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The measure of a great man

Published: Saturday, Aug. 1 2015 10:54 a.m. MDT

With the passing of President James E. Faust, anecdotes are making the rounds. One comes from a Deseret Morning News banquet. A staffer was getting the jump on dinner by nibbling at his salad when he heard a voice that seemed to waft down from the celestial realms: "You know, that food hasn't been blessed yet," the voice said. The startled staffer looked up to see a smiling and winking President Faust.
Such was the common touch — the human touch — that President Faust brought to all his dealings. And when combined with the man's wonderful patriarchal bearing, they unveiled a spirit as wide as the Jordan River — the original Jordan River.
President Faust's ability to be both warmly human yet wisely presidential was a kind of spiritual genius. But more than that, it showcased the inner lights of a man who knew divine grace firsthand and knew how to pass that sweetness along to others.
Joseph Addison wrote: "A contemplation of God's works, a generous concern for the good of mankind and the unfeigned exercise of humility — these only denominate men great and glorious."
Those who have been posting comments on this newspaper's Web site saw much that was "great and glorious" in the life of President James E. Faust.
The "Navy Mom," for instance, who called him "a strong and tender leader."
The Latin American father who said President Faust's talk about the forgiving Amish would always be with him.
The Brazilian man who said President Faust's "love and example" were "marked on the lives" of the people in his town.
Hundreds of comments, from Ghana, Mexico, Paraguay, Virginia, Texas, South Carolina and Goshen, Utah.
Without a doubt, the praise would make President Faust blush. In his talks and books he always stood as the man on the mountain, pointing beyond himself to the distant stars — to the Savior whom he saw beaming down love. In a memorable moment in General Conference he once said — through tears — he only hoped he could be worthy of God's presence.
Kind words will continue to arrive for weeks. They will come from the peaks of power and valleys of despair. Each will shine a light on a facet of President Faust's life and work. None will define him. The whole of a worthy life is greater than the sum of its parts, the sum of its days.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, "Greatness is not measured by coverage in column inches." Emerson claimed it had more to do with "perfect sweetness." Bismarck pointed to "generosity" and "humanity."
Those impressions feel right. But none feels like it's enough.
The great man's life is more than the sum of its parts. He lies within our appreciation but beyond our understanding.
His life is a larger-than-life life — a life that never stops giving life.
So with Bismarck, Maxwell and Emerson.
So with President James E. Faust.

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company