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Athal and Linley Tolhurst

Photo courtesy of Kerrie Long.

Tolhurst, Athal Hubert (1935–2017)

By Kerrie Long

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Kerrie Long (nee Tolhurst) trained in business studies and currently works in accounts for Adventist Senior Living, Cooranbong, NSW, Australia. She was born in Australia into a ministerial family, and married a church finance administrator, Dr Warrick Long, and has lived and worked in many areas of Australia and in Papua New Guinea, Fiji and New Zealand. Long worked for Adventist Schools for 17 years as registrar, and has two daughters and two grandchildren.

Athal Tolhurst was born in Tonga of missionary parents. He was a pastor, evangelist and administrator who was for a time a Union President, Secretary of the South Pacific Division and Under-Secretary of the General Conference. He was married to Linley (Willis), and together they served the Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) Church for 45 years.1

Early Life

Athal Hubert Tolhurst was born into a life of service. His father, Hubert Tolhurst (1890–1981) married Pearl Philps (1891–1919), on January 6, 1915, in Bendigo, Victoria.2 Later that month they left for the Friendly Islands (Tonga) to serve as missionaries.3 They arrived at their mission station at the village of Faleloa, on Foa Island, Ha'apai Group, on March 16, 1916.4 On March 29 they opened the school with thirty students (a number had to be turned away).5 For the next four years they managed the school at Faleloa, while doing general missionary work, preaching, and teaching, ministering to the sick, and continuing to learn the language.6

In 1918 the global Spanish flu pandemic arrived in Tonga, with more than 1,200 fatalities throughout the country. First Hubert, then Pearl, contracted the disease. For a number of months, first one, then the other, would improve, then relapse. Hubert recovered, but on March 14, 1919, Pearl died.7 The village chief built a casket, but the Tongans told Hubert Tolhurst he must be strong and take the funeral himself.8 The next day, as the sun set for Sabbath, Pearl was laid to rest in Faleloa.9

Hubert Tolhurst returned to Australia, where he spent some time in Victoria as a minister and in the process formed an attachment to Pearl’s sister, Elsmer (1897–1967). They married in 1921, adopting a daughter, Mava, who was being fostered by Elsmer’s family.10 They spent a few months back in Tonga but after Hubert was bitten by a sick cat and contracted septicemia, they returned to North New Zealand.11 For the next four years the Tolhursts served in the North New Zealand Conference in evangelism and literature evangelism, based in Palmerston North in 1922, in the Napier-Hastings district in 1923, in the Feilding-Wanganui area in 1924–1925, and in Dannevirke in 1925–1926.12 In January 1926 Elsmer gave birth to a daughter, Pearl Ivy (1926–2002).

In late 1926 Hubert was once again appointed to the Friendly Islands Mission, this time as superintendent, a post he held until December 1940.13 They were based at the Beulah school and mission station at Vaini, on Tongatapu island. It was here that the rest of his children were born: Dorothy Gwenella (1929–2007), Leonard Philps, Leonainie Ethel (1933–2001), Athal Hubert (1935–2017), and Desmyrna Ruth (1939–2018).14 Athal was born in Nuku’alofa, Tonga, on January 4, 1935.15

When Athal Tolhurst was six years old in 1941, the family moved back to North New Zealand. Hubert was under appointment to work with the Maoris in the North Island. They commenced in Auckland, but after a few years Hubert was transferred to Hamilton. The family worshipped at the Hamilton SDA Church. When Athal was 11, he and his friends achieved a record Ingathering collection, which was reported in the Australasian Record that year.16 Athal was baptized by his father in Hamilton church on November 23, 1946.17

Education and Marriage

Tolhurst went to Longburn College to prepare for ministry and graduated in 1953 from the intermediate ministerial course. He was graduating class president.18 He then transferred to Avondale College, in New South Wales, Australia, and commenced his theology degree in 1954. During his years at Avondale he was very involved in music ministry as well as outreach and preaching.19 He went on choir trips and was in a male quartet that traveled to other states to contribute to programs. He graduated with a Licentiate of Theology in 1955, and Bachelor of Arts in Theology the following year.20 That year he served as president of the Ministerial League.21

