President James E. Faust: “Pure Gold”


Neal A. Maxwell

One cannot really understand President James E. Faust, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, without understanding the ordering principles in his life and the priority assigned to his family. Two parallel episodes related by his eternal companion, Ruth, are especially illustrative. The first concerns his initial call in 1972 to be a General Authority: “We had a special family home evening, including the only grandchild back then. Jim went around the circle and told the children what was unique about them and how they were special individually. Then he told them about his call, stressing that if he were not a good father, he could not succeed as a General Authority, adding, ‘I am never going to be released from my calling as a father or a grandfather.’” In the second episode, when he was called to be in the First Presidency, President Faust did the very same thing! In 1995 the teaching involved twenty-two grandchildren and ended with President Faust’s saying again how very important they all were to him and that he couldn’t succeed as a member of the First Presidency if he wasn’t a good father. Sister Faust further observed, “This is the kind of person he has been all of his life. Family and loved ones have come first!”

Accompanying his fixed priorities is immense integrity. The need for this fundamental attribute was drummed into young Jim Faust and his fellow priests by Bishop T. C. Stayner: “Be honest and keep your word.” In countless ways, this advice has been followed by President James E. Faust, resulting in the public and private integrity for which President Faust has been deservedly known through his lifetime. Those who know him understand that President Faust will not yield to mere pressure, but he can be persuaded by principles. Son Robert, his sentiments echoed in the views of his siblings, relates his father’s integrity to the motto “To thine own self be true,” citing how his father regularly counseled, “The most important thing is your good name and reputation.”

President James E. Faust’s career of service is broadly based, extending to family, church, and community. (Photo by LDS Photo Services.)

This integrity, along with his ability, resulted in his being elected by his fellow lawyers as president of the Utah State Bar Association in 1962–63. This same combination of attributes was reflected in the way he practiced law and in why he was so trusted by his firm’s clients, who included the local Catholic church. The Utah State Bar Association awarded the Distinguished Lawyer Emeritus Award to President Faust in the summer of 1995, a deserved honor his father, George Faust, who was a judge, would especially appreciate.

By his very nature, President Faust is respectful of those who are in the trenches of public service, reflecting his term in the Utah State Legislature. Extensive experiences in public service made him an ideal chairman for many years of the Church’s Public Affairs Committee.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, James Faust had the confidence of the Brethren long before he became one of them.

President Faust’s blend of integrity and ability has likewise caused others to access his wisdom. This was done in the 1960s when he was named to the reform-minded Utah Legislative Study Committee and then to its more broadly gauged successor, the Utah Constitutional Revision Commission.

Along with his integrity and ability, there is a special loyalty and sensitivity. Margaret Bury, President Faust’s secretary of many years, observes, “He treats everyone well, whether they be judge or janitor.” “I learned from him the meaning of loyalty,” observes his son Marcus. “My father would make two haircut appointments, one soon after the other. The first appointment was with my grandfather’s barber, a buddy from World War I who was so old he was losing his eyesight and the steadiness in his hands. The second appointment was with another barber who would even out the work.” Little wonder that Marcus comments further: “Father has a soft touch and can deal with sensitive situations without leaving hurt feelings. He can ‘walk on wet concrete without leaving any footprints.’”

Even though he is known to be gentle and loving by nature, President Faust is, on occasion, able to say the hard things that need to be said for the good of the work. His friendship is such that, if needed, he is willing to say that which a friend needs to hear.

President Thomas S. Monson writes: “James E. Faust and I have served together for many years, on general committees consisting of members of the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve, as fellow members of the Council of the Twelve, and in leadership responsibilities concerning the Deseret News Publishing Company. He is a man of sound judgment, keen intellect, and outstanding leadership skills. He is a good listener and is wise in his decision making. His testimony is unshakable.”

