Warm and sunny 'Just like life'

Robert J. Matthews eulogized for love of scriptures, gospel


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."

Pallbearers carry the casket of Robert J. Matthews from his meetinghouse in Lindon, Utah, following his funeral. Brother Matthews was a noted scholar who sought new gospel understanding each day.
Pallbearers carry the casket of Robert J. Matthews from his meetinghouse in Lindon, Utah, following his funeral. Brother Matthews was a noted scholar who sought new gospel understanding each day. Photo: Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

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 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.

Robert J. Matthews
Robert J. Matthews

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. In the message, they acknowledged his "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.

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.

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

Larry C. Porter, professor of Church history and doctrine, said he 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.

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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