At Avondale he met Linley Ruth Willis. Linley was born to William (known as Bill) and Doris Willis on September 21, 1936. They lived in the farming community of Nukarni, near Merredin, several hours east of Perth, Western Australia.22 Two younger brothers, Lloyd and David, were born into the family. Both Bill and Doris loved music, and Linley showed an aptitude for the piano. She developed this talent and decided to pursue her studies further. After graduation from Merredin High School in 1953, Linley enrolled at Avondale College.23

Athal Tolhurst and Linley Willis formed a friendship, and combined their talents to contribute to the outreach and programs at Avondale.24 Athal graduated at the end of 1956 with his B.A. in Theology, and as class president, and Linley finished her Licentiate in Music.25 They were engaged at the end of 1956, but were separated by their work assignments during 1957. Athal was in South Australia assisting Ken Bullock conduct an evangelistic series in Peterborough,26 and Linley was teaching music at Carmel College, Western Australia.27 Then on December 17, 1957, Athal and Linley were married in the Perth SDA Church.28

Ministry

Athal spent the next five years working as an assistant to Ray Stanley in various evangelistic programs around South Australia.29 While in Adelaide in 1959, their first son, Dean, was born into the family.30 Then they worked together in South New South Wales in Albury, Wagga, and Bathurst.31 Athal and Linley became known for their musical ministry during this time, Athal as a choir leader and also as part of quartets and groups, and Linley for her beautiful organ and piano renditions.32 Linley even became part of the advertising for mission programs by playing organ recitals in a department store. 33

After serving for seven years as Stanley’s assistant, Athal was appointed to Orange in New South Wales in 1962.34 During the next few years he held a number of evangelistic series, and conducted Bible studies. For a time he was also the area coordinator for It Is Written.35 It was reported that Athal was known to have conducted 50 Bible studies a week.36 Linley, as always, supported her husband with music and hospitality. Athal was ordained as a pastor on August 10, 1963.37 In March 1965 their daughter Kerrie was born.38

In 1966 the family moved back to South Australia, and Athal spent the next six years as pastor/evangelist in Milicent, Naracoorte, Whyalla, and Elizabeth.39 It was during these years that Athal was sent on an overseas tour with three other young ministers, Rex Moe, Bill Sleight, and Dave Lawson, to enrich their knowledge and photographic libraries of Europe and the Bible lands.40

In 1971 the family moved to Perth, and Athal conducted evangelistic programs in various locations, including Fremantle, Morley, and Carlisle.41 At the end of 1971 a second son, Wesley, was born.42 Athal was becoming well known for his photographic abilities and was using these photos to attract more people to his programs.43 He had a wonderful eye for photography and spent any leisure time enjoying the wonders of nature.44

After three years in Perth, in 1974 Athal was appointed to North New South Wales Conference as a union evangelist for the Trans-Tasman Union Conference.45 The family moved to Newcastle in New South Wales, where he conducted an evangelistic outreach there, holding programs in the Newcastle Town Hall and smaller towns and venues.46 Then in October 1975 he was appointed president of the North New South Wales Conference.47 He spent five years in that role, often visiting isolated members by plane.48 Yarrahapinni Ecology Centre was purchased by the conference during his tenure. Meanwhile Linley was employed as secretary to the principal of the Hamilton Adventist School in Newcastle.49

At the end of 1980 Athal was elected president of the Trans-Tasman Union Conference, based in Sydney. The union comprised the North New South Wales, South Queensland, Greater Sydney, North New Zealand, and South New Zealand conferences. Despite his heavy load, he continued conducting evangelistic series from time to time.50 During this time Linley was employed as an assistant chaplain and also as an administrative assistant at the Sydney Adventist Hospital.51

In 1986 Tolhurst was elected secretary of the South Pacific Division, based in Wahroonga, a suburb of Sydney. This division covers the territory of most Pacific Islands, New Zealand, and Australia. In his responsibilities as division secretary he particularly enjoyed trips to Australian Indigenous settlements, eventually mastering the didgeridoo.52 He continued to conduct evangelistic programs, including a notable event in Suva, Fiji, in 1988, which culminated in 798 people desiring baptism.53

