James Perry Christensen, known as Jim, died on Easter morning on April 17, 2022 at Pointe Meadows, a care facility in Lehi, Utah. He was born 23 December 1933 in Salt Lake City, Utah to Ernest Henry & Eliza LaPrele (Lyle) Gregerson Christensen. Jim and his older sister Carol grew up in a loving home on Bryan Avenue, attending Salt Lake City schools, graduating from East High School and both attended University of Utah. Their father’s battle with Parkinson’s disease began when Jim was eight years old but he remembered his childhood as very happy and eventful. He loved the memories of family fishing trips and great yearly family vacations. When his dad’s health problems increased, his mother taught school to support the family and in Jim’s words, “She was truly an inspiration in my life with her constant theme of ‘Son, go the extra mile under the inspiration of the Lord.’”
Jim was a natural leader. School was a joy for him with heavy emphasis on sports and music. Summers were filled with baseball, playing first base for a team sponsored by Snelgroves Ice Cream. He participated in the Deseret News Football League. In high school, Jim lettered in football and basketball at East High. He was in the school play, drum major of the East High marching band, student body officer and a member of a swinging musical combo where his specialty was the base fiddle. Jim also worked on several committees, and organized senior day activities.
Because of an inspiring Scoutmaster, Alma Janke, he was able to get his Eagle Scout Award which later helped him become the Commissioner of Scouting for the Kingdom of Tonga as a young missionary. He also served on the General Church Scout Committee where he held the position of Chairman of the Deacon-Scout Committee of the Young Men’s General Board, which was a great help in preparing him to serve as a staff member of the Philmont Scout Ranch. Jim also received the Silver Beaver award later in life for his service.
College days at the University of Utah were filled with fun and challenges. During the summer he worked in construction and his musical combo which provided him with tuition and plenty of spending money. He earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering. College activities included serving as president of the Sigma Chi Fraternity, student body officer, member of the student senate, and chairman of several major student body events on campus. He was able to maintain a number one position in the Naval ROTC program until he left for his mission.
Jim had to wait until he was a junior in college before going on a mission because only two young men were allowed per-year per-ward in the mid-50’s. He accepted a call to serve a two and a half year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Tongan Islands. The additional maturity was perhaps a blessing to meet the challenges of the Tongan Islands. One of the great blessings of his life was meeting his sweetheart and dear companion Metta. They really became acquainted when they were released at the same time to return home which took over two weeks by ship. After 6 weeks at home, Jim entered the Army and was stationed at Ford Ord, CA, where he had the chance to see Metta where she lived and was teaching school. They married in Los Angeles on 12 August 1959 (and were married 57 years.) He adored Metta.
Steve, their first son, was born just three weeks before graduation. They were soon off to La Cross, Wisconsin for a year of graduate training. Upon completion, Jim worked as a heating and air-conditioning engineer and eventually became the division manager for the Denver office of the company where he was responsible for the area west of the Rockies. Jim’s kind and gentle soul gave him the talents to succeed in his career and service opportunities. Jim was a licensed professional engineer and manager of commercial sales division of G.M. Wallace & Co. of Salt Lake City.
Jim was serving as bishop of the Holladay 17th Ward, of the Mt. Olympus Stake when they were called by President Alvin R. Dyer, counselor to President David O. McKay, as the Tongan Mission President from 1969 to 1972 taking four young sons with them. Shortly after their arrival, their fifth son was born in the most primitive of conditions. Jim and Metta taught their sons how to walk in righteousness and simply be good men. These outstanding 5 sons all married and became successful in their careers.
Jim dedicated so much of his life to the Church. At the conclusion of being mission president, they
...go the extra mile under the inspiration of the Lord received a call from President Harold B. Lee to continue working with the Tonga and Fiji missions as the Mission Representatives of the Church in that area. After that he was assigned as a Regional Representative over Cedar and Panguitch Utah regions. He loved meeting dedicated and stalwart Saints throughout the world. After being released from that, Bishop Vaughn J. Featherstone called him to serve on the Aaronic Priesthood and Young Men’s General Board. This choice assignment gave Jim and Metta the opportunity to travel throughout the world speaking to youth and their leaders. Within days of that 5 year call, Elder Robert L. Simpson called him to work with the Tongan people as Executive Secretary of the Tongan Council which supervises the activities of Tongans along the Wasatch Front.
Jim was extremely diligent all his life putting the Kingdom of God first. Of the many church leadership positions he held throughout his life, the highlight of Jim’s career was working as president or director of the Polynesian Cultural Center from 1988-1991. How they loved PCC and Laie! After that, Jim and Metta worked to help the Chinese establish a cultural theme park in Orlando, Florida called Splendid China (1992-1993). In his later years Jim was a sealer in the Salt Lake Temple and a missionary at the LDS hospital giving blessings and holding sacrament meetings for them.
Jim lost his dear sweet Metta in February of 2017. After her passing, Jim lived with his son, Dr. Thomas Christensen, who died January 17, 2022 after a heart surgery from which he never recovered.
Jim and Metta lived exemplary lives of service to others and the church with what seemed like perpetual optimism. Family relationships were important to Jim. He loved getting together with his sister Carol & Dick Baird and cousins Diane & Dare Allen, Tom & Betty Thompson, which carried over all their lives on trips and holiday gatherings. Quoting Jim from his 1980 history states: “I can testify that the work of the Lord is to build strong families with a determination to build His kingdom each and every day that we live upon the earth.” Jim and Metta knew how to always greet people so warmly. It's reassuring to know they are now together again in heaven with their parents and spouses carrying on the Lord’s work.
Jim is preceded in death by his parents and sister Carol Baird, eternal companion Metta Heder, son Thomas R. Christensen and daughter-in-law Dwan Thompson. Jim is survived by 4 sons: Stephen (Shauna Smith), Brent (Dwan Thompson-dec.), Perry (Martha Snelson), and Royden (Ember Crosier) and 16 grandchildren and 19 great grandchildren.
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What a gentle giant! Jim was kind and smart. He was so thoughtful to me when I was a kid. Thank you for that. I'm sorry for your loss, and also very sorry to read that Tom passed away. Breaks my heart. What a great family that taught me so much. Love all your family. The only time I heard Jim swear was golfing. Made me laugh so hard and realize that even near perfect people might say "damn"!! Thank you Christensen boys!! Sincerely, Amy Fisher ❤️
Jim taught me the tough & rumble ways of the business world. As his nephew, I treasure not only my privileged times talking over our deals we were pursuing together, but what I learned indirectly from that. They were tough times financially speaking, but somehow we've all become better off (including financially & mentally) because of it. Like Metta said, "that's life".