Sitting in his office at the Church Administration Building, President M. Russell Ballard holds a worn and heavily marked set of scriptures — bound together with two rubber bands — and talks about his friend Jon M. Huntsman Sr.
It is hard to say everything about Huntsman’s service to his family and the Church, and his work as an international businessman and philanthropist, said President Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
But, he adds as he holds up Huntsman’s scriptures, which he borrowed from the family to use in his funeral address, “this says a lot.”
Huntsman, 80, died Friday, Feb. 2, 2018, “surrounded by a loving family, following long-term health challenges.”
Married to Karen Haight Huntsman — the daughter of Elder David B. Haight of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Sister Ruby Haight — Jon Huntsman was the father of nine children.
“We share today in the grief of the Huntsman family,” wrote the First Presidency in a statement. “We honor Jon as a cherished husband, father and friend, esteemed as a leader for his exceptional capacity, commitment, philanthropy and service throughout the world. We express our love to Karen, to their children and family. Jon’s legacy of faithful leadership, generosity and goodness stands as a beacon for the entire Huntsman family and many others throughout the world.”
Huntsman, a former Area Seventy, stake president and mission president in Washington, D.C., was a “strong, powerful, fair businessman” whose “word was his bond,” said Elder Ronald A. Rasband, the former president and Chief Operating Officer of Huntsman Chemical Corporation and now a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
He traveled with Huntsman across the globe. Wherever he went, Huntsman always carried his worn and marked scriptures with him, said Elder Rasband.
Elder Rasband met Huntsman in the mid 1970s when the pair worked together in a married student ward at the University of Utah. Hunstman was the high councilor assigned to the ward; Elder Rasband was the elders quorum president. The relationship between the pair — that would lead Elder Rasband to begin work in 1976 at Huntsman Container Company and ultimately take the helm of Huntsman Chemical Corporation — “began with the Church.”
He learned quickly that his boss expected him to work hard, get results, and be “moral, ethical and honest.”
Even then Huntsman was generous with his means and helped ward members with the instruction that they never know where the gift came from, said Elder Rasband. At a time when the Huntsmans didn’t have a lot of money “I saw his generosity in person,” he said.
President Ballard said Jon Huntsman’s commitment to the Church was evident in his decades of service to the Church — where he helped the Church internationally gain footholds in countries where Huntsman Chemical Corporation was operating. On one trip President Ballard and Elder Rasband watched as Jon Huntsman made it possible for the Church to receive missionary visas in Singapore and Thailand. He also helped the Church in Russia.
In addition, the Huntsmans made it possible “for the presidents of the Church to visit Saints who had never seen a prophet“ in remote locations across the globe by making their private jet available to President Gordon B. Hinckley and President Thomas S. Monson, said President Ballard.
Jon Huntsman also had a special relationship with President Howard W. Hunter, who lived in his ward. When one of the three were sick or recovering from surgery, the other two would visit. Often President Hunter, President Ballard and Huntsman would take a ride together to buy a frozen yogurt.
Both President Ballard — whose daughter, Brynn, is married to Peter Huntsman — and Elder Rasband said Huntsman had the ability to compress two days work into one day.
He accomplished this despite dealing with an auto-immune disorder and several forms of cancer, said President Ballard, noting Huntsman was often in severe pain. “I can’t remember many days when he didn’t have some health issue,” added Elder Rasband.
Elder Rasband said Elder Haight and President Ballard served as a mentor to Jon Hunstman, who was his mentor. Now Elder Rasband will be a mentor to the Huntsman children.
Ralph Hardy, who worked with Huntsman professionally and served with him when both men were Area Seventies, said Huntsman’s accomplishments can not be understated. “He started a company from scratch” that resulted in 15,000 employees and plants all over the world.
He said over the years he observed, in both his Church and professional work, a constant. Huntsman, he said, was always busy and running for a plane. But he always made time to check in with his wife, sometimes multiple times in a day. “You could see that he had a wonderful relationship and partnership with Karen,” said Hardy.
He also had a special relationship with each of his children and grandchildren, family members say.
Huntsman’s son, Peter Huntsman, said his father had the special ability to teach his nine children equally and employ “big picture strategy” at home as well as in his business and Church work. His father believed in working “longer, harder and stronger.”
Known for his philanthropic donations — he gave away $1.5 billion in his lifetime — Jon Huntsman had three passions: Helping the homeless, promoting education and finding a cure for cancer.
Peter Huntsman said his father focused on “what are things I can do to help others help themselves?” and “what are things I can do to help people with problems out of their control?”
A man who was personally involved in his grandson’s mission preparation, Jon Huntsman faithfully attended Church leadership trainings and always felt he had something to learn from any Church leader, even as a global business leader and billionaire.
“He was a genuine believer,” said Peter Huntsman. “He spent 50 years in Church leadership positions.”
As a mission president he could have afforded to buy and drive any car on the market, but instead he drove the mission vehicle — a Chevy Malibu.
Years later, his son David H. Huntsman is also serving as a mission president in Washington, D.C.
David Huntsman said it is a great privilege to “follow in his father’s footsteps,” to conduct missionary meetings and zone conferences in the same buildings his father did three decades earlier.
David Huntsman said his father “loved to be around people” and found “great strength and happiness” from his associations in the Church.
One of the last times President Ballard and Elder Rasband heard Jon Huntsman offer a Church talk was two years ago during a mission meeting in the Washington DC South Mission.
David Huntsman said his father spoke to the missionaries about his favorite topic. “He liked to talk about the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the impact it had on him and the impact it has on all of us when we apply it to our individual lives.”
Christena Durham said her father’s religion “was part of him.”
The week before he died, she was with her father. “He said, ‘Honey, just remember the Atonement and preach about the Atonement and the love the Savior has for each one of us.’”