On July 31, 1920, in Delta, Utah, James Esdras Faust was born to George A. and Amy Finlinson Faust. James was brought up in a home with a foundation built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ and where his mother read and taught him lessons from the scriptures. It was through her that President Faust learned to love the scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon. He recalled, “[My mother] taught us through her example. She was a deeply spiritual, saintly woman who fully exemplified Christlike living. I credit her for the early testimony I had.”1
Early in his life, his father instilled in him the importance of integrity. He said, “‘To thine own self be true.’ The most important thing is your good name and reputation.”2 James used this motto throughout his life, whether it be as a father, grandfather, in his church callings, or in his profession. Those who knew him knew that he could never be persuaded by pressure—only by principles.
Not only did James have a good foundation from his parents, he was given training through his pioneer heritage. His Grandmother Faust told James stories of having heard Brigham Young speak in the Tabernacle. Many years earlier, James’ great-grandfather, a young German emigrant going through Utah on his way to the California gold rush, met a young lady in Fillmore, Utah. He was so fascinated by her, that he later panned only enough gold to buy her a wedding ring. He promptly returned to marry her and later joined the Mormon Church.
George Faust, James’ father, moved his family to the Salt Lake Valley, where he served as an attorney and district court judge. George expected his son to serve a Mormon mission, attend college, and serve in the military during wartime. James knew throughout his life that there would never be a discussion on any of these topics. Although George was a busy man in the community and in church callings, he always supported his children in their extracurricular activities. James never questioned the love his father had for him.
In high school, James lettered individually in football and track and went on to participate in track in college. In his youth, he was expected to work hard at whatever he endeavored to do throughout life. This character trait was exemplified at an early age while James was in elementary school. Because of his good grades and self discipline, he was able to skip a year. Not only did he work hard academically, but he also was taught to be responsible for ‘the eternal everyday.’ After graduating from high school, James attended the University of Utah for two years and then served a mission in Brazil. Following his mission, James served in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II and advanced to the rank of first lieutenant.
After three years in the military, James wasn’t sure he wanted to return to college. It had been almost six years since he had left for the university and served his mission. When James told his father that he wasn’t sure he wanted to continue his education, his father replied by saying, “What can you do?” Needless to say, after that question, James returned to school and received his bachelor’s degree and then a juris doctor degree from the University of Utah in 1948.
James recalled his full time Mormon mission in the land of Brazil, beginning in 1938. “In those days it was a difficult mission. We had hardly any baptisms, and it was very, very discouraging. It took some strength and discipline under those circumstances to work at it and to keep the Spirit.” When speaking to one of his previous missionary companions, he stated, “We didn’t accomplish much except for the changes in ourselves. I feel it was one of the most productive and valuable times in my life.”1
As he served his mission, Elder Faust mastered his use of the Portuguese language and developed his language skills in German as well – this being the language most of the members of the Church in Brazil spoke at that time. Elder Faust presided over local Saints as a district president and in other positions of leadership among the missionaries.
While James was serving his mission, thousands of miles away, America became involved in a World War II. His departure to return home from his mission was delayed by several months because there was no way to get home. When he was finally able to leave, he could not travel by ship due submarine threats—so he came home in zigzag fashion by air.
Military and Marriage
Six weeks after returning from his mission, James was drafted and assigned to the Air Force. Because of his experience as a Mormon missionary, James had advantages over the average soldier. He had knowledge of languages and a practical education and leadership ability that qualified him for officer training, from which he graduated with honors.
While attending Granite High School, James had met Ruth Wright. When he returned from his mission, he became reacquainted with her. During a ten-day leave from officers’ training in Florida, James and Ruth were married in the Salt Lake Temple on April 21, 1943. They bought a used car so they could travel together to and from each military assignment, so Ruth could stay with James as much as possible. They traveled to and from bases at least ten times, traveling day and night in order to get to each new assignment as fast as the train would have taken him.