While President Faust has spent so much of his life serving others in group situations, yet he has also known what it is like to be alone. His loyalty and integrity were operative then, too. Though the only Church member on a transport ship in the South Pacific in World War II (which for eighty-three long days towed a larger vessel to port), he nevertheless worshipped alone on Sundays. Searching out places where he could sing alone from a pocket-sized hymnal, he would read the scriptures, meditate, and pray in private. Often this meant going up to the front of the ship, where the waves would drown out his singing. Such steady, spiritual discipline reflects, of course, special training by his parents.

Listening among the television audience to his very first talk as a General Authority was President Faust’s widowed mother; she wept with joy over the call that had come to her son. Not only was there fine parental training, but important training was given, too, by grandparents who reflected pioneer and convert stock. For instance, Grandmother Faust told young Jim stories of her having heard Brigham Young speak in the Tabernacle. Decades earlier, President Faust’s great-grandfather, a young German emigrant going through Utah on his way to the California gold rush, met a young lady in Fillmore. He was so attracted to her that he later panned just enough gold to pay for a wedding ring and then hastened back to marry her and later join the Church!

His mother’s love of the Book of Mormon was transmitted to her son. President Faust described his mother’s “timeworn copy of the Book of Mormon. Almost every page was marked; in spite of tender handling, some of the leaves were dog-eared, and the cover was worn thin. No one had to tell her that one can get closer to God by reading the Book of Mormon than by any other book. She was already there” (Ensign, Nov. 1983, p. 9). From time to time in temple meetings, Brother Faust still brings out a small, well-used copy of the Book of Mormon to share a pithy passage with his Brethren.

President Gordon B. Hinckley, who called President Faust to be his second counselor, comments: “President James E. Faust comes to this office with the kind of maturity that results from long experience in the Church. This experience, coupled with the wisdom developed in pursuit of a legal career, provides substantial strength in the sacred calling that has come to him.”

Early on, the gospel seed found fertile soil in James Esdras Faust. When only seventeen, he was called to serve as a counselor in his ward Sunday School superintendency. At twenty-eight he was ordained as a bishop. Since then he has done it all in terms of Church service: stake high councilor, stake president, regional representative of the Twelve, Assistant to the Twelve, Seventy, and Apostle. In each of these callings he demonstrated that a good leader is always a good listener.

Significantly, President Harold B. Lee, who called President Faust as an Assistant to the Twelve, was also the one who ordained young James E. Faust as a bishop.

When he asserts himself, it is after listening. Again and again, colleagues have seen him listen patiently to discussions which swirl about the edges of a matter and then create a focus on the key issues. He does this thoughtfully but, if necessary, boldly.

President Faust is especially adept at remembering people’s first names. Furthermore, when he asks questions, they are not perfunctory. He waits and listens for answers.

After high school, where he won medals as a track star at Granite High School and lettered in football, his higher education at the University of Utah, where he ran the 440 and mile relay, was interrupted twice—once to serve as a missionary in Brazil for thirty-three months and later to serve in the U.S. Army Air Force in World War II.

Other preparatory episodes in his life show divine design. Not long after young Elder Faust’s arrival in Brazil, Elder W. Grant Bangerter, his second missionary companion, welcomed Elder Faust at a time when missionaries were having very little success. The senior companion watched young Elder Faust boldly approach one of his first houses. Elder Bangerter skeptically thought, He won’t be able to converse enough to do any good. Elder Bangerter even turned his back on Brother Faust to emphasize that the contact was Brother Faust’s, not his! But young Elder Faust’s conversation with the woman at the window led to the Dedo-Valeixo family’s joining the Church (Ensign, Oct. 1986, p. 6).

Many years later, in 1975, Elder Faust presided over all of South America while residing in Brazil. Covering a whole continent was not easy. There were challenges everywhere, but a joyous compensation was Elder Faust’s role in encouraging and overseeing the building of the São Paulo Temple. To him, the growth in the land of Brazil, whose people he loves so much, continues to be “a great source of amazement and personal satisfaction.”

