostle made life better for millions of people, church leaders and family said at his funeral Friday in the Salt Lake Tabernacle on Temple Square.

The oldest living apostle at 92, Elder Perry died May 30, fewer than 40 days after being diagnosed with an anaplastic thyroid cancer described by his doctor as a "wildfire."

Church President Thomas S. Monson celebrated the life of his "beloved friend," his colleague in senior church leadership for nearly 43 years, since Elder Perry was called in 1972 as an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"All who heard his voice and those who read his words could readily see that here was a fearless defender and testifier of truth, intelligent in thought, radiant and warm in personality, succinct and powerful in expression, unwavering and unflinching in commitment and belief," President Monson said.

Elder Perry lived life at "full speed ahead" with devotion to God, family and country; distinct talents; a resonant voice; and unshakeable optimism, the speakers said during the one-hour service, and he ended life with a personal yearning to help every member of the church, and he expressed that in a final visit with two of the Twelve.

More than 2,800 attended the funeral in the Tabernacle and in overflow seating in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square. The Tabernacle audience included fours rows of family, dozens of LDS leaders, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, Utah Jazz owner Gail Miller and BYU President Kevin Worthen.

Cherished friend

"Since his passing on Saturday," President Monson said, "I've reflected a great deal on this faithful servant of God. Together we shared much over the years, heartache and happiness, sorrow and laughter, and above all, a love of the Lord and his gospel. Tom Perry combined an insightful mind with a faith-filled heart to work wonders with his words. His talent was distinctly his own. He always had a rich and a resonant voice with which he proclaimed the word of God at home and abroad all the days of his life."

He said Elder Perry was blessed with "an abiding faith, an optimistic attitude and a charitable spirit" and that "along with his faith, commitment and energy, Tom Perry was one of the most kind, considerate and gracious men he'd ever known. ...

"Wherever I go in this beautiful world, a part of this cherished friend will always go with me."

President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency conducted the funeral program at the request of the Perry family.

"The general authorities and the general auxiliary presidencies and their families join the First Presidency in extending their love and heartfelt condolences to the Perry family at this tender time," said President Eyring, first counselor to President Monson.

Full speed

Elder Perry's son Lee told two memorable stories. The first was about the day in October 1972 when Elder Perry was supposed to be in the Tabernacle for a solemn assembly at which he was to be sustained as an Assistant to the Twelve, a position that no longer exists.

Caught in traffic, Elder Perry, his wife and their son and daughter arrived after the Tabernacle was full. His wife, son and daughter headed to the overflow in the Salt Palace and Elder Perry got in line at the Tabernacle, hoping for a late seat to open up. After 30 minutes, he asked an usher for help.

"The kind usher found him half a seat at the end one of the benches," Lee Perry said. "When my father was sustained, the man next to him turned to congratulate him, knocking him off the bench."

The other story was a metaphor for Elder Perry's life. The ex-Marine was invited to spend a weekend at Camp Pendleton near San Diego in 1991. During the visit, he was delighted to be given controls of an amphibious landing craft in the Pacific Ocean, but as he approached shore, he realized he didn't know how to slow down.

He got some directions, but Lee Perry said the landing craft still "hit the beach a little hot, and he narrowly missed knocking down the fence.

"Elder Perry's uncommon life was much like his experience steering a landing craft. Every day of his life was glorious to him. He embraced a life that was always full speed ahead. He immersed himself so completely in everything he did that he forgot until very late in life that it was necessary to slow down, and so the end came much sooner than expected. Still he lived his life to its fullest, a life of devotion to God, family and country."

Big brother

Lee Perry said his father cherished every moment of the 41 years he was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, which he considered a special brotherhood.

If Elder Perry had lived to the day of his funeral, he and the quorum's leader, President Boyd K. Packer, would have celebrated their 21st anniversary together as the two most senior apostles in the Quorum of the Twelve.

Two other members of the quorum spoke, Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Elder M. Russell Ballard.

"L. Tom Perry was a big brother to all his juniors in the Quorum of the Twelve," Elder Oaks said.