At the General Conference Annual Council held in Perth, Western Australia, in October 1991, Athal was elected undersecretary of the General Conference, following the retirement of Fred Thomas.54 He was reelected in 1995 and again in 2000.55 At General Conference headquarters Linley was employed as the secretary to the associate treasurer, particularly working with the overseas missionaries department.56 As undersecretary, Athal was involved in committees, policies, and the workings of the General Conference and the worldwide church, and was the liaison for the South Pacific Division. His eye for detail and gift of administration meant he was highly esteemed. Athal and Linley remained at the General Conference until retirement in 2002, at which time they returned to Australia.57

Later Life

Athal and Linley Tolhurst settled at Moss Vale, an hour south of Sydney. They remained there for 13 years. They became involved in the Bowral SDA Church, and also helped minister at nearby churches. Linley was placed on the church music roster, and she relished being surrounded by the music of the district, being an area of many recitals and concerts. Athal filled his days with gardening in a spectacular acre of parklike trees and vegetable gardens, and also planted many daffodils and some tulips. He also loved having more time to spend in nature and photography, and carried his camera bag with him constantly.

In 2015, while on a visit to Cooranbong, they purchased a block of land and commenced building a new home. They moved into their new home in November 2016, and spent the next nine months getting established.

Early in August 2017 they were invited by their son Wesley to accompany him and his two sons on an impromptu visit to Tonga. Only a few hours after they landed in the early hours of the morning, Athal conducted worship at Beulah College for several Tongan pastors who had gathered from around the world. He spoke of being God’s messengers. He spent the rest of that day and most of the next day enjoying the beauty and hospitality of Tonga, and time with his wife, son, and grandsons, while Wesley took photos and video footage. On Friday evening, August 4, 2017, he collapsed, and was rushed to the hospital in Nuku’alofa. Early Sunday morning he was taken by air ambulance to Auckland, New Zealand, where he died on Monday morning, August 7, 2017, aged 82.58 His funeral was conducted in the Avondale Memorial church, and a Tongan traditional burial in Avondale College Cemetery followed.59

Legacy

Athal Tolhurst was known as a committed and loyal Seventh-day Adventist, a dedicated evangelist, a scribe with an eye for detail, an avid photographer, and a lover of all of God’s creation. He shared the gospel with thousands of people throughout his ministry.

Sources

Anderson, O. K. “Fifty-seventh Session in South Australia.” Australasian Record, May 22, 1967.

“Appointed to Watch With Jealous Care.” Australasian Record, October 21, 1963.

Athal Hubert Tolhurst Biographical Records. South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives. Folder: “Tolhurst, Athal Hubert.” Document: “Personal Profile: Athal Hubert Tolhurst.”

Athal Hubert Tolhurst Biographical Records. South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives. Folder: “Tolhurst, Athal Hubert.” Document: “Tolhurst, Athal Hubert, Biographical Record.”

Athal Hubert Tolhurst Biographical Records. South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives. Folder: “Tolhurst, Athal Hubert.” Document: “Tolhurst, Athal Hubert, Service Record.”

Athal Hubert Tolhurst Biographical Records. South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives. Folder: “Tolhurst, Athal Hubert.” Document: “Worker’s Biographical Record.”

Athal Hubert Tolhurst Biographical Records. South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives. Folder: “Tolhurst, Athal Hubert.” Document: “Worker’s Biographical Record, 1982.”

Brash, Tom. “Tolhurst–Willis marriage.” Australasian Record, January 27, 1958.

Brown, R. K. “Mayor Opens Albury Mission.” Australasian Record, April 18, 1960.

———. “A Cultural Approach.” Australasian Record, June 13, 1960.

“Campaign Reaps Fiji’s Largest Baptism.” South Pacific Record, September 10, 1988.

Davey, Eric. “Leaders Visit Members in the Outback.” South Pacific Record, November 15, 1986.

