LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley dies at age 97

LDS president met call with humility, vigor

Published: Monday, Jan. 28 2008 12:00 a.m. MST

President Gordon B. Hinckley gives reporter Mike Wallace of CBS's "60 Minutes" a tour of Salt Lake's Temple Square in 1996. President Hinckley, who became leader of the LDS Church on March 12, 1995, was comfortable dealing with the media.

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President Gordon B. Hinckley, who led The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through explosive growth during his more than 12 years as president, died 7 p.m. Sunday at home of causes incident to age, surrounded by family. He was 97.

He traveled the world during his tenure, which was marked by a number of significant milestones, including the "Proclamation to the World on the Family," construction of dozens of small temples and the creation of several new quorums of the Seventy. He called for increased fellowshipping of new converts and reaching out to other faiths. LDS Church membership has grown from 9 million to more than 13 million members during his administration.

His ministry was characterized by a strong desire to be out among the people. He traveled nearly a million miles and spoke to hundreds of thousands of members in at least 160 nations, employing his mastery of electronic media to bring unprecedented press attention to the church.

Under his leadership, the 21,000-seat Conference Center, north of the Salt Lake Tabernacle, was built and dedicated, and the portion of Main Street between Temple Square and the Joseph Smith Memorial Building was turned into a plaza. Online computer access to church information as well as online and CD access to family history resources grew exponentially.

President Hinckley had enjoyed remarkable health until just before his death. Up until last week, he was still working in his office, said LDS Church spokesman Scott Trotter.

Two years ago this month, he underwent laparoscopic surgery to remove colon cancer. While a traditional colectomy requires five to eight days in the hospital and an at-home recovery of at least six weeks, the laparoscopic surgery hospital stay is usually two to four days and individuals can often return to work in two or three weeks.

True to form for the energetic, globe-trotting leader, President Hinckley flew to Chile two months later in March 2006 to rededicate the Chilean temple. During the ceremonies, he alluded to his recent operation, quipping he would not recommend it to anyone.

"President Hinckley was at his best," Elder L. Tom Perry of the Council of the Twelve said moments after the first dedication session adjourned. "He conducted the entire session. Gave the dedicatory prayer. You wouldn't know he had ever been ill. His vigor was absolutely amazing."

His health has been the topic of speculation off and on among church members ever since, particularly during semi-annual general conferences of the church held each April and October. Less than a month after his Chilean trip in 2006, he stood at the podium in the LDS Conference Center during the Sunday morning session of the 176th annual General Conference and — in a rare departure from his usual sermons on gospel topics — reflected on his personal life.

The speech was widely considered by members as a farewell of sorts that he was able to deliver personally. He mentioned his age frequently in public during the last five years of his life, almost as a way of preparing church members for his death and assuring them he was at peace with whatever timing would be his. After the death of his wife, Marjorie, in 2004, he periodically spoke movingly of missing her.

More recently, President Hinckley presided and spoke at the August funeral of his beloved second counselor, President James E. Faust, noting the sadness that his passing meant to him personally. He spoke again publicly during October's semi-annual general conference, but delivered fewer and shorter speeches than he had previously done during the two-day event.

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