Utah was a significant part of Jimmy Stewart's wonderful life - and vice versa.
That affinity went beyond his professional dealings with Brigham Young University and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was a mutual affection between Utahns and Stewart perhaps kindled by their collective "common-man" image. It was a nice, comfortable relationship.The cornerstone of that link was Stewart's experience directing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, an opportunity he publicly called the most unique of his storied career. He directed the widely known choir during the 1980 filming of "Mr. Krueger's Christmas," a television special produced for the LDS Church.
A man of faith, Stewart played the venerable Mr. Krueger and spoke highly of the TV special, saying he hoped it would help promote the true meaning of that holiday in remembering Christ's birth.
When presented an extensive family history as a thank you by church leaders at the conclusion of filming, an emotional Stewart termed the gesture "amazing."
And the gifted, versatile actor truly fit that term as well. His death Wednesday at age 89 closes a chapter of Hollywood history that included such male screen legends as Henry Fonda, Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable, Bing Crosby, John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Cary Grant and others. It was a chapter that, given the current state of the movie industry, may never come again.
But Stewart's innocence, coupled with his plain-spoken yet humble forthrightness, set him apart from the others. He was everyman's man whose ethos exuded warmth and trust.
In 1985, he donated his personal papers and movie memorabilia to BYU and was honored during a weeklong tribute for his contributions to the entertainment industry. A devout Presbyterian, Stewart spoke highly of the values represented on that campus - values also shared by him and a majority of the people of Utah.