“Fiji Evangelism.” South Pacific Record, July 16, 1988.

“Fiji Final.” South Pacific Record, July 30, 1988.

“Fiji Mission Update.” South Pacific Record, July 23, 1988.

Fletcher, W. W. “W. A. Is Moving.” Australasian Record, July 26, 1971.

“Former GC Undersecretary Athal Tolhurst Passes to His Rest at 82.” Accessed February 24, 2019. https://news.adventist.org/en/all-news/news/go/2017-08-16/former-gc-undersecretary-athal-tolhurst-passes-to-his-rest-at-82/.

“GC Appointment.” South Pacific Record, October 31, 1991.

Hubert Leonard Tolhurst Biographical Records. South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives. Folder: “Tolhurst, Hubert Leonard.” Document: “Biographical Information Blank.”

“In Millicent, South Australia . . .” Australasian Record, August 1, 1966.

“In the satellite city of Elizabeth . . . ” Australasian Record, April 6, 1970.

“Life Sketch of Pastor H. L. Tolhurst.” Australasian Record, December 14, 1981.

“New Zealand Missionary College Graduates, 1953.” Australasian Record, January 25, 1954.

“New Zealand News Notes.” Australasian Record, October 23, 1982.

“Nine Young Appealers Collect 104 [Pounds].” Australasian Record, May 5, 1947.

“On January 6 at Bendigo, Victoria . . .” Australasian Record, February 1, 1915.

“Pastor David Weslake . . .” Australasian Record, July 29, 1974.

Patrick, Arthur N. “AMC Quartette in Brisbane.” Australasian Record, October 17, 1955.

Piper, A. H. “Double Wedding.” Australasian Record, April 18, 1921.

“Policies Dominate Committee Agenda.” South Pacific Record, June 30, 1990.

“Progress in the Australasian Union: Tongan Islands.” Australasian Record, May 10, 1915.

Robartson, Rosa. “Gold for William and Doris.” Australasian Record, May 5, 1984.

Scragg, Walter. “It is Written.” Australasian Record, April 19, 1965.

Silver, D. J. “Bright Prospects for Biggest Soul-winning Year.” Australasian Record, September 21, 1959.

“SPDs Appointed.” Australasian Record, July 22, 1995.

“Still in the same area . . .” Australasian Record, July 7, 1980.

“The Orange Mission, Under Pastor Athal Tolhurst . . .” Australasian Record, October 14, 1963.

Tolhurst, Athal. “Appraisal of Take His Word.” Australasian Record, April 26, 1965.

———. “Fruitage of Orange Mission.” Australasian Record, April 27, 1964.

———. “Interest Maintained at Adelaide Mission.” Australasian Record, August 31, 1953.

———. “Success of Albury Mission.” Australasian Record, October 3, 1960.

———. “The Holy Scriptures Exalted.” Australasian Record, June 22, 1959.

Tolhurst, H. L. “Diary.” South Pacific Division Heritage Centre, Avondale College of High Education, Cooranbong, NSW. Box 1127. Folder: “Herbert Tolhurst Diaries: 1915–1941.”

———. “One of the Tragedies of Mission Field Experience.” ARH, December 29, 1927.

———. “Pearl Tolhurst obituary.” Australasian Record, May 26, 1919.

Tolhurst, Leonard P. “Pastor H. L. Tolhurst: A Reminiscence of His Life and Contributions to the Development of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the South Pacific.” In Avondale and the Pacific: 100 Years of Mission. Ed. Barry D. Oliver, Alex S. Currie and Douglas E. Robertson. Cooranbong NSW: Avondale Academic Press, 1997.

Tolhurst, Pearl. “Advance in Tonga.” Australasian Record, May 31, 1915.

———. “Ha'apai, Tonga.” Australasian Record, April 17, 1916.

“Tolhurst in Suva.” South Pacific Record, October 15, 1988.

Veitch, W. R. “To Minister in the Master’s Way.” Australasian Record, January 25, 1954.

