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Family and friends celebrate the life of Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin


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SALT LAKE CITY — Friends, colleagues and family members of Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, praised the beloved church leader at his funeral at the Tabernacle.

Cars in the funeral cortege filled much of the open space in Temple Square as Elder Wirthlin's eight children, more than 50 grandchildren and nearly 80 great-grandchildren joined others gathered to honor him.

The funeral procession wound its way through downtown Salt Lake before noon. The casket moved into the Tabernacle, lined on both sides by Elder Wirthlin's associates in the faith — men he called his brothers. Family members and extended family members, which numbered in the hundreds, followed.

Joseph B. Wirthlin Jr., the only son of eight children, told the thousands who came to pay their respects that his father left a legacy to both his family and his faith. He said, "When President Monson ordained him an apostle, he prophetically declared to Dad, ‘Your humility will endure you to the people,' and so it has.

"Dad did not worry about who was watching him, or what others might think. He just did what he was called to do no matter how difficult.

"His humility stands out. Dad just never saw himself as anyone special. He thought so little of himself because he thought so much of others and their needs, and when you were in his presence, you felt important."

Following his mission to Switzerland in the late 1930s, he became a star running back at the University of Utah, known as "Speedy Joe Wirthlin."

Elder Russell M. Nelson, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said, "When Joseph Wirthlin was a football hero at the University of Utah, I idolized him."

"In recent years, Joseph was something of a self-appointed chaplain for the University of Utah team and traveled with them to many of their games. He was respected by coaches, players and fans, alike," President Thomas S. Monson said.

President Monson said he spoke with Coach Kyle Whittingham and learned that members of this year's team will honor Elder Wirthlin in the big bowl game. "His initials, ‘JBW,' are printed on the back of each teammate's helmet," President Monson said.

In 1986, Elder Wirthlin became an apostle of the Church. His colleagues spoke to his family about his service, hoping they will preserve his words.

Elder Nelson said, "I have watched Joseph give direction to welfare projects, humanitarian aid, missionary, temple and family history work while blessing families throughout the world. He never sought the limelight."

President Boyd K. Packer, president of Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said, "Members of the Wirthlin family yet unborn will come to know the great man who was their grandfather."

President Monson called Wirthlin "a man for all seasons." He continued, "He was a teacher of truth. He was a true and faithful friend. I shall miss him." He also called him a loyal, trusting and dedicated friend who always wanted to do the right thing, and who always went beyond the assignments he was given.

Those who didn't know Elder Wirthlin personally expressed gratitude for his life and example and a desire to honor his service to his faith.

Tooele resident Eric Geppelt said, "It's a great opportunity to, I guess, revere what he did, the great accomplishments he made, and to just respect him as an apostle who served the Lord."

Elder Scott Longstaff of Agora Hills, Calif., said, "They're often exceptionally beautiful celebrations of their life, rather than grief over their death, and it's uplifting and spiritual, and I wouldn't miss it for the world."

"The passing of this remarkable man brings to a close a chapter in church history spanning over 33 years of faithful discipleship," President Monson said. "Elder Wirthlin's lifetime of service reached across borders into the hearts and the homes of people throughout the world."

Afterward, the procession made its way through the Avenues to the Salt Lake City Cemetery where family members joined Church leaders in a private graveside service.

Elder Wirthlin was laid to rest next to his wife, Elisa, who died two years ago. At the graveside, President Monson said, "You don't find days like this in December. Someone said maybe Joseph had arranged it, and I said, 'No. Lisa would have done that.'"

Joseph Wirthlin Jr. dedicated his father's grave, asking that it be a place of peace. "That it may be a place where we would come often and reflect on the memories, that we may remember the joyous times," he said.

The younger Wirthlin and his seven sisters and their families say they have felt the comfort of so many at this time of loss as messages of condolence have come to the Wirthlin family and Church headquarters from Latter-day Saints throughout the world.

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(Copyright 2008 Bonneville International Corporation. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or distributed. AP contributed to this report.) AP Rights & Restrictions

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