Chief among the “great souls” who have influenced him is his wife, Ruth. They met as students at Granite High School and were sealed in the Salt Lake Temple while President Faust was on a brief military leave and before the long journey into the Pacific.

His deep devotion to Ruth may be gauged by the fact that, while they were separated during World War II, he wrote a letter every day to her. The letters arrived irregularly, and one day Ruth Faust received ninety letters; her employer thoughtfully let her have the afternoon off to go home and read them! This exemplary love and respect have deepened, as daughter Lisa observed: “My dad has always made it very clear how much he loves my mother and respects womanhood. He has always treated her with a sweet tenderness.” This priority is confirmed by son James H. Faust: “My parents have implemented a philosophy that [their children’s] spouses should be treated better than the children. … It has had the effect of creating a love for Mom and Dad in the spouses of the children which nears or equals the love which they have for their own parents.”

President Faust’s love of Ruth is underscored by what happened at the time of his call to the Council of the Twelve: as he received warm and appreciated congratulations from the Brethren on the stand, his chief concern was, “Where’s my wife?” To this day, after giving his various conference addresses, he is quick to look over to receive Ruth’s smiling approval.

Typical of his willingness to listen, President Faust was once asked by Elder Boyd K. Packer, “What would you have been without your wife, Ruth?” President Faust spent the next twenty-four hours thinking more about, in his words, “what I would have been without the loving, sweet support and the discipline of Ruth Wright in my life. It shocked me a little to even think about what life would be and would have been without her” (Ensign, July 1981, p. 35). Daughter Janna notes that, along with her father’s “inherent wisdom,” she ranks highly “his great love and devotion to my angelic mother, Ruth.”

Given President Faust’s empathy, it is unsurprising to observe his regular and specific inquiries regarding the welfare of the families of the Brethren.

Although President Faust was already of considerable character at the time of his various calls, over the years associates have seen him magnified in his responses to his high and holy callings. Thus his performance has been sanctified not only for his sake, but for the sake of the Lord’s work (see 2 Ne. 32:9).

President Faust likewise has the capacity to learn from stern experiences. He has related how he cared for the lamb his father gave him as a boy—except for one night. Then, in the midst of a bitter storm, the lamb died. His father, who carried shrapnel wounds from World War I, reproved young Jim, saying, “Can’t you even take care of one little lamb?” The responsibilities of the shepherd are etched deeply in the soul of President Faust. He has been an unusually conscientious shepherd, including his special care and concern for single adults.

He carries with him a rich Church heritage into many parts of the world where, as he describes it, “the Church is new and struggling.” Yet he not only imparts that heritage but also receives from his experiences abroad, as illustrated by an experience in Ghana during World War II. When Brother Faust was nearly asleep beneath a mosquito net, a Ghanaian attendant was mistakenly thought to be searching for the American’s wallet. After expressing alarm, Brother Faust found, instead, that the Ghanaian assured him, “I am a Christian.” The kindly Ghanaian was just tucking him in. President Faust, a keen but meek observer, is slow to judge with regard to the motives of others. One evidence of genuine meekness is provided when an individual is humble toward those below, as well as toward those above. President Faust is humble down as well as humble up.

President Faust has offered dedicatory prayers in Sri Lanka, Uganda, Kenya, Latvia, and Zimbabwe. He visited and rededicated China and returned after decades to West Africa to help establish the Church there.

His is an unusual sensitivity and empathy for what people of the world pass through in terms of poverty and political subjugation. He has seen so much of it in his travels. Notable among his extra efforts has been work in the Middle East, both in Israel, including in the establishment of the magnificent Jerusalem Center, and among the Palestinians. He established an unusual bond of trust with Jerusalem’s former mayor, Teddy Kollek. He and Ruth accompanied the Tabernacle Choir in its recent visit to the Holy Land. Under the direction of President Howard W. Hunter and with the help of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, who at that time was a member of the Seventy, much good has been done in non-Christian nations in the Middle East because of President Faust’s efforts.

