I had the sacred privilege on Friday morning June 5, 2015 to sing at the funeral service for one of God’s great souls; Elder L. Tom Perry. Elder Perry died on Saturday May 30, 2015 at the age of 92 after serving as an apostle for 41 years (nearly as long as I can remember). As a young man Perry served his church as a full-time missionary in the Northern States Mission during the same time as my Grandmother, Sister Adeline Kleven was serving as a full-time missionary. She has shared fond memories of the extremely tall and enthusiastic young Elder Perry. Later, he served his country as a Marine during World War II.
After the war Tom Perry built a successful business and continued to serve in civic and religious service. Indeed, Service in all its forms; giving of time/talents/resources, working hard for the cause of helping others lives improve, was the hallmark of Elder Perry’s life. As his son described during the funeral, he was always “full steam ahead“!
Watch a Beautiful Video Tribute To Elder Perry
It was my great honor and sacred privilege to be a part of Elder Perry’s funeral, singing with the Choir. As we entered the Choir loft prior to the funeral, we were greeted with hundreds of beautiful floral bouquets of white roses (all real). There was a deep spirit of solemnity and peace. I was on hallowed ground. As I sat reflecting on Elder Perry’s life and listened to organist Clay Christiansen rehearsing one of the beautiful hymns, I snapped this photo.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang four beautiful musical selections for Elder Perry’s funeral service. Each of these songs were loved by Elder Perry and requested by his family. Every one of these songs are musical sermons, and have beautiful symbolism well worth pondering.
The opening hymn, Still, Still With Thee is one that I had never heard or sung before. It is not included in our modern LDS hymnbook, however there is anecdotal evidence that the Choir must have performed this song often because the copy of my sheet music was heavily marked by a former Choir member. The publish date is 1930, so the hymn would have been very popular during the years Elder Perry was a young man. I would love to know what his personal memories and connection to this song were. The words of the hymn are a poem by Harriott Beecher Stowe, said to be inspired by Harriott’s long early morning walks, and Psalm 139:18;
“When I awake, I am still with Thee.”
The final line of Stowe’s poem describes the glorious moment of awaking on the other side of the veil:
“So shall it be at last, in that bright morning,
When the soul waketh and life’s shadows flee;
O in that hour, fairer than daylight dawning,
Shall rise the glorious thought, I am with Thee.”
O Divine Redeemer is one of my favorite pieces to sing. This classic song was Gounod’s final masterpiece written in 1893 as he lay on his deathbed. The song was not published until a year after his death, and he never heard the song performed nor would he know how popular and beloved his inspired plea to heaven would become.
Ah! turn me not away,Receive me, tho’ unworthy, …Hear Thou my cry, …Behold, Lord, my distress! …Thy pity show in my deep anguish! …Shield me in danger,O regard me! …O, divine Redeemer! …Grant me pardon, and remember not, remember not, O Lord, my sins! …Help me, my Savior!
A special organ arrangement by Tabernacle organist Andrew Unsworth was written (overnight) for Elder Perry’s funeral.
This beloved hymn is a setting from a poem by one of the greatest women in the history of the church. Sister Eliza Roxcy Snow (1804-1897) was a remarkable lady ahead of her time – a voracious reader, self-taught scholar, poet, teacher, feminist (before there was such a term), leader and humanitarian. Her poems and essays were regularly published in both local and national papers of her era. To say she was revered would not be an overstatement. The prophet Joseph Smith dubbed her “Zion’s Poetess,” and later in life she was hailed by many as president “of all the feminine portion of the human race.”
Her poetic prayer “My Father in Heaven” was penned shortly after suffering the crushing double loss of both her father, and her prophet husband, within weeks of each other. The words of her comforting poem were instantly popular to the grieving community, memorized, oft quoted, and soon set to music.
This profound poem expounds on the doctrine of God’s Plan of Salvation, the purpose of life, Eternal families and Heavenly parents; packing a powerful sermon into 4 little verses. Nearly two centuries later the hymn “O My Father” remains a favorite of Latter-day Saints, and one of the most popular funeral requests.
The doctrine of eternal family was one of Elder Perry’s favorite topics – probably because it meant so much to him personally. In 1974 he suffered the tragic loss of his wife Virginia – only a few short months after his call as apostle in April that same year. Then, just nine years later, the loss of his oldest daughter Barbara Perry Haws who left behind a grieving husband and young children. It comes as no surprise that Marriage and Family was the core subject chosen for his final General Conference talk given April, 2015 – “Why Marriage and Family Matter – Everywhere In The World“.
“Let me close by bearing witness (and my nine decades on this earth fully qualify me to say this) that the older I get, the more I realize that family is the center of life and is the key to eternal happiness.
I give thanks for my wife, for my children, for my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren, and for all of the cousins and in-laws and extended family who make my own life so rich and, yes, even eternal. Of this eternal truth I bear my strongest and most sacred witness in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”
– Elder L. Tom Perry, April 5, 2015
These words stand as his last testament, spoken before his unexpected death – exactly two months to the date before his funeral.
The Choir sang Sir John Rutter’s arrangement of this magnificent benediction. The words of “The LORD Bless You and Keep You’ come entirely from Numbers 6:24-26 (RSV), well known as the Priestly Blessing or Aaronic [Priesthood] benediction.
God spoke to Moses and said “Tell Aaron and his sons, This is how you are to bless the People of Israel. Say to them”,
The LORD bless you and keep you;The LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;The LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.Amen. Amen. Amen.
I can think of no more beautiful way to conclude Elder Perry’s funeral than with a Priesthood blessing, pronounced through song!
Attending Elder Perry’s funeral were the First Presidency and all living members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as well as General Authorities and many other beloved friends of Elder Perry representing diverse groups across all walks of life from civic, religious and community groups. And hundreds of thousands more joined the funeral watching via satellite and digital transmissions throughout the world. Tom Perry was a great man, and loved by all who knew him. He spent the final months of his life continuing to push forward at full steam building bridges not only in Utah, but also world-wide. His strong hand of friendship and genuine fellowship was always extended.
For me, being able to attend and sing for Elder Perry’s funeral was a humbling and priceless experience. My soul was filled with beauty and peace. Every talk was enriching. Every song brought tears to my eyes. I felt the Spirit of the Lord present. During several moments while I was singing I became quite emotional – overcome with joy – as I truly felt angels were singing and rejoicing with me for the life of the Lord’s faithful servant, Lowell Thomas Perry.
Well done, Elder Perry! Thank you – thank you so much – for your example of service, enthusiasm, and love. We will forever love and miss you! – MoSop
WATCH THE FUNERAL SERVICE
The full funeral service was broadcast live via television, radio and internet. You can watch the full service now, including all of the inspiring talks and the songs online here (I highly recommend it)!
ONE FINAL FIST BUMP
In conclusion, I can’t help sharing a little something that brings a smile – because Elder Perry was always smiling. There’s a meme that’s been making the rounds on Facebook. To appreciate it, you have to understand that Elder Perry loved celebrating life, and he enjoyed giving celebratory fist bumps & high fives. 🙂 TRUE!
Two years ago, a photographer captured a funny moment where 90 year old Elder Perry gave 60 year old Elder David A. Bednar a spontaneous fist bump at the end of General Conference. Here’s the viral photo:
A moment later when Elder Perry turned to leave, he shared another fist pump with the entire audience, much to everyone’s delight!
With that in mind, I’m loving this this new meme because it’s cute and joyful, (just like Elder Perry) and it captures how I like to imagine he is celebrating his new life.
“Full Steam Ahead, Elder Perry! We’ll see ya on the other side!” 🙂