In a tribute to their big brother, every member of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve attended the funeral, including Elder Richard G. Scott, who missed the church's April general conference because of health reasons. Subsequently he spent five nights in the hospital for internal bleeding and no longer attends meetings of the Twelve due to "a fading memory incident to age."

Every member of the Twelve had heard Elder Perry say many times that it was his desire to pass through "the veil of death" at least one day before President Packer, Elder Oaks reported. When President Packer visited him a week ago, the day before he died, Elder Perry "declared that he was completely at peace now as he faced that very circumstance."

Glorious reality

Elder Oaks said the two men also shared their love for one other and their expectation that their friendship will continue into the next life.

He also said that Elder Perry's death is a separation that is painful for his wife, Barbara, and his family and friends: "Of course we weep for our dear brother, Tom," Elder Oaks said.

In fact, he noted many of the Twelve and many church members participated Sunday in sustaining church officers during stake conferences around the world.

"I was grieved," he said, "to realize that this was the first time in 41 years, that Elder L. Tom Perry's name was not presented for sustaining as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve."

Saying that he spoke for the rest of the quorum, Elder Oaks added, "We know that the resurrection is sure and we testify that it is a reality for all who have ever lived. It is central to what the prophets have called the great and eternal plan of deliverance from death, part of the plan of redemption which was laid from the foundation of the world.

"Resurrection: What a beautiful word. What a glorious reality."

Final messages

Elder Oaks and Elder Ballard talked about their friend's vitality, energy and directness. Elder Ballard said despite his challenges, Elder Perry's "unshakeable optimism and faith" led him to repeatedly say, "I've never had a bad day in my life."

"Elder Perry by his nature is one who always expected to see things move forward," Elder Ballard said. "He seemed to have very little patience if time was not productive.

"He always taught, encouraged and inspired all of the general authorities that we could do more, we could do better and we could move faster in blessing the lives of every member of the church."

Elder Perry had a similar final message for church members when Elder Oaks and Elder Ballard visited him a few days before he died. It was a personal yearning to help millions of Mormons he loved and who loved him.

"If I could get every member of the church to go and partake of the sacrament, and when they took the bread, they asked themselves, 'Who am I? What am I doing? How am I living? Where am I going? What should I be accomplishing?' as they renew their covenants with the Lord."

The funeral occurred exactly two months to the day Elder Perry delivered his final talk of the 87 he gave at the faith's general conferences. Two speakers quoted the conclusion of that talk, his testimony of family:

"Let me close by bearing witness — and my nine decades on this earth fully qualify me to say this — that the older I get, the more I realize that family is the center of life and is the key to eternal happiness.

"I give thanks for my wife, for my children, for my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren and for all of the cousins and in-laws and extended family who make my own life so rich and, yes, even eternal. Of this eternal truth I bear my strongest and most sacred witness ... ."

Parting words

Two additional members of the Twelve said the prayers.

Elder Russell M. Nelson gave the invocation, saying Elder Perry's noble life and tender heart "made life better for millions of people."

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland offered the benediction, in which he called the funeral a "tender and fitting service" and said that Elder Perry's "warm, engaging smile and the enthusiastic, caring optimism that characterized everything he ever did will remain in our hearts forever."

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed four musical selections — "Still, Still with Thee," "O My Father," "O Divine Redeemer" and "The Lord Bless You and Keep You."

President Monson was the concluding speaker.

"In behalf of each of us," he said, "I offer these parting words to our beloved Elder Perry:

"Tom, God be with you till we meet again."

Throughout the funeral, a folded American flag honoring Elder Perry's service as a Marine in World War II sat on a podium by the casket.

At the conclusion of the service, pallbearers wheeled the casket through two lines formed by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve and other church leaders. Outside, the casket received the flag as a blanket before being lifted into a hearse.

Michael G. Nelson offered the family prayer prior to the funeral. Elder Perry's brother Ted dedicated the grave.

In lieu of flowers, the Perry family requested donations be made to the General Missionary Fund or Humanitarian Fund of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: give.lds.org/perry.

Email: [email protected]