A man of science and faith, Elder Richard E. Turley Sr., emeritus General Authority Seventy, dies at age 90

Elder Richard E. Turley Sr., an emeritus General Authority Seventy, died Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021, in Salt Lake City at age 90. 

Elder Turley was familiar to Latter-day Saints for his service as a General Authority Seventy from 1997 to 2000 but was also known in Utah for work as a professor of engineering at the University of Utah. He is the father of Richard E. Turley Jr., who served as an assistant Church historian and as managing director of the Church’s Public Affairs Department.

In sharing about Elder Turley’s love for engineering, his wife once told how he came upstairs from working on a project involving some deep mathematics and announced he needed a break, only to open another math book to relax

But his love of science was always subordinate to his love for the Savior and His gospel. “The gospel is the great plan of happiness,” he said after his call to be a general authority. “If we want to be happy in this life and have any expectations in the life to come, the gospel is the way to live” (Ensign, May 1997).

Richard E. Turley was born Dec. 29, 1930, to Edward Vernon Turley Sr. and Winifred Louise Roche Turley in El Paso, Texas, which Elder Turley facetiously described as a suburb of the Latter-day Saint colonies in Mexico. Many of his ancestors were colonists, and he was impacted by their legacy of faith.

“I believe I have always known Jesus is the Christ,” he told the Church News soon after being called as a general Church leader. “But I remember reading the Joseph Smith story in my late teens for the first time. The Spirit bore witness to me that this was true, and, of course that being true, everything else in the gospel is true.”

After serving a mission to Mexico, Guatemala and Costa Rica, he met a young woman in his ward at the University of Utah named Betty Jean Nickle. After learning that her frequent absences from church were due to her popularity as a speaker in other wards and not a lack of commitment to the gospel, he courted her and the two were married in the Salt Lake Temple in April 1954.

Elder Turley’s passion for science and mathematics led him to earn both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering from the University of Utah and then a doctorate in nuclear engineering from Iowa State University.

From 1983 to 1985, he and Sister Jean Turley served as mission leaders of the Mexico Hermosillo Mission. As a General Authority Seventy, he returned to Mexico to break ground for a temple in Villahermosa on Jan. 9, 1999, and then again for the Tuxtla-Gutierrez Mexico Temple groundbreaking on March 20, 1999.

“He loved the Mexican people,” his son Richard Turley Jr. recently told the Deseret News.

He and Jean raised seven children and have 36 grandchildren. After her death in 2009, he married Ana-Maria Garces.  

Although he traveled extensively, his main interest and priority was always his family. He enjoyed family history work, golf and wrote several books, including a textbook on engineering and statistics, in addition to articles for scientific and engineering journals. One of the benefits of travel was the opportunities it afforded to share his beliefs.

“Missionary work is one of the fun things we do,” Jean Turley once noted in a Church News interview.

In his general conference remarks in April 1998, Elder Turley testified that the Holy Ghost is the ultimate key to knowing the truth of all things. 

“I have come to realize over the years that it is only through the power of the Holy Ghost that we can bridge the gap between uncertainty and certainty,” he said.

Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 22, at the Ensign Stake Center, 135 A St., Salt Lake City. A viewing will be the night before from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Larkin Mortuary, 260 E. South Temple, Salt Lake City, and from 9 to 10:30 Friday morning at the stake center. The funeral will also be available via Zoom.

Note: Information on funeral services was added on Oct. 14, 2021.