Elder Marvin J. Ashton, who died Feb. 25, 1994, in Salt Lake City following surgery, was described in funeral services as a "champion of love" who throughout his life followed the footsteps of the Savior.
At funeral services in the Tabernacle on March 2, family, friends and associates bid farewell to Elder Ashton, 78, who served in the Council of the Twelve for 22 years.President Thomas S. Monson, second counselor in the First Presidency, conducted the services. Speakers were President Gordon B. Hinckley, first counselor in the First Presidency, and President Monson; Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Council of the Twelve; Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Seventy; and Elder Ashton's two sons, Stephen and John. The Tabernacle Choir, under the direction of Jerold D. Ottley, provided music for the services, including a moving rendition of "I Believe in Christ." J. Willard Marriott Jr. and Elaine L. Jack, general president of the Relief Society, offered the invocation and benediction, respectively.
President Hinckley, the concluding speaker, described how difficult it was for him on Friday, Feb. 25, as he received news of the death of D. Arthur Haycock and notification of the imminent death of Elder Ashton.
He told of his visit at the hospital to Elder Ashton a few hours before Elder Ashton's death.
"I took his great, strong hand. Marv had big hands, with a grip in them. He was a large-boned man, large in stature and strong in appearance. . . . He'd been sick for a long time, and with great dismay and distress, we who had had opportunity to watch him closely had noted his failing health."
President Hinckley said that as he took Elder Ashton's hand, "I told him of my love."
A doctor in the room later told President Hinckley that Elder Ashton had only a matter of hours left. President Hinckley returned to his office and that afternoon received a phone call telling of Elder Ashton's death.
"We buried Arthur Haycock yesterday, and we bury Elder Ashton today. It isn't easy."
He expressed gratitude for "the expression of love" of those who attended the services.
President Hinckley recalled the day on Dec. 2, 1971, when Elder Ashton was set apart as a member of the Twelve, filling the vacancy left by Elder Richard L. Evans. "President Harold B. Lee was the voice in the ordination, and he promised Elder Ashton that "he would in the future hold and enjoy a greater measure of the Spirit necessary to make him a special witness of the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ."
President Hinckley said that Elder Ashton often testified of the Savior.
President Hinckley said that as illness began to strike Elder Ashton, he continued to encourage members to "be of good cheer."
"Being of good cheer makes it possible for us to turn all of our sunsets into sunrises," President Hinckley quoted Elder Ashton as saying in a conference address. "With good cheer, carrying our cross can be our ladder to happiness. When Jesus comes into our lives, cheer lights the way."
President Hinckley said that the last time Elder Ashton gave an address, it was in a solemn meeting held recently in the Salt Lake Temple.
"I think he spoke these words with a strong foreboding of what might lie ahead," said President Hinckley.
At that meeting, President Hinckley said Elder Ashton expressed: "I suppose if I had one word in my mind, it is the word `gratitude.' . . . While I am not getting better, I am coping with it. I love the Lord. I thank Him for His blessings."
President Hinckley said that Elder Ashton, "like the Master of whom he bore testimony, went about doing good. God bless his memory. We leave our love, our peace, our blessing with our beloved friend Norma, and with her family, her sons and daughters and grandchildren. May that peace that comes from the Lord comfort you and sustain you in the times of loneliness that lie ahead."
As President Monson began his address, he said, "I respond warmly to the kind invitation of Sister Ashton and the family to speak to you on this occasion and at this moment. I've temporarily lost one of the dearest friends that I've ever had. My heart is full, and emotions are very near to the surface."
President Monson said he entitled his remarks, "Elder Marvin J. Ashton, Man of Many Talents," but added, "I've had to prune them down - the many talents of Marv Ashton - in the interest of time."
Noting that Elder Ashton had been honored by the news media and by the attendance of the funeral congregation, he said, "Yet there is a love even more supreme, and that is the prayer, even the silent prayer, from the heart and on the lips of any person who Marvin Ashton has lifted to a higher plateau in his life."
President Monson said Elder Ashton was a man of service, "and his service was broad-gauged" in the Church, government, schools, the prison and the community at large.
He noted that his first assignment after being called to the Council of the Twelve was to serve as adviser to YWMIA and the YMMIA. "And thus began an opportunity for me to serve side by side with Marv, which went through many, many years of joy and happiness. I can honestly say that Marv has been one of the greatest friends that the youth of this Church and beyond this Church could ever have known."
