Pollster, Reagan strategist Wirthlin dies at 80

The Associated Press
Thursday, March 17, 2011; 6:50 PM

SALT LAKE CITY -- Richard B. Wirthlin, a pollster who served as an adviser to Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and several foreign leaders, has died.

Wirthlin died in Salt Lake City on Wednesday of natural causes attributable to age, his son, Richard L. Wirthlin, told The Associated Press. He was 80.

Most of Wirthlin's family was at his side when he died, his son said.

"We loved him. We were blessed by him," Richard L. Wirthlin said Thursday. "I think my most favorite thing about Dad was that he was, in every good sense of the word, a patriarch. He led us, he taught us, he supported, he guided. He set an example in all things. ... We will miss him because of that."

A native Utahan who taught economics at Brigham Young University, Wirthlin in 1969 founded the Los Angeles-based Wirthlin Worldwide, a research firm with offices on four continents that provided marketing research, public affairs and communications strategies. Wirthlin earned both bachelor's and master's degrees in economics and statistics from the University of Utah and went on to earn a doctorate in economics from the University of California, Berkeley.

Wirthlin worked as an adviser for Reagan for more than 20 years and was a strategist in his 1980 and 1984 campaigns. He chronicled his relationship with the president in a 2004 book, "The Greatest Communicator: What Ronald Regan Taught Me About Politics, Leadership and Life."

"Dick was a great man, a great friend and an invaluable counselor to President Reagan," former Attorney General Edwin Meese said in a statement.

Wirthlin also advised presidents Nixon and Ford, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and other world leaders, including German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu, according to information provided by his family.

Wirthlin was on the forefront of developing modern political polling practices and understood data better than anyone, said his longtime friend Richard Richards, the former chairman of Utah's Republican party and the head of the Republication National Committee from 1981 to 1983.

Richards said he believes Reagan's appointment of Wirthlin as chief campaign strategist after losing the Iowa caucuses in 1980 was the turning point in the campaign.

"Without Wirthlin working as the strategist, I don't think Reagan could have won," Richards told the AP on Thursday. "He was exceptionally good at it."

A lifetime member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Wirthlin served his faith in numerous leadership roles, including as a member of the administrative body, the Second Quorum of the Seventy.

"Richard Wirthlin's vision and knowledge of the world were very important to planning for the future growth of the church," M. Russell Ballard, of the church's second-highest governing body, the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, said in a statement released through the family. "His insights into leadership were often called upon by leaders of the church. He is a dear friend to all and we will miss him."

Wirthlin is survived by his wife of 54 years, Jeralie Mae Chandler, eight children, 27 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Funeral services are set for Saturday in Salt Lake City.

© 2011 The Associated Press