Joseph Birch Holt, a beloved family man, passed away peacefully in his home in Meridian, Idaho
on June 27th, 2020 while in the loving care of his family.
Birch was born on January 31st, 1929 in Kamas, Utah to Joseph Lindsay Holt and Leah Irene Birch
Holt. When he was nine years old, his mother passed away. His father thereafter married Mary
Bayles, who also brought one child into the marriage. Joseph and Mary had six more children
together. Birch characterized his childhood as one filled with love and marked by curiosity. He
would conduct experiments in the backroom of his dad’s store, which precluded his career as a
scientist. One of Birch’s first jobs was making malts in his father’s shop--which he admittedly
did not enjoy--but he shared his malt-making skills with others for the rest of his life, much to
his loved ones’ delight.
Birch graduated from South Summit High School in Kamas and was the valedictorian of his
class. He went on to serve as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in
the Western Canadian Mission. He attended Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah.
While at BYU, Birch met the love of his life, Ruth Taylor. He had asked a family friend to set him
up with the kindest, prettiest woman she knew, and she said, “I know just the person”. Birch
and Ruth spent their first date at the Rainbow Rendezvous dance hall where Nat King Cole
performed; he recalled knowing Ruth was the one “almost immediately”. On June 27th, 1952,
Birch and Ruth were sealed for time and all eternity in the Salt Lake Temple, marking the
beginning of a beautiful life together built on a foundation of love and faith.
Birch graduated with a degree in Geology in 1954 from BYU. While there, he was in the Air
Force ROTC program. After graduation, he was stationed in Washington and served for two
years as an air traffic controller. In 1956, he attended the University of Utah and earned a PhD
in Ceramic Engineering in 1960.
After receiving his doctorate, he accepted a position as a Research Scientist at Lawrence
Radiation Laboratory in Livermore, California and moved with his family to San Jose. Although
he was a brilliant scientist, his love for God and for others were his greatest motivators and
founts of fulfillment. While in California he shared his love for others in service as a Stake
Mission President, Bishopric Counselor, and then Bishop of the San Jose 4th Ward. He and Ruth
raised five children together. He was an encouraging, generous, and loving presence in his
children’s lives, and each one of them was a source of great pride and joy to him.
In 1967, Birch took a sabbatical leave from work and moved his family to Clausthal-Zellerfeld in
West Germany, where he worked at the university for one year. He and his family formed
lasting memories while immersing themselves in a new culture together. They returned home
to San Jose and Birch continued his job in Livermore. He retired in 1994 and served a CES
mission with his wife in the South Dakota Mission, where they worked with young adults. They
loved this age group and later served two additional CES missions in the San Jose, California and
Boise, Idaho Institutes. Through these experiences, they built lasting relationships which they
cherished long after their service was over.
In 2003 he and his wife moved to Meridian, Idaho where they enjoyed living near family,
receiving visits, and traveling to be present at important life events and reunions of their many
Birch is survived by his wife of 68 years, as well as his five children, Birch, (Linda) of Coos Bay,
Oregon, Mary Ruth, of Meridian, Idaho, Kevin, (Kathy) of Antioch, California, Michelle, (Curt
Walton) of Los Gatos, California, and Susan, (John Harris) of Boise Idaho. He is also survived by
35 grandchildren (including spouses) and 38 great-grandchildren.
Birch will be missed and held dear in the hearts of those he loved and who loved him. He will be
remembered for his gifts of loving-kindness and gentle humor, for his love languages of service,
sharing food, and cascades of forehead kisses, and for being an exemplar of faith and