As managing director of Church Social Services, Elder Ashton could reach wayward youth, President Monson said. "Why? Because he loved them. And because he listened to them. I've said Marv is the best listener we've had from all of the General Authorities. And when he spoke, he spoke pearls of wisdom."
He recalled Elder Ashton's leadership in a crusade to provide a non-denominational chapel at the Utah State Prison.
"Elder Ashton was a man of faith," President Monson continued. "His philosophy was to `serve the Lord and He will bless you and guide you and sustain you.'
"He had confidence in the nobility of the human soul. He knew each soul had the capacity to become as God, and he treated him or her accordingly, not for what he was but for what he could and should become."
Continuing, President Monson said Elder Ashton was a "man of prayer." He recounted an experience in which he and Elder Ashton, who had just been called as a General Authority, gave a priesthood blessing to Utah Highway Patrol trooper Charles "Chuck" Warren who had been gunned down while on duty. The trooper recovered to a degree and enjoyed a number of years of happiness and joy before the injury eventually took his life, President Monson added.
"Frankly, I always looked forward to Marv's turn to pray in our temple meetings." he said. "He literally talked to God."
President Monson said Elder Ashton was "a champion of love who stressed that love in countless ways. He always referred to his sweetheart Norma as his best friend."
His love encircled his children, grandchildren and other kin, President Monson said. And he also loved athletics at all levels and all his assignments, including Deseret Book, ZCMI, First Security, Zion's Securities and the Polynesian Cultural Center.
"He was faithful to the end, this man of many talents," President Monson remarked. "He and Elder Russell Ballard were in my office on Wednesday. Marv held a cane in one hand and held the arm of Elder Ballard with the other. And even though breathing was a little hard for him, he said, `We'll not take much of your time, but we have a matter that we'd like to discuss with you.' And we had a wonderful, brief meeting together."
Choked with emotion, President Monson continued, "But, after I walked with him and with Elder Ballard to the outer door, I returned to my office and literally wept, for I remembered the words of the poet, `Here and there and now and then, God places a giant among men.' And I saw this giant of a man growing weak and frail, and I thanked God in a silent prayer for the sweet association I had had with Marvin J. Ashton."
As the representative of the Council of the Twelve to address the services, Elder Oaks told of visiting Elder Ashton at the hospital in the company of Elder Russell M. Nelson. "We spoke for the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles when we said,
We love you, Marvin.' We were touched when he immediately replied,That's what keeps me going.'
He said Elder Ashton is continuing to serve in the next life, and is serving in a responsibility for which he was well-prepared by his lifetime of devotion in service.
"Marvin J. Ashton was loved by his family, his brethren, his fellow workers, indeed, by the whole Church," said Elder Oaks. "He had a remarkable rapport with the youth; he was gentle, concerned, compassionate and wise. When he drew lines, he drew lines that included people to the maximum extent possible."
He commented, "I look at a funeral service as a graduation. Marvin J. Ashton has graduated from mortality to another stage of progress for which his lifelong labors have prepared him. This funeral service commemorates that graduation, which in his case is surely with high honors."
In his remarks, Elder Holland described Elder Ashton as a "kind, and thoughtful and solicitous friend," and a man who showed "courtesy and interest to virtually every one he ever met."
Elder Holland recounted a story told by Elder Ashton of a runner whose shoe was knocked off by another runner. This young racer just kept running, and completed a second lap and a third lap, and, despite the cinders that tore at his foot, finished the race.
"That is the one story that has been uppermost in my mind as my brethren and I have watched Elder Ashton struggle and fight to keep serving. The disease that finally took his life had made his right foot terribly ulcerated and sore - literally an open wound. Finally he simply could not stand the pain of wearing his right shoe, so he took it off and kept trying to work, literally, in his stocking feet."
John Ashton said that great as were the sermons preached at the pulpit of the Tabernacle, greater sermons were preached by his father's life. "His life was a sermon, not of judgment, condemnation, or guilt, but of hope, love, caring self-esteem, and often to tell us to just keep trying. He never turned down an assignment; he just did it."
Stephen Ashton expressed love and appreciation for his father and friends. He read a letter from the late Elder Bruce R. McConkie saying that " `Marvin J. Ashton is the James of our day . . . the practical religionist of the New Testament times.' Thus it was with Marvin J. Ashton. He practiced pure religion undefiled . . . he is a Christian gentleman."