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Church, civic leader remembered as a man of boundless dreams

Wendell J. Ashton, who died Aug. 31 at age 82, was praised by President Gordon B. Hinckley in funeral services Sept. 4 as a man whose "dreams knew no bounds, but [who] had the capacity to work to make them come true."

"Whatever the cause, if it meant improvement, if it meant culture, if it meant good family environment, he was in the forefront," said President Hinckley. "No mountain of opposition appeared so formidable that he was afraid to tackle it. But he never tackled blindly. He carefully thought out his plan. Then he pursued it relentlessly, methodically, and almost with passion."I know of no other single individual during my lifetime who has done more for the good of this community than has he."

Among his many accomplishments and endeavors, Brother Ashton was publisher of the Deseret News from 1978 to 1985. Before that, in 1972, he was called by the First Presidency to organize the Church's Public Communications Department, which he directed until 1978.

While serving as Deseret News publisher, he was called as president of the England London Mission. There he spearheaded efforts commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Church in England.

President Thomas S. Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, and President James E. Faust, second counselor in the First Presidency, also attended the funeral services, as did several members of the Quorum of the Twelve and the Quorums of the Seventy.

H. Ross Workman, bishop of the Mt. Olympus 8th Ward, Salt Lake Mt. Olympus Stake, conducted the funeral and made brief comments. Also speaking at the funeral were members of Brother Ashton's family: daughters Allyson Louise A. Chard, Wendy Jane A. Christiansen, Susan Ashton, Ellen A. Van Orman, and Marged A. Kirkpatrick, and sons Owen R. Ashton and Kay R. Ashton. A grandson, Jeffery C. Olsen, spoke on behalf of the Brother Ashton's grandchildren.

A string ensemble from the Utah Symphony performed "Adagio for Strings" by Samuel Barber. A chorus comprised of missionaries who served under the direction of Brother Ashton in the England London Mission sang "Called to Serve."

President Hinckley, who had known Brother Ashton since their high school days in Salt Lake City, said: "His great strength lay in his commitment to the cause and in his consuming single-minded attention to his goal.

"His recognition as `Giant in our City' was well earned and honestly given.

"People of every religious affiliation, and of every political persuasion respected him, listened to him, and received direction from him as he led out in one campaign after another in his efforts to make of this a better place to live.

"It was likewise with the Church he loved."

President Hinckley spoke of his relationship with Brother Ashton when they served together as missionaries in England in the 1930s. "That was three score years ago, and I have worked with him in a variety of capacities through all of those years. I loved him. I respected him. I honored him."

Brother Ashton "left a remarkable heritage," said President Hinckley. To Brother Ashton's wife, Belva, and other members of the family, President Hinckley said, "May you have the greater peace that comes from the Savior of the world, whom he loved."

President Hinckley continued: "Wendell carried in his heart a deep and solemn conviction of the immortality of the human soul made possible by the atonement of the Redeemer of the world. He has left loved ones here to join loved ones on the other side. Other reunions will follow and they will be sweet and tender."

Brother Ashton was deeply involved in civic, Church and other activities, and in numerous projects and organizations throughout the city and state. Among those causes he was involved in were the Utah Symphony and Symphony Hall (now Abravanel Hall), the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, the Utah Jazz, the Boy Scouts of America, Days of '47 Inc., the United Way, the Utah Bicentennial Commission, and Utahns Against Pornography.

Brother Ashton was born Oct. 31, 1912, in Salt Lake City, to Marvin O. and Rae Jeremy Ashton. He was the eldest of six children. His father served in the Presiding Bishopric and a brother, the late Elder Marvin J. Ashton, was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve.

In 1933 he graduated magna cum laude from the University of Utah and its School of Business. He was a Utah finalist for a Rhodes scholarship in 1933. From 1934 to 1936 he served a mission to Great Britain, where he edited the Millennial Star.

His stint as a journalist included work as a writer for three years (1931-1934) for the Salt Lake Telegram, where he did sports and police reporting. He was managing editor of the Deseret News from 1947-48.

Brother Ashton joined Gillham Advertising Inc. in 1950 and was vice president of the company when called in 1972 to organize and direct the Church's Public Communications Department.

He was president of East Mill Creek Stake in Salt Lake from 1960-1962 and was one of the original 69 regional representatives called in 1967. For 21 years he was a member of the Sunday School General Board, served as a member of the Adult Committee of the Church Correlation Council and a member of the Church Leadership Committee. He was chairman of a committee which, under the direction of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, prepared the format and guidelines for Priesthood Home Teaching when it was introduced in 1964. He was a sealer in the Salt Lake Temple.

He had also been associate editor of the Church's Instructor magazine, where for 28 years his articles were published on the back cover.

He was author of a number of books. Brother Ashton was preceded in death by his first wife, Marian Reynolds Ashton. His survivors include his second wife, Belva Barlow Ashton; two sons and five daughters, and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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