When Elder Wirthlin was young, he loved to go fishing with his father, Joseph L. Wirthlin, who would later become the Presiding Bishop of the Church.
“When I was a boy, I spent a lot of time with my father and loved to be with him. One time we went on a fishing trip on the upper part of the Provo River, southeast of Heber City, Utah. We were walking through a meadow, and I was some distance behind him. Father disappeared over a rise in the meadow, and he fell into a deep pond of water!
“When I came over the rise, there was his hat floating on the surface of the water. He finally came up gasping for air, and I reached down and helped him get out of the pond so that he didn’t drown.
“Even though I was young and very small, I learned in a dramatic way that there are many things that we can do to help our parents on a daily basis, or even in a lifesaving situation. We should always be willing to reach out to help our loved ones, regardless of the situation.”
The incident at the pond was just one of many times that Elder Wirthlin and his father learned from each other. He related the following incident too.
“Once, when I was about seven, Father gave me five dollars to buy some items at the hardware store about a mile away. When I came back, we accounted for the money and found that they had given me a dollar too much in change. Father said, ‘Whenever you purchase anything, make sure that you get the correct change back, and be especially careful that they do not give you too much change.’ He insisted that I immediately walk back and return the dollar, which I did. This was a great lesson in honesty and in promptness in correcting an error.
“My father was a man of unswerving integrity, honesty, uprightness, and positive thinking. He never failed in any of his responsibilities with his family, with his business, or with the Church. He fulfilled every assignment, which brought blessings from our Heavenly Father.”
Elder Wirthlin was the oldest child. He loved his sisters, Judith and Gwendolyn, and his brothers, Richard and David. He was also particularly close to his mother, Madeline Bitner Wirthlin.
“Mother was very refined and had a variety of interests, including sports. She encouraged all of us in pursuits ranging from art and music to athletics. Our home was filled with good books, and we were encouraged to do well in school and to be courteous and kind to our teachers. We lived near the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, and Mother would always take us to football and basketball games and track meets. She also took us hiking in the mountains and taught us the names of the flowers and plants. Our family went on many picnics together.
“But it was not all play. We had a number of chickens, rabbits, and dogs to love and care for. Mother was a great lover of flowers, and she grew them—acres of them, it seemed to us—and we worked with her, taking care of them.
“Sunday dinner was a highlight of the week. After our church meetings, we children took turns making homemade ice cream, setting the table, and helping Mother. It was not, however, the delicious food that we liked most but the opportunity we had at an early age to feast upon Father’s, as well as Mother’s, spirituality. He told stories of his childhood, such as how he herded sheep as a boy of seven and how he became an expert horseman. And he told stories about his mission to Germany and how he learned to love the German people. Then, because of World War I, he was reassigned and finished his mission in Missouri, where he worked with Elder Spencer W. Kimball to build a meetinghouse.
“Dinnertime at home was what you would call an ideal family home evening. Personal stories shared there helped build beautiful relationships. The gospel was taught to us and so was a love for our Church leaders. When Father prayed, you knew he was talking to God.”
In addition to the blessings that he received in a good home, Elder Wirthlin benefited from growing up in a ward with loving neighbors.
“We loved the Thirty-Third Ward in which we lived. It was made up of a great combination of learned university professors and humble Swedish immigrant converts. Our bishop’s name was Charles E. Forsberg. He spoke very good English but with a Swedish accent. What a great bishop! He took a real interest in me, I thought, because he called me by name. He made me feel important, and he did this with every child in the ward. We learned to love the Church and its leaders.
“Another ward member who affected my life was Brother Frederick J. Pack, a professor of geology at the university and a prominent scientist. When I was about eight, I was asked to give the benediction in Sunday School. I was frightened and nervous, and I’m sure that my prayer was not very well said. But Brother Pack gave me a warm hug, saying, ‘That was an inspired prayer.’ I have never forgotten that gesture of kindness from a man whom I looked up to as a great Latter-day Saint.”
Elder Wirthlin would like all children to remember the happy times of their youth. “My message to you children,” he said, “is: Enjoy your childhood days. Thank the Lord for them, for they pass quickly. Soon you will be adults, with a treasure of beautiful experiences behind you to pass on to your own children. Obey your parents, and never waver in your testimonies. This is especially important for those of you who have been baptized and confirmed members of the Church.
“I know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true. We have a prophet, seer, and revelator today, Ezra Taft Benson, with great and noble men as his counselors to guide us. We should follow closely that which they are teaching us.”