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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Elder Ronald A. Rasband and President M. Russell Ballard, both of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, talk about the service Jon Huntsman Sr. rendered to the LDS Church during an interview at the Church Administration Building in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018.

Note: Jon Huntsman Sr.'s funeral was this afternoon at 11. Watch DeseretNews.com for coverage shortly.

SALT LAKE CITY — The wealthy businessman's worn, leather-bound scriptures brim with red pencil markings and extra paper, notes tucked away between the pages. Two large rubber bands, one tan and the other orange, work to hold everything inside.

The orange rubber band gave up once, breaking in two, but Jon Huntsman Sr. didn't discard it. Instead, the billionaire tied the band's ends together in a knot and kept on using it to protect one of his most-prized treasures.

Saturday, when Huntsman is laid to rest after a life of tremendous accomplishment, service, giving and pain, his good friend Russ Ballard — who considered Huntsman the brother he never had — will stand at his funeral and hold up those scriptures as an illustration of what motivated Huntsman's life and of his devotion to God and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"This is a man of great spiritual depth," said President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, in an interview this week with the Deseret News.

"Dad at his core, he was a genuine believer," said Huntsman's son, Peter, president and CEO of Huntsman Corp., who is married to President Ballard's daughter, Brynn Ballard Huntsman . "I think that he was a Christian before anything else. That was the core of his business and the core of his ethics and his work patterns."

The son of an alcoholic but also of Mormon pioneer ancestry, Huntsman — who passed away Feb. 2 at age 80 — could have died at birth. Instead, he became an intrepid problem-solver who built an industrial empire with grit and determination, then gave nearly all of it away while serving for 50 years in church leadership positions, leveraging his business and connections to open the way for LDS missionaries and the Mormon prophets he called friends to reach farther around the world.

Fighting pain

"The guy came into the world with really crummy health, and the midwife said he wouldn't make it," Peter Huntsman said of his father. "He left it in a lot of pain."

There wasn't much relief in between.

Huntsman plucked Ronald A. Rasband, now a member of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles out of college and groomed him on his way to becoming president and chief operating officer of Huntsman Chemical. Elder Rasband said this week that he can't remember many days when Huntsman wasn't in serious pain from cancer or the Addison's disease that relentlessly attacked his immune system.

Even his medications came with severe consequences, President Ballard said.

"When you get to the other side," he told Huntsman, "you and Job are going to have a lot to talk about. When you compare stories, you might just win," he said, noting the Old Testament prophet synonymous with life's great struggles.

Two days before he died, President Ballard and Elder Rasband gave him a blessing.

"We knew he would not make it," President Ballard said. "He knew he would not make it. We pled with the Lord to take away the pain."

In spite of his personal suffering, Huntsman was a driven worker, a sea of energy and zeal, said Ralph Hardy, a Washington, D.C. lawyer who worked for Huntsman and served as an Area Seventy of the church with him.

"What he did with that pain," Peter Huntsman said, "whether it was fighting cancer or homelessness, it's an example of 'sweet are the uses of adversity.' Shakespeare had it right."

Evolved giving

Jesus Christ was his example and hero, President Ballard said. Huntsman and his wife, Karen Haight Huntsman, daughter of late LDS apostle Elder David B. Haight, began to give $50 a month to charities when they were newly married and living off $330 a month.

When the entrepreneur's companies began to generate real profits, they started contributing to dozens of charities, Peter Huntsman said. And people. For example, Huntsman handed a $1,000 check to Elder Rasband soon after they met. Huntsman was a stake high councilman who oversaw Elder Rasband in his role as an elder's quorum president in a Mormon congregation for young, married students at the University of Utah. The money was for Elder Rasband to spread around the quorum to those who needed it. He insisted the gift remain anonymous.

Huntsman's giving evolved when he began to apply his international business skills to it.

"That's where the Huntsman Cancer Institute came from," Peter Huntsman said. "'Instead of giving a 100 different groups $1 million, I'm going to give one group $100 million to go deep and focus on that one.'"

His dream was to give away his last penny the day he died. He didn't manage that, Peter said, but the Huntsmans have made philanthropic gifts totaling $1.5 billion. They transferred their wealth and ownership of their businesses to charities and the Huntsman Foundation. Peter Huntsman came to realize that his giving was divided into two very different buckets.

The first was helping people help themselves, which led to an abused women's shelter, scholarships and helping people with mortgages and jobs. The second was helping people with problems out of their control, which along with the losses of his father and mother and his own bouts with cancer, fueled his passion for cancer research.

Opening the world

President Ballard and Elder Rasband said they preached the gospel with Huntsman all over the world while he served for 15 years as an Area Seventy — the longest service in that calling in church history — and even when he wasn't.

