Vai's View: Vai's View: Ross Farnsworth and the ripple effect of one good deed

Published: Friday, June 1 2012 1:00 p.m. MDT

Ross Farnsworth even delved into sports ownership, buying a minority share of the Phoenix Suns.

Yet, they never left their starter home. Never left the LDS ward or public schools where their 12 children grew up. Of course, they kept adding on to the house to accommodate their growing family, which just made the backyard smaller. But hey, there were parks nearby where there was plenty of space to run and play.

Ross Sr. simply did not want to lose the common touch by living behind gated walls. And it was that common touch that brought my family, literally to the Farnsworths" door.

My family connection to Farnsworth was through Ross's brother and sister-in-law, Duane and Camille Richins. Camille Cox Richins and Anita Cox Farnsworth are sisters.

The Richins came to Tonga in the '60s to teach and to be administrators at Church-owned Liahona High, where they met my parents as students and got to know them even better after they married and became dorm parents.

Duane and Camille Richins helped sponsor my parents' immigration to America as students to Church College of Hawaii, later renamed BYU-Hawaii.

After a year of going to school and working at the Polynesian Cultural Center, my parents were finally able to save enough for my lone one-way fare to Hawaii. Leaving my siblings was excruciating, as none of us knew how long it would be before we'd be reunited, or in young minds, if ever at all.

Mom and Dad underestimated the cost of living as college students and trying to save to reunite with their children on PCC wages. So, they dropped out of school, applied for green cards and moved us to Mesa, Ariz., so they could both work and expedite my siblings' immigration. From Tonga, the Richins' alerted the Farnsworths of our family's plight and Ross, as a young bishop, helped us organize luaus as fund raisers to pay for my siblings' fare.

"It's interesting," Ross Jr. told me, "Dad told me that he wrestled with just writing a check to pay for your siblings' fare because he knew how difficult the separation was for your family, particularly for your mother. But he told me he felt restrained in that doing so would cripple your family's independence. Given his own background, he felt it was better that he help organize luaus wherein your family could participate in the process and not just be recipients of his generosity."

As a boy, I have vivid memories of performing the haka and Samoan slap dance, my dad and other men playing music and my mom organizing cooking and serving food at numerous luaus organized by the Farnsworths and others.

Now 80, suffering from diabetes and bouts with cancer, Ross Farnsworth still attends three weekly board meetings of his real estate empire as chairman.

"His mind is sharp, but his health has slowed him a bit," Junior told me.

"But if you come unprepared or don't have the right answers at a board meeting, he will rip you to shreds. He's a tough employer. Especially if you're one of his kids."

Which is probably why all 12 Farnsworth children are faithful Latter-day Saints. Two daughters have served with their husbands as mission presidents in South America — Janet Farnsworth Turk and her husband Terry are currently leading a mission in Peru, and Julie Farnsworth Ashby and her husband, Fred, led the Uruguay Montevideo Mission as mission president from 2006-'09. Two other sons-in-law are current stake presidents. One son is a bishop. Eight of the 12 are current or past presidents of various service clubs like United Way, Kiwanas or Rotary. Ross Jr. is president of Farnsworth Holdings, but his heart and passion is with the organization he founded nearly 10 years ago, One Life At A Time.

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