Elder Richard B. Wirthlin remembered as a man of integrity who loved his family
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He was world famous as U.S. President Ronald Reaganís political strategist and pollster. But speakers on March 19 mainly remembered Elder Richard B. Wirthlin as a former General Authority who served the Lord with diligence and as a man of integrity who loved his family, understood the Plan of Salvation and lived his life accordingly.
Elder Wirthlin died March 16 of natural causes at his home in Salt Lake County, Utah, the day after his 80th birthday.
President Thomas S. Monson presided and spoke at funeral of Elder Wirthlin, a member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy from 1996 to 2001. Other speakers included President Boyd K. Packer and Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve and Richard L. Wirthlin, a son.
On behalf of the First Presidency, the Church president read a letter addressed to Brother Wirthlinís wife, Jeralie, and to be presented to the family.
"We express to you and your family our heartfelt sympathy at the passing of your beloved husband and our friend, Elder Richard Bitner Wirthlin," the letter read. "At the same time, we rejoice with you in his life of devoted service. The life of Elder Wirthlin exemplified the attributes of service and sacrifice which he taught to others. His devotion as a husband, father and stalwart servant of the Lord influenced the lives of loved ones and all with whom he came in contact.
"We appreciate Elder Wirthlinís dedicated and significant service in the Church, most particularly as a missionary and a member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy. We are aware of the important role you had in the life of Elder Wirthlin. Your love and devotion, we are certain, have been a great help to him through the years. We pray you will find comfort in knowing that Elder Wirthlin has returned home to a loving Father in Heaven, where he is reunited with other loved ones who preceded him in death.
"Although there is no substitute for the love and physical presence of devoted husband and father, we are confident that your understanding of the gospel plan will be a source of peace at this tender time of parting."
In personal remarks, President Monson called Elder Wirthlin "one who truly served the Lord, who served his country and was a dear personal friend."
He spoke of his longtime acquaintance with the Wirthlin family, which includes the late Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve, who is Richardís older brother, and their father, Bishop Joseph L. Wirthlin, a past presiding bishop of the Church.
He recalled that the Church had hired Elder Wirthlinís polling firm to do some research work for the two newspapers in Salt Lake City. "He did a superb job."
The result was instrumental in preserving the joint-operating contract between the two rivals, one of which, the Deseret News, is owned by the Church. "It is an example to the nation that cooperation is better than dog fighting," he said.
He said the Wirthlin family are peacemakers, and he spoke of Elder Richard Wirthlin, in particular, as one for whom "the crowning jewel was his testimony of the gospel."
"He never faltered; he never hesitated; he stood for the truth and was proud of it. He did so in a way that endeared him to others. If you needed a diplomat to go into the world and speak with those who had strong opinions, Richard Wirthlin was one who could do that."
President Packer said Elder Wirthlin was "easy to love, easy to listen to."
"Iíd like to tell some of these young people [in the congregation] what has happened to him now," he said.
He spoke of the priesthood power given by Christ to bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost upon those who have been baptized. "Well now, here was Brother Wirthlin, a powerful leader, prominent with national and international authorities, who had achieved anything that anyone would want to achieve in mortality, and there was within him that same gift that had been given, that you young people have. You children have that when you are 8 years of age and are baptized. Thatís within your power."
President Packer cited the vision received by President Joseph F. Smith as recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 138. The message of the vision was that the Lord chose servants from among the righteous in the spirit world to take the gospel to those who have died without a knowledge of the truth.
"We donít want to write anybody off, especially in our own families," President Packer said. "In due course, when itís time, they will be brought back and none will be lost, as the Lord says, save the sons of perdition, and of those there will be very few."
He testified that Elder Wirthlin is dead only as to the temporal existence, that his spirit continues to live and that all will be resurrected.
"This is a happy-sad occasion," he said. "As one of the Twelve, I want to tell you how happy I am to be here, happy to be at a funeral, a happy-sad occasion, where the goodness and power of the gospel shines through and testimonies are borne that we know that it is true. Iíve come to believe in my own way that those who are departed look in on their funeral. Iíve had an experience or two where I know that was true. So I think heís here, and I think heís smiling, grateful. And I think his father and Madeline are here and approving of whatís going on."
Elder Ballard said he and Elder Wirthlin worked together as General Authorities on the media and curriculum efforts of the Church. He said he would often ask Elder Wirthlin to come to his office to ask his opinion on something.
"Richard was always so gentle and so kind and would smile and say. ĎWell let me think about that.í Then he would come back, and the wisdom that he would have Ė I donít think he could do polling as quick as he would come back with guidance and direction -- but he had an insight and a spiritual sensitivity that was remarkable."
He attributed that to the Wirthlin "gene pool," speaking of the 24 years he sat next to Elder Joseph Wirthlin in the Quorum of the Twelve. He told of Josephís pride in the Wirthlin family members and the "remarkable reverence and outreach of love that the family had" Elder Joseph Wirthlin.
"I believe," he said, "that the reason that President Reagan developed such great confidence in Richard Wirthlin was not only his capacity to be able to see what the Presidentís messages ought to be, but he felt something in the life of Richard Wirthlin that said to him, ĎThis man is one whom I can trust.í"
Elder Ballard said he doesnít believe there was ever a time in his life when he compromised his love and affection for the Lord and his unwavering support for the Church leadership.
"I believe Richard Wirthlin would have done anything at a momentís notice that the Brethren asked him to do," he said. In fact, he did that when he and Sister Wirthlin were called, subsequent to his service in the Seventy, to serve a mission together at the Laie Hawaii Temple visitors center, Elder Ballard said.
Richard L.Wirthlin said his father and mother were blessed with eight children, 27 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
He described his father as a standout athlete at Murray High School in Utah, despite an early bout with scarlet fever.
In his infancy, "as his father blessed him and gave him a name, he was told that he would walk in counsel with leaders of nations," Brother Wirthlin said.
In adulthood he would be a confidante of Ronald Reagan during a candidacy that would propel the former movie actor and governor of California to the U.S. presidency.
"He carried a busy professional life when it required much travel and many pressures on his time," Brother Wirthlin said of his father. "Still, he accepted all Church callings with gratitude to serve and did so faithfully and fully."
Describing his father as "a great mulit-tasker, even before the word was used," he recounted a story by Stephen M. Studdert, another Church member who was a White House adviser.
Brother Studdert was a stake president in Virginia, and Richard Wirthlin was his counselor. "Brother Studdert was flying with Vice President [George H. W.] Bush on Air Force Two and he called Dad, who was flying on Air Force One with President Reagan to discuss some pressing Church business. As is appropriate in the Church, they respectfully called each other ĎPresidentí and talked about other LDS Ďpresidents,í not to mention the President and Vice President with whom they were traveling.
"Brother Studdert said, ĎDick and I often laughed about it, figuring that the Soviets [whom they suspected spied on all Air Force One conversations] must have been confused by all those presidents!í"
Among those giving condolences at the passing of Elder Wirthlin was former First Lady Nancy Reagan. In his funeral address, Brother Wirthlin read her statement: "I am deeply saddened by the death of Richard Wirthlin. Dick was part of my husbandís political team from the very beginning, and what began as a working relationship went on to become a lifelong friendship. He was smart, thoughtful and understood Ronnie as well as anyone."
The service was held at the Salt Lake Cottonwood Stake Center with Bishop Darwin John of the Cottonwood 5th Ward conducting. Elder Claudio R. M. Costa of the Presidency of the Seventy and other General Authorities attended the funeral.
Interment was in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.