SALT LAKE CITY — Elder Keith K. Hilbig, whose Alzheimer's cut short his service as a general authority of the LDS Church, died Saturday. He was 73.
Elder Hilbig, a trial attorney who as an area legal counsel for the church had responsibility for dozens of European and Middle Eastern nations, died 10 days after a fall at a Bountiful, Utah, Alzheimer's care facility, said his wife, Sister Susan Hilbig. The couple's six children spent his final days by his side.
Elder Hilbig served as a member of the church's First Quorum of the Seventy from 2006 to 2012, when he was granted emeritus status at age 70, typical practice in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But he had been placed on medical leave in 2010 after his Alzheimer's impaired his ability to fully contribute, Sister Hilbig said.
He served a normal five-year term as a member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy from 2001-06. A Seventy assists the faith's leaders, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, as a traveling minister who visits and teaches congregations. Members of the first two quorums are general authorities of the church, with authority to serve anywhere in the world.
"Keith was an exceptional man," said Elder Lance B. Wickman, the church's general counsel and an emeritus member of the First Quorum of the Seventy.
In 1998, Elder Wickman hired Elder Hilbig as one of six attorneys to act as an area legal counsel for the church. He assigned the Hilbigs to Frankfurt, Germany. Elder Hilbig's territory stretched from the Canary Islands off Portugal to Vladivostok.
"Keith was superb," Elder Wickman said. "We owe him a lot."
Like Elder Wickman, Elder David B. Haight of the Quorum of the Twelve knew both Elder Hilbig and his brother Wayne.
"If I could pick one thing that in my mind stands out most about Keith," Elder Wickman said, "it's something Elder Haight said to me once. He said, 'You know, when you look at those Hilbig boys, what you see is integrity.' Keith was very bright, he was witty, he was devoted, able in every way, but both for Keith and Wayne I think Elder Haight put his finger on it."
Sister Hilbig said she spoke openly with the Deseret News about her husband's health issues because two LDS apostles, Elder Richard G. Scott and Elder L. Tom Perry, publicly shared their health challenges in the spring.
Elder Perry died in May, less than 40 days after he was diagnosed with rare anaplastic thyroid cancer. Elder Scott, 86, is no longer participating in meetings of the Quorum of the Twelve due to "a fading memory incident to age."
Elder Hilbig graduated cum laude from Princeton and earned a law degree at Duke. Alzheimer's attacked both his intellect and body.
"Eventually, we had this brilliant mind — he was very articulate — and he couldn't speak," Sister Hilbig said. "Eventually, he couldn't walk."
He weighed 120 pounds when he tried to get out of his wheelchair and fell and broke his hip. The injury caused a cascade of problems that led to his death.
Elder Hilbig also served as president of the Switzerland Zurich Mission and president of the Palos Verdes California Stake. He became a bishop at age 30.
Elder Hilbig delivered two talks in the church's semiannual general conferences, "Create or Continue Priesthood Links" (2001) and "Quench Not the Spirit Which Quickens the Inner Man" (2007).
He served in four of the church's eight quorums of the Seventy, including the Third and Fifth quorums as an area authority. Biblically, Moses and Jesus Christ called groups of 70 to assist them.
A viewing is scheduled from 6-8 p.m. Friday at Russon Brothers Mortuary, 295 N. Main, Bountiful. The funeral is Saturday at 11 a.m. at the North Salt Lake Stake Center, 900 Eaglepointe Drive.
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