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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

He presided and offered brief remarks at the funeral of Sister Inis Hunter in late October, then spoke again during the First Presidency Christmas Devotional in December at the Conference Center, in what would be his last major public address. He sent a message that was read by President Thomas S. Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, at the funeral of billionaire businessman and philanthropist James Sorenson last week.

A young man of 25 and just home from his mission when he went to work for the church in 1935, he remained an employee, administrator and general authority for almost seven decades, an eyewitness — and key contributor — to what he called, with the approach of the 21st century, "a great season in the history of the world and a great season in the history of the church."

His proposal to build small temples launched what some have termed the most ambitious temple-building program in world history. Some 124 temples are now in use. His goal of having at least 100 temples in use, authorized or under construction by Jan. 1, 2000, was accomplished with the dedication of the church's 100th temple in Boston on Oct. 1, 2000.

Three of the temples were at major sites in church history. The Nauvoo Temple was rebuilt to 21st-century standards, a temple was dedicated at Palmyra, N.Y., and another was dedicated at Winter Quarters, Neb.

Area Authority Seventies, essentially replacing regional representatives, were called in the late 1990s to help handle the church's growing leadership burden at the local level. The First and Second Quorums of the Seventy also grew.

At the 171st Annual General Conference in the spring of 2001, he announced creation of the Perpetual Education Fund, a loan program to help young Latter-day Saints in Third World countries.

President Hinckley, who spent nearly 14 years as a counselor in the First Presidency, was set apart as 15th church president on March 12, 1995, three months before his 85th birthday. He was sustained in solemn assembly at the 165th Annual General Conference that April 1.

He then set out to visit as many church members as possible in their homelands. He continued an ambitious travel schedule throughout his stewardship, urged the members to get their houses in order and warned against pornography and maltreatment of spouses and children. The "Proclamation to the World on the Family," that he announced in September 1995 gave Latter-day Saints a ready reference for their beliefs on family life, and has been used as a model by international organizations seeking to preserve the traditional family.

With the death of President Hinckley, the First Presidency was dissolved and the Quorum of the Twelve became the governing body of the church. President Hinckley's counselors, Presidents Thomas S. Monson and Henry B. Eyring, took their places — first and 11th — within the 14-member quorum. Until his death in August 2007, President James E. Faust served as President Hinckley's second counselor for 12 years.

Sometime soon, following President Hinckley's funeral, quorum members will sustain a new church president. If historical precedent holds, the quorum's senior apostle and president, President Monson, will succeed President Hinckley.

President Hinckley's initial call to the First Presidency came July 23, 1981, as a counselor to President Spencer W. Kimball. He was set apart as second counselor to President Kimball on Dec. 2, 1982, following the death of President N. Eldon Tanner. In November 1985, following the death of President Kimball, he was called as first counselor in the First Presidency, serving with President Ezra Taft Benson and President Monson, the second counselor. Presidents Hinckley and Monson continued in those positions under President Howard W. Hunter.

President Hinckley and his counselors answered questions at a news conference after the announcement of the new First Presidency, the first such event in more than 20 years.

Standing under a larger-than-life statue of the Prophet Joseph Smith, President Hinckley said he approached the new assignment over the then-9 million- member church with "overwhelming feelings of inadequacy." Despite human concerns about such a calling, he realized "this is the work of God. He is watching over it and will direct our efforts if we are true and faithful."

A reporter asked President Hinckley: "What will be your focus? What will be the theme of your administration?"

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