In six months, he went from being a stake president to Area Authority Seventy and, in October of 2002, to General Authority.
It was enough to displace anyone from his comfort zone. And Elder James M. Dunn, sustained Oct. 5, 2002 as a member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy, attested that it was certainly unexpected. But he and his wife, the former Sandra (Penny) Barker, toook it in stride, building on a foundation of obedience established long ago.
"We have tried very much in our personal lives and in our family to incorporate all of the teachings the Brethren have given us," he said in an interview. "Our faith has been that if we do and live as the prophets tell us, that Heavenly Father will take care of us. And He has."
It is a lesson learned from childhood. His earliest and strongest memory "is watching my dad leave Pocatello, Idaho, on a troop train during World War II," he reflected. "I and my three brothers lived through that experience with my mother. . . . It was during a period of rationing of gasoline and even food. But I think except for the absence of my father we were happy children, and though we lived in humble circumstances, except for the absence of my father, we didn't feel deprived."
He was the third in what would eventually be a family of six children.
A dependence on the Lord was nurtured by parents who were faithful in the gospel. "I think I've had spiritual stirrings since I was a little boy," he said, "but I think the real maturation of those feelings and concepts took place most significantly during my mission to Uruguay and service since then. The building of my testimony has been brick upon brick, related mainly to service and associations, study, personal prayer."
When he was 6, the family moved to Salt Lake City, where young James was an active and involved public school student. At Granite High School, he played football as a quarterback under Coach LaVell Edwards, who would go on to achieve fame at BYU.
Active passtimes long held an appeal for him, including skiing, fishing, boating, water skiing and tennis.
But in addition to athletics, James nurtured an interest in literature and won a national poetry award while at Granite. He still writes poetry. When asked what his inspirations are, he immediatly said, "My wife." Other stimulations included "the mysteries of life, spiritual feelings, romantic feelings, that sort of thing."
"I can remember on occasion he has come home and there have been a couple of experiences he's had during the day, something that he's watched unfold before him, and he's reacted to that by writing about it," Sister Dunn said.
The Dunn home included a "substantial" library that includes a fair amount of Spanish-American literature. In fact he earned a bachelor's degree in Latin American studies from BYU.
"I like essays," he said, citing as his favorite the French author Montaigne who is credited with creating the essay form of writing. "I like Eric Hoffer. And I've read about everything of Mark Twain's. I like biography and history."
It was as student officers at Granite High School that the Dunns became acquainted, he as a class president and she as a class secretary. Later, in college, their association blossomed into a romance, and she transferred from BYU to the University of Utah, where he was enrolled. "And he immediately left," she recalled. "He went in the Army and then on a mission."
They both went on to graduate, he with a law degree and she with a bachelor's in English, which she applied in teaching high school English for five years.
Speaking of his wife, Elder Dunn said, "At the heart of everything is her character. She has no flaws in terms of character."
Six daughters were born to the Dunns. "I never expected that I would be the father of daughters," he said, "but it's been one of the great joys of my life. They do things for dads. You will come home and find your closet all straightened out, or maybe your toiletries arranged for you, or you will have a note on your desk at the office from a daughter telling how she loves her dad and wishes him well for the day."
Elder Dunn's affinity for young people in the Church has been fostered during his experiences as president of the Colombia Bogota Mission and in leadership positions in branches and stakes serving University of Utah students, the last two as president of the Salt Lake University 2nd Stake.
“Like many others, I’ve built my testimony day by day, one brick at a time,” observed Elder James M. Dunn, upon being called to the Second Quorum of the Seventy. “The spiritual stirrings I felt as a little boy have matured over time through service and doing what I was taught to be right.”
"One of my principle concerns, because it is so dear to me, is the welfare of our returning missionaries," he said. His fervent hope is that they remain faithful and that they not pursue high adventure and fun at the expense of preparing for important things in life such as marriage, parenthood, Church service and successful living.
"They're capable of that, and they have the knowledge," he said. "I think it's incumbent upon us to continually remind them that life is a mission and not a career, that Heavenly Father wants us to live a certain way and do certain things during this period of mortal probation."
Elder Dunn continued to serve The Second Quorum, The Church, and The Savior with honor and distinction until being released in General Conference of October 2009.