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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Family members follow Jon M. Huntsman Sr.'s casket into the Huntsman Center at the University of Utah for funeral services in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018.

SALT LAKE CITY — The children of billionaire philanthropist Jon M. Huntsman Sr. praised their father for the lasting legacy he left them, and each recalled experiences with him that made them the people they are today.

A common thread, recounted to the thousands in attendance at his funeral, was the kindness of their dad.

"He was known for saying, 'No exercise is better for the human heart than reaching down and lifting another up,'" Peter Huntsman recalled, adding that his dad's knowledge of "human chemistry" played into Huntsman Sr.'s philanthropic and corporate successes, as well as his never-ending quest to help people in need.

"He was convinced that those who help others and who can give back to others, even in small amounts, are the happiest," Jon Huntsman Jr. said, praising his dad for a monumental "final play" at the Jon M. Huntsman Center on Saturday.

Many notable people attended, including former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, retired United States Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, Huntsman Cancer Institute director Mary Beckerle and other prominent business, church and government leaders familiar with Jon M. Huntsman Sr.

"He believed that for all of us, the biggest question we will confront in our life is, 'Were you kind?' It is the most critical need of the human soul," Jon Huntsman Jr. said. Huntsman Jr., who returned to Utah from Moscow where he is serving as U.S. ambassador to Russia, said his father's "most cherished possession" was his family, followed by his faith in God and service to his fellow man.

"I have to say words almost seem cheap at a time like this, because dad's legacy was so darn impactful," the eldest Huntsman said. "He was a man of action. He was a man of results. He lived a full, bold American life. Dad had courage. He had grit. And he had a generous heart right up until the end."

James Huntsman said his dad, who died at home on Feb. 2 from long-term health challenges, "never shied away from setting high expectations," never hesitated or feared the unknown and was "relentless in helping others."

Christena Huntsman Durham said her dad woke early one day last fall and his wife, Karen Huntsman, wrapped his legs to help with the pain of his debilitating condition, and he was off to visit every radio station in the city, promoting a cause championed by Durham.

"I knew he was in pain, but he didn't show it," she said, recalling their attempt to raise awareness for the Road Home homeless shelter downtown. She said her dad always encouraged them to love unconditionally and make new friends.

"I will miss holding your hand," Durham said to her father, whose casket was draped by hundreds of red roses.

Paul Huntsman said his dad's "celestial love" knew no bounds. He said he will miss the hand-written letters Huntsman Sr. gave him for special occasions.

And while many would believe that "everything my father touched turned to gold," Peter Huntsman said his father had many failures in life, including 50 years of investments in bakeries, hotels, restaurants, antique cars, sporting goods stores, gas stations and more. He said Huntsman Sr. once believed "the internet was a passing fad. He eternally hoped for the return of the eight-track tape and rotary phones."

"Dad struck out far more than he hit home runs," Peter Huntsman said. "The difference with my father was that he looked at adversity as an opportunity to move forward, never retreat and getting up and trying again.

"Dad knew that it was in the darkest skies that we could see the brightest stars," he said, adding that integrity, hard work and unshakable faith eventually brought success to the family business.

Of all his "influential roles," Jennifer Huntsman Parkin said the role of father was most important to her dad, and Mark Huntsman, the youngest brother, "was his hero." She said he taught her that "everyone matters."

"He was the perfect father," Parkin said. "I will love him forever."

More than one of the Huntsman children noted that the Huntsman Cancer Institute was their parents' crowning achievement and will continue to operate at least until their dad's dream of curing cancer is realized.

President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a close friend of Huntsman Sr., also spoke at the funeral and said the two "brothers," as they often called themselves, prayed together and blessed each other's lives. He said Huntsman Sr. was not only firm and direct, but also forgiving.

President Ballard said the spirit of his "dear friend" is "active and alive" in "the great world of the spirits of the dead."

"He's there. And after he settles in for a moment, I hope whoever is assigned to keep track of him, can keep track of him," President Ballard said. "He will be wanting to build something, I'm sure. Or organizing something or defending something."

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He said Huntsman Sr. was an exemplar of Jesus Christ.

Newly sustained LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson said the Huntsman children are a testament to the kind of person their father was.

"He is a model of diligence and hard work … a stalwart servant," President Nelson said. He wished blessings of comfort for the widowed Karen Huntsman and her children, 56 grandchildren and 26 great-grandchildren.

A private burial ceremony was held following the funeral at Wasatch Lawn Memorial Park.