White, E. E. “Avondale Retrospect, 1956.” Australasian Record, January 7, 1957

Notes

  1. Much of the data in this biography is written from the personal knowledge of the author, the daughter of Athal and Linley Tolhurst.

  2. “On January 6 at Bendigo, Victoria . . . ,” Australasian Record, February 1, 1915, 8.

  3. “Progress in the Australasian Union: Tongan Islands,” Australasian Record, May 10, 1915, 15; H. L. Tolhurst, "Diary,” South Pacific Division Heritage Centre, Avondale College of Higher Education, Cooranbong, NSW, Box 1827 (Folder: “Hubert Tolhurst Diaries: 1915–1941,” entries for February 3–13, 1915).

  4. Diary entry for March 16, 1915.

  5. Pearl Tolhurst, “Advance in Tonga,” Australasian Record, May 31, 1915, 2.

  6. Pearl Tolhurst, “Ha’apai, Tonga," Australasian Record, April 17, 1916, 3, 4.

  7. H. L. Tolhurst, “Diary,” entry for March 14, 1919; H. L. Tolhurst, “One of the Tragedies of Mission Field Experience,” ARH, December 29, 1927, 8–10.

  8. Leonard P. Tolhurst, “Pastor H. L. Tolhurst: A Reminiscence of His Life and Contributions to the Development of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the South Pacific,” in Avondale and the Pacific: 100 Years of Mission, ed. Barry D. Oliver, Alex S. Currie, and Douglas E. Robertson (Cooranbong NSW.: Avondale Academic Press, 1997), 71–74.

  9. H. L. Tolhurst, “Pearl Tolhurst obituary,” Australasian Record, May 26, 1919, 7.

  10. A. H. Piper, “Double Wedding,” Australasian Record, April 18, 1921, 7.

  11. H. L. Tolhurst, “Diary” entries for September 30 and October 11, 1921.

  12. Ibid., entries for 1922–1926.

  13. Hubert Leonard Tolhurst Biographical Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives (Folder: “Tolhurst, Hubert Leonard”; Document: “Biographical Information Blank”).

  14. Ibid.

  15. Athal Hubert Tolhurst Biographical Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives (Folder: “Tolhurst, Athal Hubert”; Document: “Worker’s Biographical Record”).

  16. “Nine Young Appealers Collect 104 [Pounds],” Australasian Record, May 5, 1947, 5.

  17. Athal Hubert Tolhurst Biographical Records.

  18. W. R. Veitch, “To Minister in the Master’s Way,” Australasian Record, January 25, 1954, 9; “New Zealand Missionary College Graduates, 1953,” Australasian Record, January 25, 1954, 10.

  19. Arthur N. Patrick, “AMC Quartette in Brisbane,” Australasian Record, October 17, 1955, 5.

  20. Athal Hubert Tolhurst Biographical Records.

  21. Personal knowledge of the author as the daughter of Athal and Linley Tolhurst.

  22. Rosa Robartson, “Gold for William and Doris,” Australasian Record, May 5, 1984, 13; also personal knowledge of the author as the daughter of Linley and Athal Tolhurst.

  23. Personal knowledge of the author as the daughter of Linley and Athal Tolhurst.

  24. Ibid.

  25. E. E. White, “Avondale Retrospect, 1956,” Australasian Record, January 7, 1957, 3.

  26. Athal Hubert Tolhurst Biographical Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives (Folder: “Tolhurst, Athal Hubert”; Document: “Personal Profile: Athal Hubert Tolhurst”).

  27. Personal knowledge of the author as the daughter of Athal and Linley Tolhurst.

  28. Tom Brash, “Tolhurst–Willis marriage,” Australasian Record, January 27, 1958, 14.

  29. Athal Tolhurst, “The Holy Scriptures Exalted,” Australasian Record, June 22, 1959, 9.

  30. Athal Hubert Tolhurst Biographical Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives (Folder: “Tolhurst, Athal Hubert”; Document: “Tolhurst, Athal Hubert, Biographical Record”).

  31. R. K. Brown, “Mayor Opens Albury Mission,” Australasian Record, April 18, 1960, 5; Athal Tolhurst, “Success of Albury Mission,” Australasian Record, October 3, 1960, 3.