It has been a long and busy tour for a boy from Delta, Utah! What is past continues to be prologue. His seatmate of many years, Elder David B. Haight of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles notes, “I have often enjoyed listening to his stories of summers spent at the farm of his grandfather in Millard County where he received an appreciation of pioneer heritage in learning how to solve problems and accomplish a needed task.” The Lord has used him in so many places on this planet, all the while preparing him to serve in the First Presidency in a global church.

The personalities of the Brethren can be known through their sermons, which are like epistles to the Church. Such is the case with President Faust.

When President Faust was called as an Assistant to the Twelve in October of 1972, he regarded himself as “putting [his] hand to the plow, and [he] didn’t want to ever look back.” This was in the tradition of the original Apostles who “straightway left their nets, and followed him” (Matt. 4:20).

In response to his call as an Apostle, he said, “I understand that a chief requirement for the apostleship is to be a personal witness of Jesus as the Christ and the Divine Redeemer. Perhaps on that basis alone, I can qualify. This truth has been made known to me by the unspeakable peace and power of the Spirit of God.”

In his October 1994 general conference address, “The Keys That Never Rust,” he urged the membership of the Church to follow the teachings and counsel of those who hold the keys as prophets, seers, and revelators (see Ensign, Nov. 1994, pp. 72–74). Another especially impressive sermon was entitled “Five Loaves and Two Fishes,” in which he described the faith and devotion of those who seem to have so little to offer in the service of the Master and yet give all that they have (see John 6:5–14). He spoke movingly of the “many nameless people with gifts equal only to five loaves and two small fishes [who] magnify their callings and serve without attention or recognition, feeding literally thousands” (Ensign, May 1994, p. 5).

President Faust thus prefers to speak of important truths. In another sermon, “Where Is the Church?” Elder Faust spoke of how “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is in our hearts, and when it is in our hearts as individuals, it will also be in our great buildings of worship, in our great educational institutions, in our magnificent temples, and in our homes and families” (Ensign, Aug. 1990, p. 67).

Being humbly grateful for his own spiritual heritage, it is understandable that he would have given a message to his granddaughters entitled “Becoming ‘Great Women’” (see Ensign, Sept. 1986, pp. 16–20). All parents who have the Spirit become like father Lehi, exceedingly anxious that our children should partake of the delicious fruit of the tree of life (see 1 Ne. 8:10–17).

President Faust thus brings so much to his new calling; hence he is unintimidated by present difficulties. He can also scan the horizon in anticipation of difficulties and opportunities which will face the Church.

In sum, James Esdras Faust knows who he is and what God intends him to do! As President Howard W. Hunter once said to Margaret Bury, “Jim is pure gold.”

[photo] Above: Young James, right, with his brothers Rex, left, and Dan, center.

[photos] Left: James Faust married his sweetheart, Ruth Wright, while he was serving in the air force during World War II. Below: With his parents, George and Amy Finlinson Faust, and his son, James. Bottom: As a missionary.

[photos] Above: James E. Faust, center, as president of the Cottonwood Stake in Salt Lake City, with his counselors in 1956. (Photo courtesy of Deseret News.) Right: Speaking at an MIA conference in June 1974. (Photo by Howard Moore; courtesy of Deseret News.)

[photo] Above: At the ground breaking of the São Paulo Temple in 1976.

[photos] Above: Missionaries Janath and Edwin Q. Cannon, Jr., left, and Rachel and Rendell N. Mabey, right, first resident missionaries in Nigeria, with Elder Faust and his wife, Ruth. Below: A 1974 general conference photo. (Photo by David Conley; courtesy of Deseret News.)

[photos] Left: During development of Brigham Young University’s Jerusalem Center, Elder Faust worked closely with Elder Howard W. Hunter (who would become Acting President, and later President, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles during the project) and with Jeffrey R. Holland, then president of Brigham Young University. Above: A recent photo of President and Sister Faust.