HIGHLAND, Utah — On the seventh day after Elder Von G. Keetch's death, President Russell M. Nelson and dozens of other LDS leaders joined hundreds of family, friends and colleagues to bid farewell to a General Authority Seventy who marked major events in his life by noting the number of the day in his life when they happened.
On Day 21,135 — Jan. 26 — he died unexpectedly at age 57 of complications from cancer and a respiratory infection.
President Nelson calculated that he first met the Keetch family on Day 6,931, when he performed open-heart surgery on Elder Keetch’s grandfather.
"How we loved him," President Nelson said of Elder Keetch, who helped organize the broadcast of the announcement 17 days ago that President Nelson had become the new president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "How we trusted in him. How we depended on him in key assignments. Words cannot express our confidence in him and our loving admiration and gratitude for him."
Elder Keetch’s children shared the numbers of the important days they spent with their father and how what they learned from him has strengthened them while they grieve.
Church leaders honored his example as a professional, a family man and a church leader.
Cause of Zion
President Nelson read what he said was the first funeral letter from the First Presidency to a mourning family that he has signed as church president. The First Presidency expressed appreciation for Elder Keetch's service to the church, his expertise in First Amendment rights and constitutional law and his example as a husband, father and friend.
Elder Keetch had served for two decades as chief outside legal counsel for the church at the Salt Lake law firm of Kirton McConkie before his call to the Seventy in 2015, when he also assumed duties as the executive director of LDS Public Affairs. He had clerked for two U.S. Supreme Court justices.
"In the last quarter century, no one — no one — has had a greater impact on the cause of Zion in the courts or in the courts of public opinion than has our beloved friend, Elder Von G. Keetch," said Elder Lance B. Wickman, the church's legal counsel and an emeritus General Authority Seventy.
The Keetch family filled the entire center section of the chapel, but when President Nelson asked all general authorities and auxiliary leaders and spouses to stand, they surrounded the family, filling the stand and nearly filling both side sections in the chapel. They included four apostles — Elders David A. Bednar, Quentin L. Cook, D. Todd Christofferson and Neil L. Andersen — the entire presidency of the Seventy, the Presiding Bishopric, members of the church auxiliary presidencies and other leaders.
President Nelson smiled and joked, "This is the first session of the next general conference."
Richard Elliott, principal organist of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, played the hymns.
In the middle of the funeral, the extended Keetch family stood, turned to those sitting in the overflow gymnasium behind the chapel, and sang, "Families Can Be Together Forever." The funeral was broadcast to a second meetinghouse that served as an additional overflow.
President Nelson said he visited the Keetch home on Sunday with his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson.
"We felt like we were in the temple, the spirit of peace and love was so very strong," President Nelson said. "On each temple are the words, 'Holiness to the Lord.' In the Keetch home, I felt it was a holy nest to the Lord. A holy nest where sons gave a priesthood blessing to their angel mother. A holy nest where a grieving father gave a priesthood blessing to his eternal wife, the grieving mother of Von Keetch. A holy nest from which a grieving missionary son manifested his love and devotion to the Lord by his desire to complete his call to serve."
Five of Elder Keetch's children spoke, and the youngest read a message from the sixth child, Elder Cameron Keetch, who is serving as a Mormon missionary in the South Africa Cape Town Mission.
"It pains me not to be at the funeral," Cameron wrote, "but I know he wouldn't want me anywhere else."
The oldest, Steffani, said her father loved to count days. He would have known for example, that Day 15,153 was the Sept. 11, 2001, when he and Elder Wickman were eyewitnesses in Washington, D.C., as an airliner plowed into the Pentagon. Elder Wickman said driving cross-country back to Salt Lake afterward ripened their friendship into a brotherhood.
Elder Wickman expressed regret over his final meeting with Elder Keetch, whom he considered a brother, the day before he died.
"I'd give anything to have last Thursday back," he said. "One more opportunity to tell him that I love him. But the Spirit whispers, 'he already knows that.' My dear brother, farewell for a season. And may God be with you 'till we meet again."
Elder Keetch's brother Gregory remembered him as a loving man with time for everyone. He often was able to make work trips or church assignments double as family time, taking children with him. He also knew where he was going. When asked for advice, he would always say, "Let's work backward," looking ahead with the end in mind.
His children remembered the number of the days when he rescued them, when they first played in a rainstorm with him or when he showed them his love for music — Barry Manilow and Elton John — and musicals like "The Lion King."
Day 16,872 was to be Alyson's wedding day, but instead her father held her as she sobbed in the hospital with a life-threatening condition.
"He taught me that we don't always get to understand the why," she said. "He taught me to walk by faith and to trust the Lord and his plan. He taught me to face the why and then let go, trusting humbly in the promise the Lord."
On Day 20,478, Tyler said his father — "my personal hero and best friend" — sealed him to his wife Megan in the Salt Lake Temple. He expressed gratitude for the Mormon belief in the priesthood power of sealing, which binds families together in the afterlife, too.
"Husbands and wives can be sealed," he said. "Mothers and daughters, fathers and sons can be together for eternity. Those memories and that promise brings me peace and joy in the times I need it most."
It was Steffani who noted that he died on Day 21,135.
"Although we miss him like crazy, we know the days don't end there," she said. "On Day 1,264,321,179, we will be together to make more memories with him as a forever family."