This biographical sketch adapted from the "News
of the Church: Elder Richard B. Wirthlin of the Seventy" published in the
Ensign for May 1996 on the occasion of Elder Withlin's call to the Second
Quorum of the Seventy.
Measuring public attitudes and opinions for nearly
three decades has reinforced Elder Richard B. Wirthlin’s conviction that
solutions to the world’s problems are found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“Consulting and strategic opinion research reveal
the amount of confusion, despair, and discouragement many people feel,”
says Elder Wirthlin, chairman and chief executive officer of Wirthlin Worldwide.
“The only thing that will bring true peace is an
acceptance of the principles and practices of the gospel.”
Elder Wirthlin, son of Joseph L. Withlin former Presiding Bishop of the Church, and brother to Elder Joseph
B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has served in two
stake presidencies, as a high councilor and bishop, and most recently as
a regional representative.
He was born 15 March 1931 in Salt Lake City and served
a mission to Switzerland and Austria from 1951 to 1953. Afterward, he served
in the U.S. armed forces, then earned a bachelor’s degree in economics
and a master’s degree in economics and statistics from the University of
Utah. He later earned a doctorate in economics from
the University of California at Berkeley.
On 23 November 1956, Elder Wirthlin married Jeralie
Mae Chandler in the Salt Lake Temple. He says Sister Wirthlin’s devotion
to him and their eight children has greatly blessed his family.
In 1969 Richard Wirthlin founded his own survey research
firm in Los Angeles. Later, he and his family moved to Washington, D.C.
A desire to be closer to more family members and a fondness for the outdoors
brought Richard Wirthlin and his family back to Utah in 1995 after 14 years
in the nation’s capital.
Elder Wirthlin looks forward to increased opportunities
of sharing the gospel. “It is a message of real joy and peace that is so
On October 6, 2001, a grateful Church, assembled in the 171st
Semi-annual General Conference, gave Elder Richard B. Wirthlin a vote of
appreciation as he was released with honor from the Second Quorum of the Seventy.
He was world famous as U.S. President Ronald Reagan's 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 Wirthlin's wife, Jeralie, and to be presented to the family.
Elder Richard B. Wirthlin
"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 Wirthlin's 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
"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 Richard's older brother, and their father, Bishop
Joseph L. Wirthlin, a past presiding bishop of the Church.
He recalled that the Church had hired Elder Wirthlin's polling
firm to do some research work for the two newspapers in Salt Lake City. "He did a
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 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
"I'd 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. That's 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 don't want to write anybody off, especially in our own families,"
President Packer said. "In due course, when it's 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
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. I've come to believe in my own way that those who are
departed look in on their funeral. I've had an experience or two where I know that was
true. So I think he's here, and I think he's smiling, grateful. And I think his father
and Madeline are here and approving of what's 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.
'Well let me think about that.' Then he would come back, and the wisdom that he would
have - I don't 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 Joseph's
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 President's messages ought to be, but he felt something in the life of Richard Wirthlin
that said to him, 'This man is one whom I can trust.'"
Elder Ballard said he doesn't 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
"I believe Richard Wirthlin would have done anything at a moment's
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
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
'President' and talked about other LDS 'presidents,' not to mention the President and Vice
President with whom they were traveling.
"Brother Studdert said, 'Dick 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!'"
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 husband's 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.
"News of the Church: Elder Richard B. Wirthlin...," Ensign, May 1996 (principal source)
R. Scott Lloyd, "Opinion Researcher Knows Gospel Values Are Strong Motivators," Church News Archives, June 15, 1996
“The Sustaining of Church Officers,” Ensign, Nov. 2001, p.21
2005 Church Almanac, p.90