I first knew Garth as Bishop Abbott. He was my bishop during a very crucial time in my life. I knew he was more than a bishop - he was my friend. He went out of his way to ask about my life and how I was doing... on a weekly basis! He would pull me into his office for a few minutes to ask how my date went the previous night, and ask me if the guy tried to kiss me. He would give me all sorts of pointers and advice, most of which I don't remember. What I do remember is that he genuinely loved me.
He exuded greatness, and had a personality that was larger than life. He was wise, funny, blunt, and never hesitated to stand up for what he thought or believed. He was bold. You never wanted to disappoint the man, not because you were afraid of him, but because you respected him so much and knew that he believed in you. At the time that he was my bishop, I always thought I was sort of special. Why else would he devote so much time and energy to little me? There were 500 young adults in that ward! As it turns out, every single person felt that he or she was special to him. And they were.
There was not a false bone in that man's body. He loved everyone that he served, and he had a magnificent, incredible capacity to reach each person individually. He was charming, and you just couldn't help but love him! Garth, whether in his capacity as bishop or friend, had an infectious quality that drew you to him. He could get away with saying almost anything because of his charm, but also because you knew he loved you. I'll never forget one time seeing him at a wedding reception where I had brought a young man that I was dating at the time. He kind of gave that dude the evil eye and then told him that if he ever did anything to hurt me he would break his leg!
I kept in touch with Garth even after he was no longer my bishop, as did many others. One of my nearest and dearest friends, Rachelle, married his oldest son (Jonathan), so I had the good fortune of running into him more frequently. What a blessing and honor it has been to know the Abbott family!
Garth died of cancer last week. My heart was heavy, and I just couldn't shake the sadness. As the opening hymn began at his funeral on Saturday, I started to cry. If I hadn't been in public, I probably would have bawled like a baby. Since there were many people around me, however, I attempted to control myself! As the memories and testimonies were shared, I felt the heaviness begin to lift and instead felt grateful. Grateful to have rubbed shoulders with this man. Grateful for all that he inspired in me. Grateful to recognize the tremendous impact that one great man can have on so very many people. Jason, one of Garth's sons, read the following quote:
"I believe that the first test of a truly great man is his humility. I don't mean by humility, doubt of his power. But really great men have a curious feeling that the greatness is not of them, but through them. And they see something divine in every other man and are endlessly, foolishly, incredibly merciful." ~John Ruskin
I'm convinced that the idea expressed in this quote is what made him such an effective leader. That and his incredible knowledge of the scriptures. And his boldness in speaking the truth, along with at least 50 other things!
If I were to describe Garth Abbott to a total stranger, I might say that he was fun, full of life, with a dash of crazy. Obviously that would only give half the story. The legacy Garth left is a living testimony to the truthfulness of the gospel he loved.
I left that funeral feeling grateful, inspired, and still a little sad. I was also reminded of a vital truth: no matter where we are in our life, Jesus Christ offers solace, peace and hope. I realized as I left that my heavy heart had been filled with hope, and it was the kind of hope that is found only in and through the Savior of the world! I hope to live the kind of life that leads others to Christ, that makes them want to be better. I hope for the day that I will see my dear friend again. The best part about the kind of hope that the Savior offers is that it is based in the truth. The hope I have is a sure hope! I also hope to live the kind of life that would make Garth proud.
The older I get, the more I understand how important our connections with others are. What a tragedy it would be for those connections to end at the conclusion of our mortal life... and what a glorious blessing to know that they extend into eternity!