Yesterday was Brother Hugh Nibley's funeral in the Provo Tabernacle. He was born March 27th, 1910 and died last Thursday, February 24th, 2005. He was just a month shy of 95 years old.
The Tabernacle was packed on the ground floor and had about 1/3 of the upper balcony seating full. I had to park on 3rd East on Center street. Beth and I sat on the 2nd to last row, behind Truman, Ann, and Barney Madsen, and next to Dina, Diana's friend. We were able to have good visits while we waited for the service to start.
Seated on the stand were 4 BYU Presidents: Samuelson (previous member of the Seventy and current BYU President), Bateman (currently in the Seventy), Holland, and Oaks, the latter two of course being Apostles now. Also there was his Brother Nibley's Bishop of the Provo 9th Ward, and the Stake Presidency of his Stake.
The meeting started promptly with the hymn "All Creatures of Our God and King" by Ralph Vaughn Williams. I sure like a building with a real pipe organ in it. Then an opening prayer by Boyd Jay Petersen, husband to Zina Nibley and the author of the recent excellent biography of Brother Nibley, "Hugh Nibley: A Consecrated Life" which I found myself reading much of last night. Recommended.
The Utah Baroque Ensemble played JS Bach's "Come Sweet Death", a very quiet string number with some vocals as well. (This group is the successor to the Utah Bach Choir that Coug, er, Doug Bush led years ago.)
Then 7 of the 8 living children spoke, from youngest to oldest. First up was Zina Nibley Petersen, who was darling. She said that this particular Bach piece was by her father's request. She said that if her father was here, he would want to put "the fun back in funeral". At that moment she donned his old familiar hat, to a great audience chuckle. She then took the hat off and put it on the podium and said that truly her father had been looking forward to dying for years. He had such a list of questions that he wanted the Lord to answer. In the past few years he would be ready for bed and would tell Zina, "Tonight may be the night!" The next morning he would wake up and say, "Damn!". Everyone laughed, with smiles even upon Elder Holland and Elder Oaks right behind her. Then she added, "But last Thursday morning, he woke up and said, Yee-hah!" She was confident that he was very happy in the spirit world. (I remember when I took Brother Nibley's classes how he would talk about death - he knows it is the next step in our progression and he was looking forward to it in the 1980s!) Zina had a sparkle and a wit that was absolutely wonderful. When she put Brother Nibley's hat on I began to cry - 1st speaker and I was already gone - but oh how proud Brother Nibley would have been of her. Best talk of the day in my book as there was so much love and feeling from her. She really understood her father.
Chronologically, Martha Beck Nibley, the recent wayward daughter, would have been next but she did not attend the funeral.
The next talk ran a close 2nd to Zina's in my book, a talk by Rebecca Nibley (once Tingey). She got up and spread her arms out in a beautiful rich blue dress and began quoting Shakespeare, and she too had both a humerous and touching set of stories about her father. She spoke of the two most important gifts that he gave her: her beliefs (and she then expressed her strong belief in Christ and the Restored Gospel), and a love of nature and the outdoors. She told a story about when she had graduated from BYU, and how she and her father walked up to commencement together. He wanted to take her picture. She was shocked, since "I was after all, dressed in the robes of a false priesthood", which got a laugh. Anyway, she said "I tried to look academic, intelligent, and sexy" - and she immediately turned to Elders Holland and Oaks and apologized to them, with another crowd chuckle.. These daughters of Brother Nibley were simply delightful: bold, and no respecter of the crowd - just as Hugh would have been.
Next up was Charles Alexander Nibley, or Alex, who spoke of learning Greek and then receiving birthday cards from his father with Greek quotations, but Alex chose to answer them in English. The sons seemed more emotional than the daughters on the whole. He had a hard act to follow being the first after the two younger girls!
Next older Michael Draper Nibley spoke about how Brother Nibley's Nordic upbringing made for fairly unemotional greetings, but Michael's wife who is from the Phillipines brought their tradition of big hugs on arrivals and departures. Brother Nibley did not like it - at first, but over the years he began to enjoy the custom, and by his later years he would insist upon her hugging him even if she was sick saying, "You're just too cuddly!" Michael said that he was honored to be Hugh Nibley's son.
The mood changed with Thomas Hugh Nibley who proclaimed that his father was part of the "council of the prophets" in the preexistence and that his father's job was to support and defend all of the other prophets that have come and gone on the earth. He spoke passionately, forcefully, unequivocally, and with great seriousness, quite different in mood or tone than those that spoke before him. He spoke of little else, but he was convinced that his father was a part of this "council of the prophets". In other words, he believed that his father had a very important mission here on earth, as I am sure he did.
