“Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve,” Ensign, Nov. 1986, 95–96
“My first feeling was one of total shock, almost unbelief; then I felt deep humility,” Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin replied when asked about his reaction to being called to serve in the Quorum of the Twelve. He was sustained as a member of the Twelve on 4 October 1986 during general conference.
Elder Wirthlin was working in his office Friday morning, the day before conference began, when he received a phone call from President Ezra Taft Benson’s secretary. She said, “President Benson would like to know if you have time to come and visit with him.”
“Would I have time to see the prophet of the Lord? I would travel around the world to have that privilege,” Elder Wirthlin said. “This is just one example of the graciousness of President Benson.”
Prior to his call to the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Wirthlin had served as a member of the Presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy for nearly two months, and for the same period he had also served as Executive Director of the Curriculum Department and Editor of Church magazines.
He began full-time service to the Church on 4 April 1975 when he was sustained and set apart as an Assistant to the Council of the Twelve. He later was called to the First Quorum of the Seventy in April 1976.
“My reaction at President Benson’s call was similar to that when I was first called as a General Authority by President Spencer W. Kimball,” Elder Wirthlin said. “The shock was almost as great then. Three hours and thirty-seven minutes after I had met with President Kimball, an earthquake was felt in Salt Lake City. This brought questions to my mind whether the Lord approved of my call,” he said with a grin. “But when the quake was over, everything seemed to smooth out, and my confidence waxed strong once again.”
Elder Wirthlin, whose father served in the Presiding Bishopric, was born in Salt Lake City to Joseph L. and Madeline Bitner Wirthlin. He was active in athletics and was a halfback on the University of Utah football team. He graduated from that university with a B.A. degree in business management.
As a young man, he served a mission to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Upon his return, he served in stake and ward auxiliary positions and as a counselor in the Bonneville (Utah) Ward bishopric. Later he became bishop of the Bonneville Ward and served in that position nearly ten years.
“I remember with special fondness those years I served as bishop,” Elder Wirthlin said. “My most rewarding Church experience was to see the many fine young men and woman pass through the Aaronic Priesthood and Young Women programs into adulthood, many of whom occupy prominent positions in the Church today. The programs of the youth had high priority in the Bonneville Ward.”
After being released as bishop, Elder Wirthlin became a member of the Bonneville Stake high council. President Russell M. Nelson selected him as a counselor in the stake presidency and in 1971 as a counselor in the Sunday School General Presidency.
Throughout these years of Church service, Elder Wirthlin was very much a part of a family-owned wholesale food business, eventually becoming president of the company. Through the years he has also served as president of a business and trade association in Utah.
“My father established the business in 1916 and managed it until he was called as Second Counselor to Bishop LeGrand Richards in 1938,” He said. “I took over then as president of the company until my call to be an Assistant to the Council of the Twelve in 1975. At that point my son, Joseph Jr., took over the business.
“One of the things I enjoyed most when managing our company was dealing with people,” Elder Wirthlin recalled. “We had an outstanding group of loyal employees, and we had customers who really appreciated our service to them. I enjoy working with people.”
When asked about the most powerful influences in his life, he replied, “In my early youth and teenage years, I noticed the total faith my parents had in the Lord and Savior and in the anointed leaders of the Church.
“In addition, I saw many miracles of healing that occurred in our family and witnessed the power of the priesthood that was responsible for these miracles.
“One incident I recall vividly. My father jumped over a fence and broke his ankle. It was a severe break, and we all expected it would be several weeks or even months before it healed. But Father was administered to by his two counselors in the bishopric, and two days later he was walking normally. As a young boy, this impressed me mightily.
“Since early childhood I have never doubted nor had a question as to the divinity of the Church,” Elder Wirthlin said. “My faith and testimony have grown ever since.”
Elder Wirthlin served as Area Supervisor for the Europe Area from July 1975 to April 1978 and as Executive Administrator for the Southeast Area of the United States and the Caribbean Islands from 1978 to 1982. He then served as Executive Administrator for Brazil until 1 July 1984.
He has served as Managing Director of the Melchizedek Priesthood Department and as Managing Director of the Military Relations Committee of the Church.
From July 1984 to August 1986, Elder Wirthlin was President of the Europe Area, with headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany. There, he was in charge of Church activities in the British Isles, continental Europe, Scandinavia, and Africa.
He and his wife, the former Elisa Young Rogers, were married in the Salt Lake Temple and are the parents of seven daughters and a son.
“My family was pleased when they heard of my new calling,” Elder Wirthlin said. “They realize the sacred nature of the call of an Apostle, and they have been humbled by it.”
He added, “My goal is to live as much as possible an exemplary life and to truly walk in the paths of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”