James Esdras Faust, a counselor in the LDS First Presidency known for his passion for justice and quiet ways, died early today at his Salt Lake City home, surrounded by his family. He was 87.
Faust, who had been a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 1978, became second counselor to LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley in March 1995. He died of “causes incident to age,” according to an LDS spokesman.
Known for his careful, legal mind, his conciliatory ways, and his deep concern for people in trouble, Faust’s legacy touches everyone in the 13-million member church.
“Jim Faust was a great warrior for truth and goodness, who knew no shortcuts,” said LDS Apostle M. Russell Ballard on Friday. “He was a great example to us all.”
Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, called Faust a “great asset to this community. . .a compassionate man and a great teacher,” and Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, said he has lost “a dear friend.”
Faust’s life was best understood by “his adherence to principles and the priority assigned to his family that permeated his being,” wrote the late Apostle Neal A. Maxwell in a 1995 biographical essay in the church’s monthly magazine, The Ensign, after Faust’s call to the church’s governing First Presidency.
Maxwell related how Faust and his family had a special family home evening in 1972 when he was first called as a general authority in which he told his children that he could not succeed as a general authority unless he was a good father.
A similar family meeting took place in the Faust home in 1995 when he was called to the First Presidency, although this one involved 22 grandchildren, too.
”Accompanying his fixed priorities is immense integrity,” Maxwell wrote. ”Those who know him understand that President Faust will not yield to mere pressure, but he can be persuaded by principles.”
Before becoming an LDS authority, Faust was driven by the desire for justice, said his eldest son, Jim, in a 1996 interview.
It might have been encoded into Faust’s DNA.
His father, George, was a lawyer and a judge who used semi-judicial techniques to discipline his five sons. Aphorisms from the legal world often were heard in the Faust home.
But it was his mother, Amy Finlinson Faust, who gave young Jim his religious sensitivities. She schooled him in the faith’s Scriptures, particularly the Book of Mormon, son Jim said.
In a 1983 article in The Ensign, Faust described his mother’s copy of the book:
”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’t get closer to God by reading the Book of Mormon than by any other book. She was already there.”
That religious devotion paid off.
He was made an LDS bishop at 28, while still in law school, in a stake presidency at 31 and a stake president at 33.
Being a leader at an unusually young age “sobered him a lot,” said son Jim. “Being so much younger than most people in the positions forced him to act more maturely. He wanted to rise to the level of the office to honor the call.”
In 1972, after a successful career as an attorney, Faust was called as an assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Four years later, he was made a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy.
As a general authority, Faust worked with young men, was president of the International Mission and oversaw the development of curriculum for religious education. He helped craft programs for singles, the disabled and others.
He offered prayers dedicating Sri Lanka, Uganda, Kenya, Latvia and Zimbabwe for Mormon missionary work.
Faust also spent countless hours working to establish Brigham Young University’s Jerusalem Center.
“About 20 times when plans for the Jerusalem Center could have been blown out of the water, Jim Faust hung in there, took care of details,” says BYU Professor J. Bonner Ritchie. “He had a simple commitment to getting it done.”
But possibly Faust’s favorite church assignment was as area administrator over South America from 1975 to 1978. His headquarters were in Brazil, where he also directed the construction of the Sao Paulo Temple.
Faust was blunt with ecclesiastical colleagues and friends, willing to tell them what they needed to hear and not just what they wanted to hear, Maxwell wrote.
”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,” he wrote. ”His friendship is such that, if needed, he is willing to say that which a friend needs to hear.”
As an apostle and as a First Presidency counselor, Faust emphasized obedience. Like many of his apostolic colleagues and other general authorities, he urged Latter-day Saints to remain close to the church’s teachings and to follow the counsel of the church’s leaders.
Unlike some church leaders whose lives mostly revolve around church activity, Faust was deeply involved in public service from his youth.
Faust was born July 31, 1920, in Delta, Utah. He spent his summers working his father’s farm in Delta. The winters in suburban Salt Lake City were for academics and athletics. Faust excelled in elementary school and skipped a grade.
At Granite High School, he lettered in debate, football and track. He also met his future wife, Ruth Wright, one year his junior and two years behind him in school.
After a year at the University of Utah, where he was a track star, Faust joined his older brother on an LDS mission to Brazil. There he developed his longstanding attraction to all things Brazilian. He learned Spanish and Portuguese, as well as German from expatriates.
Before he could get back to college, World War II broke out and Faust joined the U.S. Army Air Forces. (cq) On leave in 1943, he married Wright in the Salt Lake Temple. For the next two years, Faust wrote his bride every day.
In 1945, Faust re-entered the U. and earned his bachelor’s and law degrees. The Fausts eventually had five children. Within a few years after setting up his law practice, Faust was drawn into Utah politics.
When Utah became a state in 1896, Mormons needed to establish a two-party system, so church leaders divided the obedient Latter-day Saints equally between the Democrats and the Republicans.
The Fausts became Democrats, said Jim Faust, and have remained so to this day.
As a Democratic state legislator from 1949 to 1951, Faust was “recognized immediately as a fair-minded, even-tempered pragmatist,” said former Democratic U.S. Sen. Frank Moss of his longtime friend and former campaign manager in 1996. “He isn’t a bluenose or hard driver, just a plain sensible person who can talk openly with people.”
Faust helped update Utah’s liquor laws in the 1950s. He was president of the Utah Bar Association in 1962-63, during which time he was appointed by President Kennedy to the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Racial Unrest.
Over time, he joined the church’s Public Affairs Committee and became the point man on many social issues, including liquor laws, abortion and pari-mutuel gambling. Along the way, he picked up a bevy of awards. He was honored as a Distinguished Alumni at the University of Utah in 1999, and was awarded the Honorary Order of the Coif at Brigham Young University in 2000. In 2003, he was given the Marion G. Romney Distinguished Service Award by Brigham Young University Law School, and he was awarded an Honorary Doctors of Law degree by the University of Utah.
In 1998 President Faust received a Brazilian national citizenship award – an honor given to only a select few world leaders – and was awarded honorary citizenship of the city of Sao Paulo.
None of that went to his head, though.
“He is the same person, maybe more tender and gentle, with his family as he is in public,” said daughter-in-law Susan Faust once said.
He is survived by his wife and five children: James H. Faust, Janna R. Coombs, Marcus G. Faust, Lisa A. Smith, and Robert P. Faust, 25 grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
We appreciate your support
Our website includes affiliate links, which means we get a small commission — at no additional cost to you — for each qualifying purpose. For instance, as an Amazon Associate Religion News Blog earns from qualifying purchases. That is one reason why we can provide this service free of charge.