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Robert J. Matthews: 'Somewhat sunny. Partly cloudy. Just like life.'

LINDON, UTAH

When sending cards and letters or autographing books, Robert J. Matthews had a quirky custom: He would include a date and a weather report, such as "Somewhat sunny. Partly cloudy. Just like life."

Just before dedicating his father’s grave, Brother Matthews’ son, Robert D., took a marker in hand and wrote a weather report of his own on his father’s casket: "Sept. 3, 2009. Warm, sunny day. ‘Sunshine in My Soul.’ "

That well-known hymn, "There Is Sunshine in My Soul Today," was sung by the congregation at the opening of the Brother Matthews’ funeral service. In light of remarks made at the service, that hymn title might have been a fitting epitaph for his grave.

A former dean of religious instruction at BYU whose scholarship made the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible more accessible to millions of Latter-day Saint readers, Brother Matthews died Aug. 30 in Provo, Utah, of complications following open-heart surgery.

President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve presided at the funeral service in the Lindon 6th Ward meetinghouse and read a message of condolence from the First Presidency to Brother Matthews wife, Shirley.

"We express to you and your family our heartfelt sympathy at the passing of your beloved husband and our friend, Robert James Matthews," the message read. "At the same time, we rejoice with you in his life of devoted service.

"We appreciate Brother Matthews’ dedicated service in the Church in many capacities, including his service as president of the Mount Timpanogos Utah Temple. We are gratefully acknowledging Brother Matthews’ diligent efforts and contributions with respect to the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible and the Bible Dictionary, his role with the committee that published the new LDS edition of the King James Bible and as a senior editor of the Encyclopedia of Mormonism.We are all aware of the important role you have played in all of this with Brother Matthews which he has accomplished so willingly.

"Although there is no substitute for the love of a dear companion, we pray you will be blessed with peace and comfort at the tender time of parting and in the years ahead. As you may turn to the Lord for solace, may you be sustained by that Spirit which comes from Him who said, ‘I will not leave you comfortless. I will come unto you.’

"Brother Matthews now is free from the challenges of mortality and has returned home to our Father in heaven. There he is reunited with loved ones who preceded him in death and will await the happy time once again to be with you and the others left behind."

President Packer, who, with President Thomas S. Monson, led the committee that prepared the current edition of the scriptures, on which Brother Matthews served, invoked an apostolic blessing on Sister Matthews and their family. He blessed them that they will have the satisfaction to know that Brother Matthews’ work is preserved and that the spirit he carried will be with them in greater power than they have known.

He noted that 54 years ago he interviewed Brother Matthews, whom he affectionately called "Bobby," to be a seminary teacher. "And during those 54 years," he said, "we’ve had a close relationship, not always in miles, but always in spirit."

President Packer said he had left the regular Thursday meeting of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve in the Salt Lake Temple to attend the funeral.

Speakers at the service included three of Brother Matthews’ colleagues from the BYU faculty.

Robert L. Millet, one of his successors as dean of religious education, borrowed the words of Nicodemus in reference to Jesus and applied them to Brother Matthews: "a teacher come from God."

"Teachers who come from God never cause a spiritual eclipse; that is, they never attract students to themselves, to their knowledge, their charisma, their personality, but instead point them to the Savior," Brother Millet said.

"Bob was a phenomenal teacher, one who knew the gospel of Jesus Christ better than any human being I have ever encountered. He knew the holy scriptures, and he knew the prophets. His insights were treasured, and his words were trusted. His colleagues loved him a great deal, but we trusted him more. And yet Brother Matthews never had a following, never accumulated a flock of many disciples, never encouraged his students to look anywhere except to the scriptures, to their Church leaders, to the Lord."

Monte S. Nyman, emeritus professor of ancient scripture, referred to a statement from Joseph Smith that true friends humble a person, and when he is sufficiently contrite, the voice of the Lord comes unto him. "I consider Robert Matthews one of my true friends," Brother Nyman said.

He added that for the 53 years of their association, he trusted Brother Matthews completely.

Brother Nyman said his friend was known among his colleagues as "the silent warrior."

Larry C. Porter, professor of Church history and doctrine, said of Brother Matthews that "what he did in life was about what he did to people."

Brother Porter said Brother Matthews once told his secretary, "At the end, I want to be judged by the way I treated people."

Brother Porter accompanied Brother Matthews at the time he sought and obtained permission to examine the manuscript of the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible at the headquarters of the RLDS Church in Independence, Mo.

He had written much about the JST, but had never seen the manuscripts, until the two encountered a newly appointed historian for the RLDS Church, who graciously granted the permission and gave them immediate access to the Cooperstown Bible, the copy that Joseph Smith had used in his work of translation.

"If anyone was ever in euphoria or ecstatic, it was that moment in time when Bob got his first look at the Cooperstown Bible," Brother Porter said. He immediately purchased a new King James Bible and spent the week copying annotations into it from the copy the Prophet had used.

When it came time to include 600 verses from the Joseph Smith Translation in the new LDS edition of the King James Bible, Brother Matthews was sent to obtain permission from the copyright owner, the RLDS Church, Brother Porter said.

"Permission was given with this addendum: ‘If you had asked for more, we would have given them to you,’ and they were prepared to do that," Brother Porter recounted.

He commented: "Brother Matthews opened a door to those archives that has been used by historians ever after."

Son Robert D. Matthews said his father gave rather specific instructions on how his funeral should be planned. "Dad even went so far, before he went into the hospital, as to design the program."

He said one of the instructions he gave was that the gospel should be preached. "If I had any hope that by my not preaching the gospel today, Dad might come back and admonish me, I would stop right now. But that’s not going to happen."

Robert D. said his father’s testimony was not static, but rather, was constantly growing. "He sought for new enlightenment each and every day. The constant need for spiritual nourishment was reflected in every aspect of his life, in everything that he did."

Son Daniel R. Matthews said his father’s "funeral instruction folder" was about an inch thick. "From the notes dated 1991, he said the talks should be centered on Christ and the Atonement, Joseph Smith and the Restoration, and whoever the living prophet at the time was," he said.

"My father had a great love for the Prophet Joseph Smith," he said, "and he dedicated much of his life to studying and researching the life of the Prophet and the restoration of the gospel, and to bringing this knowledge and his appreciation of it to others. And it’s through the revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith that we know that Dad is now in the spirit world and is surrounded by loved ones."

Daughter Camille L. Matthews read a "note of appreciation" prepared by her father on July 14 — about a month before his death — to be read at the funeral. Mentioned were his parents; his six older brothers and sister; his wife; his four children with their spouses and children; his Church membership; his testimony of Jesus Christ; the great prophets past and present; the scriptures; the opportunity to serve in the Church; the Church Educational System; the BYU faculty, staff and programs; his ward; and those with whom he served in the temple.

In a life sketch, daughter Tricia Matthews Lucas told a favorite humorous incident of Brother Matthews’ in which he was seated next to a woman on an airplane who saw his name imprinted on his scriptures. From this she gathered that he was the author.

He responded, "That is the Book of Mormon; I didn’t write that."

"She said, ‘You’re a professor; professors write books, and your name is on the cover.’ He again insisted he did not write it, to which she said, ‘Don’t be modest. I’m sure you did. I have heard of that book, and I’m very glad to meet the man who wrote the Book of Mormon."

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