Christina Nibley Mincek, the oldest daughter, was not as lively as her younger sisters, but she was indeed a fan of her father just as much. She had a quiet reserve of strength. She spoke of her father and an outing that she got to take with him to a Utah desert area called Capital Reef many years ago. She was very young, but excited to be the only one going along, as usually he would take several of the children. (Many of the kids spoke of these desert trips fondly in their remarks.) Anyway, they slept in a tent and the next morning she awoke - and her father was gone. Shortly he popped into the tent and took her up the hill to see the sunrise. He had taken a photo. Years later she found the photo - a majestic scene with a tiny dot in the middle, which was the tent that she was waking up in. On the back of the photo was the inscription: "Christina at Capital Reef". She said he had great perspective on life: "the universe was huge, but I was the most important part of that picture."
The last of the children to speak was #1 son, Paul Sloan Nibley. He was quite emotional. He built the casket for Brother Nibley by hand. He used a variety of very special woods, and he left important symbols and marks on it, with some of the details being from Egypt thousands of years ago. It also incorporated a Japanese lockbox in the casket. He seemed, more than the other children, to understand and be interested in ancient studies, the area that had consumed his father's passion for the past 60 years and more. He explained why he choose various woods, and got very emotional. (I only caught a glimpse of the casket but it looked beautiful.) He of all of the children seemed the most shook up about the loss of their father.
I had never met any of his children through the years, and I greatly enjoyed hearing from them.
Hugh's brother Reid Nibley then played a piano solo, "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring", another JS Bach favorite of Brother Nibley's. It was of course very beautiful. I want JS Bach played at my funeral too.
John Welch then spoke more about Brother Nibley's books and life work. Brother Welch began taking classes from Nibley in 1965. He is now on the board of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies - FARMS - a foundation that was partly (largely?) created to help fund Brother Nibley's work back in 1979. John Welch showed how, using the names of all of Nibley's books and articles, Nibley's teachings alll supported and taught the Joseph Smith's Thirteen Articles of Faith. It was a very good summary and reminder of all that Nibley had written about. At the close of his talk he mentioned that his last words to Brother Nibley were "I love you", and Brother Nibley returned the sentiment.
Another musical number followed: "Vocalise" by Sergei Rachmaninoff, a violin solo by Kelly Clark Parkinson (a friend of the family), accompanied by Reid Nibley on the piano. This was a rather long, but very beautiful number.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve then spoke briefly. He was not on the printed program - he probably had other appointments that he had to change to get to the service - but he was very gracious and spoke to Phyllis Nibley and the family. He gave his own brief remarks and then pulled out a letter from the First Presidency. He read a copy of the letter at the pulpit, and gave the original to Sister Nibley at the conclusion of the service. In this brief letter the First Presidency was equally gracious in their extolling the great service that Brother Nibley had given to the Church for many years.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve then spoke and quoted a lot of verses from 2 Nephi 9 about resurrection, about being learned, and commented that Brother Nibley was a good example of someone who was both learned AND hearkened to the counsels of God. He left an Apostolic blessing upon the family and upon Brother Nibley's work, which should help diffuse the remainder of the Martha problems... I was impressed with this attention to detail.
The closing hymn was also by the Utah Baroque Ensemble, "The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning". The choir would sing the verse, and then the congregation would join in on the chorus. We did this for 4 verses. I couldn't sing most of verse 3 - I was too choked up.
The closing prayer was by Otto Draper, the brother to Sister Nibley, and my former neighbor when I grew up in Sunnyvale. I had a good visit afterwards with him, his son Nels, and his wife Florence who is a second cousin to my mother. Nels sang in the choir today and tried to get me to re-enlist with the group: they need tenors again. I also visited with Rebecca Nibley and told her what a great service it was. (Laura: she remembers you!)
Anyway, it was a great service, a deeply moving and emotionally draining yet inspiring service if you know what I mean. Many things which I learned from Brother Nibley came flooding back to me. It appears that in the years since he stopped teaching (1994), he mellowed quite a bit and really became more of a people-person than he had been. I think it was because he was no longer preoccupied with his research. When I visited him three months ago at his home he was very nice and appreciative. I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to learn from him. I am glad we still have his books and writings to continue to learn from. Lech Lecha!
Spring Lake, UT
3 Mar 2005
PS - My web site now has an actual name: http://danallen46.homeunix.org
Created: 3 Mar 2005 Modified: 4 Mar 2005