James was then assigned to such places as New Zealand, Australia, Tasmania, and Egypt. He was the only Mormon aboard a military ship for three months, where he worshipped alone each Sunday. He searched out places where he could sing alone, read the scriptures, meditate, and pray in private. “People can receive great spiritual strength even though they’re all alone. If they’ll say their daily prayers, pay their tithing, and try to remember as best they can the Sabbath day, the Spirit will come to them and settle upon them richly. It will be a great strength and comfort.”1
While gone, James wrote a letter to Ruth every day, who in his absence had returned to Salt Lake City to work. During this tumultuous time, letters were sometimes slow in arriving; however one day, approximately ninety letters arrived from James. Ruth remembers her employer letting her have the afternoon off to go home and read them—every one of them.
No one could ever question the love and devotion James had for his wife Ruth. One of his daughters remembers, “My dad…always made it very clear how much he [loved] my mother and respected womanhood. He…always treated her with a sweet tenderness.” When asked to recall a moment when he was most proud of his beloved wife, he replied, “That happens every day! She is a superb wife – and no children in the world have had a better mother…I admire how she has submitted herself to the Spirit so the Lord could work in her life and be reflected in her life and in the messages she shares when she speaks.”1
Upon graduating from the University of Utah and for the next twenty-four years, James practiced law in Salt Lake City and earned distinction in his profession. His firm’s clients, who included the local Catholic Church, trusted him in his ability and above all, his integrity. This carried with him throughout his entire professional career. When asked by one of his sons if he would change anything if he had it to do over again, James’ response was, “I’d do it just the same way.”
Over his professional career, he was elected by his fellow lawyers to be the president of the Utah State Bar Association from 1962-1965. He served as a member of the Utah Legislature from 1949-1951. He also served as an advisor to the American Bar Journal, a member of the American Bar United States Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Committee for Utah, a member of President John F. Kennedy’s Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Racial Unrest, a member of Utah’s Constitutional Revision Commission, and director of the state’s Friendshipping Force. And in the summer of 1995, James was awarded the Distinguished Lawyer Emeritus Award by the Utah State Bar Association. When asked what made his law practice so rewarding, he replied, “Solving problems and getting things straightened out.” Throughout his professional life, he always made each person feel important.
Mormon Church service for James began at a very young age. At seventeen he served in his ward’s Sunday School superintendency. At the age of 28, he received his call to serve as a Mormon bishop. And at the young age of 35, he was called to be the stake president of the Salt Lake Cottonwood Stake. James has served in numerous callings throughout his life. His loyalty to the Melchizedek priesthood and a total commitment to the callings which the Lord bestowed upon him, were never in question.
In October 1972, James E. Faust was sustained as an Assistant to the Twelve Apostles. He was called in 1976 to become a member of the Presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy and two years later was ordained a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. It was during this last calling that President Faust was assigned to be the president of the International Mission. While on this assignment, he traveled to the far corners of the world. Again, as he did in his professional career, President Faust maintained a personal interest in each person he met. The Lord often blessed him to remember names and faces from his previous experiences with people. It wasn’t just the name of a person he remembered; he would ask how the person’s wife was doing by name and then proceed to name off each of their children. He had the gift of feeling sincere love and personal interest, and of showing it.
When President Faust was called to be a General Authority, and again when he was called to the First Presidency, he gathered his family together in a special Family Home Evening. His wife Ruth relates, “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 would not succeed as a General Authority, adding, ‘I am never going to be released from my calling as a father or a grandfather.'”1
In 1995, President Faust was called by then prophet Gordon B. Hinckley to the First Presidency of the Church, serving with Thomas S. Monson.
Throughout the years as a General Authority, President Faust 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.
He made extra efforts in helping to establish the Brigham Young University Jerusalem Center. He established a friendship based on trust with Jerusalem’s former Mayor, Teddy Kolek. There is a tremendous amount of good that has been done in non-Christian nations in the Middle East due to President Faust’s efforts.
When meeting President Faust, people found a character that was gentle and loving by nature, a man who listened intently when spoken to, and an unyielding friendship. But most importantly, they discovered that his testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ was unshakable.
President Faust served the Church faithfully until his death on August 10, 2007. President Faust died of causes incident to age.
1 “Elder James E. Faust: Sharing His Love for the Lord”, Ensign, Bangeter, Oct 1986, p.6
2 “President James E. Faust”, Ensign, Maxwell, Oct 1995, p.16