They recalled a trip to Asia when the LDS Church was having trouble getting visas for missionaries called to serve in Singapore and Thailand.

"Jon had access to the leaders of both countries and got us an audience with them and was able to tell them what we needed," President Ballard said. "Ultimately, the leader of the country would say, 'What can we do for you?' He'd go right to the church: 'Well, there is something you can do.' That made a difference."

Huntsman helped open the way for the church to gain recognized status in Armenia, Ukraine and the Soviet Union. In Armenia, he built a concrete plant as a part of a humanitarian project to provide reinforced homes after a devastating earthquake. Huntsman told Armenian leadership he needed church humanitarian missionaries with expertise in concrete who would work for free. Armenia, which had a single recognized religion, agreed to allow a place of worship for the Mormons.

Hardy, the lawyer who said Huntsman's business provided him with the biggest break of his professional career, said Huntsman once hosted Soviet ambassador Yuri Dubinin for a late 1980s dinner at his home with late LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley and other church leaders. Then Huntsman, who was president of the Salt Lake Monument Park Stake, had Dubinin and his wife speak at stake conference.

"That was a great moment in church history, the Soviet ambassador to the United States speaking in an LDS stake conference," Hardy said. "It was in the aftermath of that that the church was legalized and could hold meetings in the Soviet Union."

Part of him

Huntsman managed to wear his religion proudly on his sleeve without making people feel inferior or uncomfortable, Peter Huntsman and Elder Rasband said.

"He never shied away from his religion," said his daughter, Christena Huntsman Durham. "He was never ashamed of it. It was part of him."

"He had a way of linking all areas of his life together better than any person I've ever known," Elder Rasband said. "Church, business, humanitarian work, politics. He believed it could all be done in the same way."

Early in Peter Huntsman's career he found it humbling to watch his father rub shoulders with Warren Buffett and other billionaires, fly home on a $30 million Gulfstream jet and go straight to a church meeting where a dentist or local pharmacist would train him on his ecclesiastical work and how to run a ward.

"I'm not putting down the dentist or the pharmacist," Peter said, "I'm saying that was a real eye-opener to see dad in a world of jets and billion-dollar deals and then get off that merry-go-round and put on the robes of Christendom, if you will, and put the natural man off for a bit. He could have been the one telling them how to run an organization, yet I never heard him complain about any of that. I think that he actually enjoyed that idea."

Huntsman loved his church assignments and teaching about the Atonement of Jesus Christ, Durham said. He served in several bishoprics, as a stake president, as president of the Washington, D.C. Mission — "he was exceptional," President Ballard said — and as regional representative and Area Seventy.

Hardy and their friend John Willard "Bill" Marriott served with him as Area Seventies and sat together in training meetings with apostles every April.

"He was dedicated," Marriott said. "He was a great leader who knew the gospel. People loved and adored him.

The wear on his scriptures came from using and carrying them with him everywhere he went in the world in a bag where he toted his indispensable items on every trip.

"He loved the scriptures," Durham said. "He always preached to us about the Atonement. The week before he passed away, we were in and out of his room. He had a pile of talks by him that were all about the Atonement. He said, 'Honey, just remember the Atonement and preach about the Atonement and the love the Savior has for each one of us.' He taught us to take our faith and make it a part of us."

No fluff

Huntsman was "an incredibly tough, demanding businessman," Peter Huntsman said. He had no patience for "fluff," President Ballard said, and he demanded that Elder Rasband and Peter be moral, ethical, loyal and honest while delivering the bottom line. All three said Huntsman kept to deals based only on his handshake, even if they became detrimental to him.

He openly lived his faith and was influential. The vast majority of Huntsman employees are overseas and not Christian, but hundreds have told Peter this week of his impact.

"They say, 'He made me a better Hindu, a better Buddhist, a better Muslim, a better Baptist, a better Catholic, a better Shinto. He made me more devout in my faith because I saw how devout he was in his faith.'

As his grandchildren have reached missionary age, he has invited them one by one to his home twice a week in the months before they began to serve for a crash course in those scriptures he loved.

"He wanted them to understand the three or four pillars of Mormonism," Peter Huntsman said. "The idea of a Restorative movement, the idea of the Atonement, the idea of priesthood — and where do these things come from, why are they important and what are you actually going to be teaching, what is the theology?"

Peter said he is grateful for his father's example.

"At the end of the day, there's a void, there's the loneliness and sorrow," he said. "But, my goodness. When he breathed his last breath and we were standing at the side of his bed, I looked up at my brother and I said, 'What a magnificent game he played.' I can't help but just thank the good Lord for such a father, a life, a boss, a mentor, a teacher."