Vaughn J. Featherstone was equally at home plunging down a raging river, leading a Scout troop on an arduous trek up a mountain, overseeing a gaggle of Mormon missionaries, managing LDS finances, and penning books for the church’s next generation.
In every sense, Featherstone, an emeritus LDS general authority who died Saturday in Bountiful at 87, personified a life on the move, full of energy, determination and joy.
To those who knew and loved him, Big V (as he was known) was “larger than life,” according to the family obituary. “He was ‘a man’s man’ who loved the outdoors, hiking the Wasatch Mountains, taking a long drink from a clear stream, and swimming in any pond, lake or river he could find.”
He would take those dives even in frigid weather. Featherstone, the obituary continues, “was an honorary member of every Polar Bear Club he encountered.”
Such verve and determination made Featherstone a strong role model to young LDS men, said historian Matthew Bowman, author of “The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith.”
In the the 1960s and ’70s, Featherstone became an exemplar of “what it meant to be a young Mormon man,” Bowman said, “with the rugged individualism of Scouting and its patriotic morality.”
In the Boy Scouts of America — which the LDS Church recently announced plans to break with — Featherstone attained one rank after another: Eagle Scout, Silver Beaver, Silver Antelope, Silver Buffalo, Distinguished Eagle Scout and Spurgeon Award for Exploring.
He served as the “national Jamboree commissary chairman where they served a million meals over 10 days and raised $335,000 worth of food in kind,” the obituary said. “He served as chaplain general at a national Scout Jamboree and as national chaplain at a world Jamboree in Australia.”
Given these experiences, the LDS leader was a natural choice to serve as president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Young Men organization.
In that capacity, he became immersed in helping to create a program that would serve modern needs, Bowman said. He had more “contemporary ideas about what it meant to be a Mormon boy.”
Featherstone was a popular figure and speaker, aiming his approach in books and speeches to a younger, hipper generation.
He even wrote about Joseph Smith in the same style, Bowman said, describing the youthful Mormon founder as fitting with their ideals.
Featherstone’s drive was obvious from his Salt Lake City childhood.
A year after graduating from South High School in 1949 and marrying Merlene Miner, Featherstone began his career stocking shelves at a grocery store. Through hard work and “commitment to service,” the obituary said, he eventually became corporate training manager for Albertsons Inc.
In 1972, he was tapped as a counselor in the LDS Church’s Presiding Bishopric, which oversees the worldwide faith’s finances and physical holdings.
“Vaughn is a rare blend of the spiritual, the physical and the intellectual,” a longtime business associate said in a 1972 profile of Featherstone in the church’s Ensign magazine. “And what is most impressive about him is his total dedication to what he is doing. … You are always aware of his inspirational side. He reaches out and touches many people spiritually.”
Four years later, he was named to the First Quorum of the Seventy and simultaneously assigned to preside over the LDS mission in San Antonio. In the end, Featherstone left for his six sons, one daughter, scores of grandchildren and great-grandchildren (as well as generations of LDS youths) a vision of Mormonism as true and good — but also fun.