  32. D. J. Silver, “Bright Prospects for Biggest Soul-winning Year,” Australasian Record, September 21, 1959, 8.

  33. R. K. Brown, “A Cultural Approach,” Australasian Record, June 13, 1960, 3.

  34. “The Orange Mission, Under Pastor Athal Tolhurst . . . ,” Australasian Record, October 14, 1963, 16; Athal Tolhurst, “Fruitage of Orange Mission,” Australasian Record, April 27, 1964, 4.

  35. Athal Tolhurst, “Appraisal of Take His Word,” Australasian Record, April 26, 1965, 2.

  36. Walter Scragg, “It is Written,” Australasian Record, April 19, 1965, 1.

  37. “Appointed to Watch With Jealous Care,” Australasian Record, October 21, 1963, 4-5.

  38. Athal Hubert Tolhurst Biographical Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives (Folder: “Tolhurst, Athal Hubert”; Document: “Tolhurst, Athal Hubert, Biographical Record”).

  39. O. K. Anderson, “Fifty-seventh Session in South Australia,” Australasian Record, May 22, 1967, 7; “In Millicent, South Australia . . . ,” Australasian Record, August 1, 1966, 16; “In the satellite city of Elizabeth . . . ,” Australasian Record, April 6, 1970, 16.

  40. Personal knowledge of the author as the daughter of Athal and Linley Tolhurst.

  41. W. W. Fletcher, “W.A. Is Moving,” Australasian Record, July 26, 1971, 4.

  42. Athal Hubert Tolhurst Biographical Records. South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives (Folder: “Tolhurst, Athal Hubert”; Document: “Tolhurst, Athal Hubert, Biographical Record”).

  43. “Pastor David Weslake . . . ,” Australasian Record, July 29, 1974, 16.

  44. “Still in the same area . . . ,” Australasian Record, July 7, 1980, 16.

  45. Athal Hubert Tolhurst Biographical Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives (Folder: “Tolhurst, Athal Hubert”; Document: “Worker’s Biographical Record, 1982”).

  46. “Pastor David Weslake . . . .”

  47. Athal Hubert Tolhurst Biographical Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives (Folder: “Tolhurst, Athal Hubert”; Document: “Tolhurst, Athal Hubert, Service Record”).

  48. Personal knowledge of the author as the daughter of Athal and Linley Tolhurst.

  49. Ibid.

  50. “New Zealand News Notes,” Australasian Record, October 23, 1982, 10.

  51. Personal knowledge of the author as the daughter of Athal and Linley Tolhurst.

  52. Eric Davey, “Leaders Visit Members in the Outback,” South Pacific Record, November 15, 1986, 11.

  53. “Tolhurst in Suva,” South Pacific Record, October 15, 1988, 12; “Campaign Reaps Fiji’s Largest Baptism,” South Pacific Record, September 10, 1988, 9.

  54. “GC Appointment,” South Pacific Record, October 31, 1991, 8.

  55. “SPDs Appointed,” Australasian Record, July 22, 1995, 12.

  56. Personal knowledge of the author as the daughter of Athal and Linley Tolhurst.

  57. Personal knowledge of the author as the daughter of Athal and Linley Tolhurst.

  58. “Former GC Undersecretary Athal Tolhurst Passes to His Rest at 82,” accessed February 24, 2019, https://news.adventist.org/en/all-news/news/go/2017-08-16/former-gc-undersecretary-athal-tolhurst-passes-to-his-rest-at-82/.

  59. The funeral service may be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXE3ftwXLbg.

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Long, Kerrie. "Tolhurst, Athal Hubert (1935–2017)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. April 28, 2021. Accessed September 22, 2021. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=6G5J.

Long, Kerrie. "Tolhurst, Athal Hubert (1935–2017)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. April 28, 2021. Date of access September 22, 2021, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=6G5J.

Long, Kerrie (2021, April 28). Tolhurst, Athal Hubert (1935–2017). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved September 22, 2021, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=6G5J.