On a cold, clear December afternoon, thousands gathered inside the Salt Lake Tabernacle to pay tribute to the life, lessons and example of Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, a 22-year member of the Quorum of the Twelve.
During the Dec. 5 funeral service, Elder Wirthlin was honored as "man for all seasons." He was remembered as a gifted athlete who was beloved by his family and associates; as a humble, trusted servant who lifted others; and as man of integrity and a dutiful witness of Christ.
Elder Wirthlin died on the first day of December 2008. (See Dec. 6, 2008, Church News, pp. 3-5) His sweetheart and wife, Elisa Young Rogers Wirthlin, preceded him in death, Aug. 16, 2006.
President Thomas S. Monson presided, conducted and offered the closing address at Elder Wirthlin's funeral, which was televised across the globe via satellite broadcast (see accompanying report on page 5). The Church president was joined on the program by two of Elder Wirthlin's fellow apostles — President Boyd K. Packer, president of the Quorum of the Twelve, and Elder Russell M. Nelson. Elder Wirthlin's son, Joseph B. Wirthlin Jr., also spoke.
In his remarks, President Packer read a Christmas memory penned by Elder Wirthlin that was published in the Nov. 29 Church News, just two days before his death.
That sacred Christmas memory, said President Packer, would serve as Elder Wirthlin's final testimony.
In the article, Elder Wirthlin remembered Christmas Eve of 1937, when he was serving a full-time mission in Austria just prior to the outbreak of World War II. Young Elder Wirthlin and his companion, Elder Staker Olsen, visited a humble church in the Bavarian village of Oberndorf where a choir was singing the calming strains of "Silent Night! Holy Night!" As they listened to the hymn, the two missionaries were spiritually moved by the hopeful spirit of Christmas.
"As we left Oberndorf and walked about 15 minutes to our humble lodgings in old Salzburg, we spoke of life more confidently," wrote Elder Wirthlin. "Our goals and aspirations were clear, and we were both focused as to our direction in life."
The two missionaries spoke of Christ and His love for mankind. They determined to be even more diligent in their missionary efforts. They resolved to serve the Master all their lives by magnifying their Church assignments.
Elder Wirthlin also wrote of his desire that Christmas Eve to forever be the sort of man the Lord could rely upon. He expressed his goal to find and marry a girl "with qualities of character that stem from a deep and abiding spiritual foundation." That goal was realized, he added, when he married Elisa Young Rogers — a young woman who "exceeded all of my dreams expressed on that sacred night."
After reading Elder Wirthlin's Christmas memory, President Packer encouraged the Wirthlin family to make their father's and grandfather's testimony a part of their family Christmas tradition.
"Have it printed in such a way that members of the Wirthlin family, yet unborn, will come to know the great man who was their grandfather and was an apostle," he said.
Elder Nelson spoke tenderly of the special friendship he shared with Elder Wirthlin over many decades.
"When Joseph Wirthlin was a football hero at the University of Utah, I idolized him," he said.
Later, the two men served together on the high council of the Salt Lake Bonneville Stake. In 1964, Elder Nelson was called to preside over that stake. He asked his friend Joseph Wirthlin to serve as his counselor. Years later, Elder Nelson became the Sunday School General Superintendent. Again, Elder Wirthlin served as his counselor.
"For a total of 11 years, Joseph served as my counselor," he said. "Every assignment he completed well. Nearly every Sunday evening he phoned to report on tasks completed and to ask if he could do anything more for me."
Their service together eventually culminated in the Quorum of the Twelve. Elder Nelson said on many occasions he observed Elder Wirthlin serve and bless families throughout the world.
"He never sought the limelight. He personified the statement of the Master who said, 'He that is greatest among you shall be your servant.'"
Elder Wirthlin's general conference messages carried great weight, said Elder Nelson — especially his charge to endure to the end.
Joseph B. Wirthlin Jr. spoke of his father's humility and tireless work ethic. Elder Wirthlin both earned and possessed a special witness of Jesus Christ.
"Dad never spoke lightly of spiritual experiences, and I never had to ask him if he had that special witness because I saw it in the way he lived his life," said Brother Wirthlin.
Elder Wirthlin's sermons and teachings, he added, "were simply extensions of his life."
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir provided music at the service. Following the funeral, Elder Wirthlin's body was laid to rest at the Salt Lake City Cemetery.