In the limited space and few words that are available here, how can one possibly do justice to a man who made as many important contributions to Utah as did the late Wendell J. Ashton?
By mentioning the many honors and awards he received as a result of his singular life of service that spanned nearly 83 years?By noting that it's almost easier to think of the top civic posts he did not hold than it is to print the long list of charitable and community organizations with which he was associated in various leadership roles?
By reciting the many ways in which he demonstrated his deep religious convictions through long and devoted service not only to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but to individuals of many faiths?
By expressing amazement and admiration at how he was able to author seven books while handling so many other heavy and varied responsibilities?
Though all that and much more is spelled out in greater detail by the news reports of his sudden death this week, such accounts cannot fully capture the essence of this remarkable individual.
Here was a man who generated excitement because of his great optimism and his contagious enthusiasm for life and for whatever project in which his outstanding talents were enlisted.
High among those talents was the supersalesmanship that grew out of his exceptional ability as a communicator.
The Deseret News has great reason to be particularly grateful to Wendell, who always insisted on being called by his first name. As publisher of this newspaper from 1978 to 1985, he steered our policies and practices during a particularly pivotal period. In the late 1940s he also was managing editor before going on to an outstanding career in advertising and then organizing and directing the LDS Church's public communications department. Wherever he went he left a lasting legacy of drive, discipline and integrity.
The Utah Symphony also owes him a big debt of gratitude. His prowess as a fund-raiser is still legendary. During the 20 years he was a chief officer of the symphony, he worked tirelessly to bolster its finances, put musicians on full-time status and organize six international tours in Europe and South and Central America.
Sports fans, too, benefited greatly from his efforts. As chairman of the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce in 1979, he led the group that convinced the National Basketball Association to move the New Orleans franchise to Salt Lake City as the Utah Jazz.
An inveterate jogger and tennis player, Wendell was always vigorous physically as well as mentally and spiritually. Feisty, firm and decisive, he also managed to be friendly and approachable. It's hard to imagine him ever resting. He was an embodiment of the principle that it's better to wear out than to rust out.
Of all this, what was his most important legacy? Possibly it's the secret of how he managed to accomplish so much. As he once explained it:
"I've learned not to worry. I don't let things nag at me. If there's nothing you can do about it, why worry? If there's something you can do, do it. Tape your ankles, gear up for challenges, and learn to deal in solutions rather than problems."
Now he is gone. R.I.P., Wendell. In this case, the initials do not stand for rest in peace. Rather, they stand, as he did, for respect, integrity and persistence in meeting new challenges.