"His life was a sermon, not of judgment, condemnation,
or guilt, but of hope, love, caring self-esteem, and often to tell us to
just keep trying. He never turned down an assignment; he just did it."
These are the words of a greiving son, spoken at his father's funeral of
Elder Marvin J. Ashton of the Quorum of the Twelve.
Marvin Jeremy Ashton was born May 6, 1915, at Salt
Lake City, Utah to Marvin O. Ashton and his wife, Rachel Grace Jeremy.
From them he learned a strict work ethic which brought him a busy well
rounded life and which he followed all the days of his life.
An early indicator of the exceptional man he would
become was his involvement with the Boy Scouts of America. As a youth,
he earned the coveted rank of Eagle, just the beginning of a lifetime of
service to and with the organization, which service underscored his love
of working with youth. He served in national, regional and local Boy Scout
executive positions. He was the recipient of the Silver Beaver and Silver
Antelope awards. In 1988 he was given the prestigious "Distinguished Eagle"
award for his "truly distinguished career." Still, as much as he loved
BSA and other service programs, he voiced the philosophy, "People must
always count more than programs," and to him that philosophy was more than
just words. He lived it and his speeches reflected it. Often, his speeches
were about everyday problems faced by ordinary people.
Elder Ashton was a great advocate of physical fitness.
On one occasion, he said, "You owe it to yourself to keep fit. No matter
how busy or how involved you are, you should have some type of physical
program to keep the body in tune." Like in everything else, Elder Ashton
lived what he counseled. Tennis was his great love, which he started playing
when he was about 12. His favorite tennis partner was his wife, the Former
Norma Bernston, whom he married Aug. 22, 1940, in the Salt Lake Temple
and by who he fathered four children. Throughout his life, up until the
time his health prevented him from continuing, Elder Ashton somehow, despite
his tremendously busy schedule, found time to play tennis a couple of times
He was a successful businessman before his call as
a General Authority and afterward served as board member and chairman of
several corporations. He served for four years in the Utah State Senate
and spearheaded legislation for improvement of juvenile detention facilities.
He was the first head of the Church Social Services Department, and found
much satisfaction in working with the various facets of the department,
including Indian placement, youth guidance, unwed mothers, adoptions, alcoholics,
prisoners and those with social and emotional problems. Through his efforts,
the Church established a prison program where LDS families could meet with
prisoners in family home evenings.
The downtrodden, the discouraged, the imprisoned,
those who lacked self-esteem, and those struggling with misfortune always
had a friend in Elder Marvin J. Ashton. "In the kingdom of our Heavenly
Father, no one is a "nobody,' " Elder Ashton said in one general conference
address. "God help us to realize that one of our greatest responsibilities
and privileges is to lift a self-labeled "nobody' to a "somebody'. . .
." "He had confidence in the nobility of the human soul. He knew each soul
had the capacity to become as God, and he treated him or her accordingly,
not for what he was but for what he could and should become."Elder Ashton
had that ability to lift us all, to make us want to be better members of
the Church and of our communities. His speeches in general conference since
he was called first as an Assistant to the Twelve and then later as a member
of the Council of the Twelve were filled with hope and inspiration. As
he encouraged members to live righteously and to minister to all of God's
children, he reached out to all people.
A tall, imposing man in his own right, he looked
beyond mere physical appearance in others. He clearly exemplified in his
relationships with others the counsel of the Lord to Samuel: "Look not
on his countenance, or on the height on his stature . . . for the Lord
seeth not as man seeth, for man looked on the outward appearance, but the
Lord looketh on the heart." (1 Sam. 16:7.)
Before his call to full-time Church service,
Elder Ashton served for 21 years on the YMMIA general board and in the
general superintendency, and his responsibilities largely reflected his
enthusiasm and enjoyment of athletics and activities. During these years,
he supervised and promoted the all-Church athletic program, and was in
charge of music, dance, drama and speech programs.
B. Hinckley recalled the day on Dec. 2, 1971, when Elder Ashton was
set apart as a member of the Twelve, filling the vacancy left by Elder
Richard L. Evans. "President Harold
B. Lee was the voice in the ordination, and he promised Elder Ashton
that "he would in the future hold and enjoy a greater measure of the Spirit
necessary to make him a
special witness of the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ." His first
assignment after being called to the Council of the Twelve was to serve
as adviser to YWMIA and the YMMIA.
His responsibilities as a member of the Twelve took
him to the far reaches of the world. Whether he was ministering in developing
countries where the gospel was new or in areas where the Church has long
been established, he offered love, encouragement and direction to all.
His tall shadow was cast around the globe, and members of the Church everywhere
were greatly blessed by his tireless and dedicated service.
S. Monson spoke of Elder Ashton's service as managing director of Church
Social Services, He could reach wayward youth. President Monson said. "Why?
Because he loved them. And because he listened to them. I've said Marv
is the best listener we've had from all of the General Authorities. And
when he spoke, he spoke pearls of wisdom."
Elder Ashton's friends and admirers were saddened
as it became apparent that a debilitating illness had struck this man of
such strength and power. President Gordon B. Hinckley said that as illness
began to strike Elder Ashton, he continued to encourage members to "be
of good cheer." President Hinckley told of his visit at the hospital to
Elder Ashton a few hours before Elder Ashton's death. "I took his
great, strong hand. Marv had big hands, with a grip in them. He was a large-boned
man, large in stature and strong in appearance. . . . He'd been sick for
a long time, and with great dismay and distress, we who had had opportunity
to watch him closely had noted his failing health." President Hinckley
said that as he took Elder Ashton's hand, "I told him of my love."
Elder Ashton is quoted as saying "Being of good cheer
makes it possible for us to turn all of our sunsets into sunrises,"
President Hinckley said that the last time Elder
Ashton gave an address, it was in a solemn meeting held ... in the Salt
Lake Temple. "I think he spoke these words with a strong foreboding of
what might lie ahead," said President Hinckley. At that meeting,
President Hinckley said Elder Ashton expressed: "I suppose if I had one
word in my mind, it is the word "gratitude.' . . . While I am not getting
better, I am coping with it. I love the Lord. I thank Him for His blessings."
In Elder Ashton's funeral service, President Thomas
S. Monson spoke. He was faithful to the end, this man of many talents,"
President Monson remarked. "He and Elder Russell
Ballard were in my office on Wednesday. Marv held a cane in one hand
and held the arm of Elder Ballard with the other. And even though breathing
was a little hard for him, he said, "We'll not take much of your time,
but we have a matter that we'd like to discuss with you.' And we had a
wonderful, brief meeting together."
Choked with emotion, President Monson continued, "But, after I walked
with him and with Elder Ballard to the outer door, I returned to
my office and literally wept, for I remembered the words of the poet, "Here
and there and now and then, God places a giant among men.' And I saw this
giant of a man growing weak and frail, and I thanked God in a silent prayer
for the sweet association I had had with Marvin J. Ashton."
Elder Marvin J. Aston died February 24,1994.
Norma Bernston Ashton, 89, wife of deceased LDS Church General Authority Marvin J. Ashton, died Feb. 18, 2007, in Salt Lake City.
Mrs. Ashton held many positions in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including serving on the Relief Society General Board from 1968 to 1974. She and her husband traveled together to numerous countries during his tenure on the church's Quorum of the Twelve.
Mrs. Ashton was born in Salt Lake City in 1917. She graduated from the University of Utah, where she was valedictorian. She and Elder Ashton were the parents of four children.