Like that of many other young men in the 1940s, young James E. Faust's life was disrupted by the demands of World War II. He had filled a wonderful, never-to-be forgotten mission for the Church in Brazil and now had a great desire to marry his beautiful sweetheart, Ruth Wright. But war was raging and he dutifully answered the call of his country. When the war was over life was more urgent than ever for him; he was afraid the years were passing him by. Consequently, he was not anxious to return to the university where he had started his studies a full eight years earlier. His original plans would require yet another three years of intensive study, discipline and poverty. That just seemed to be more delay and difficulty in his life than he wanted.
With all of this in mind he said to his father, "I don't think I will go back to school. I will just get a job or start a business and go forward with my life." His father, who himself knew something of discipline, sacrifice and poverty, looked his son squarely in the eye and asked with typical candor, "What can you do?"
President Faust said the question was so brutally honest that it hurt, but he could not deny the love and wisdom that had prompted it. He rather sheepishly admitted to his father — and himself — that he couldn't do much, so he reluctantly returned to the university not for the poverty he knew he would face but for the preparation that might help him better serve his family, his community and his Church.
That father and son are now enjoying a richly rewarding reunion in heaven. And what delight that father must be feeling as he looks at the truly remarkable lifetime of accomplishments achieved by his son he loved so much, accomplishments that give more than a full-measure answer to that early question, "What can you do?"
The Church has lost one of its most faithful and exemplary servants in the passing of James E. Faust, second counselor to President Gordon B. Hinckley, because it seems he could "do" everything. Born in rural Delta in Millard County, Utah, raised by loving parents whose pictures were still in his office the day he died, rearing his own family of five children in a very modest Salt Lake City home in which, by his own admission, "there were more children than rooms," he was an uncommon "common man." This was reflected in his smile, his manner, his graciousness and his beliefs. He was forever reaching out "to the one" and reaching up "to the light," — phrases from the titles of two of the books which contain some of his marvelous sermons.
Before his call as a General Authority (in which he served as an Assistant to the Twelve, a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, an apostle, and counselor in the First Presidency), he was a successful lawyer, and civic and business leader in Salt Lake City. Loved and admired by people of every political persuasion, ethnic origin and religious background, he had an influence on the well-being of the city, state and nation that was not limited only to locations of North America. It was then-Elder James E. Faust to whom the Brethren turned for opening the work in West Africa as president of the Church's International mission. Later, while in Brazil for the groundbreaking ceremony of a new temple, he was made an honorary citizen of Sao Paulo in recognition of his lifelong ties to that city and the rest of Brazil. This man of the people was also a citizen of the world.
What could — and did — James E. Faust "do"? The list goes on and on. Athlete (football player in high school, track star in college), musician (President Faust had a beautiful baritone voice and wrote the text to the hymn, "This Is the Christ"), family man (most of the obituary material surrounding his death begins with his extraordinary love for his wife and children). But what he could "do" best was live the gospel of Jesus Christ and testify of it with his apostolic witness. He said, "I have often gone in agony of spirit, earnestly pleading with God to sustain me in the work I have come to appreciate more than life itself....I have struggled up an almost real Mount of Transfiguration and...felt great strength and power in the presence of the Divine....I testify with an absolute awareness in every fiber and innermost recess of my being that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Divine Redeemer, and the Son of God."
What could James E. Faust "do"? "Anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy," and he did it so wonderfully well. We will miss him dearly.