Marjorie Pay Hinckley — Every bit his equal

Her sensible nature, devotion to family served her well

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

Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from a profile of Marjorie Hinckley, which originally ran April 5, 2003, in the Deseret Morning News. Sister Hinckley died April 6, 2004.

Maybe all you need to know about Marjorie Pay Hinckley is that her favorite sound is the sound of the screen door slamming. To her, that door sounds like summer, like children playing, like family.

Times have changed, of course. She is 91, and there is no screen door and no children under foot. She and her husband — Gordon B. Hinckley, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — live in an apartment in downtown Salt Lake City, which is a strange place to end up for two people who raised their family in what was then the country and love nothing more than working in the yard and the sunshine. They don't get out much these days, partly because of age and partly because they are virtual prisoners of his fame. So it is just the two of them at home, with frequent visits from their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

She is a simple, practical woman with simple wants for a good husband, a good family and a good book, and a love of God and church work. He saw her pleasantness and her basic goodness early on. (He saw Marjorie Pay for the first time more than 80 years ago when they were children attending the same ward.) As a teen she told her mother that young Gordon Hinckley was going places in life. They will celebrate their 66th wedding anniversary at the end of the month.

Recently, while standing at the pulpit together in a church area conference, President Hinckley discussed the years they had been together and began to weep.

"Has it been that bad?" asked Sister Hinckley.

Which is typical. Among the many traits she shares with her husband, humor is one of them, and it has served their marriage well over the years.

I met the Hinckleys for an interview in the Church Administration Building, which was no small feat. It is easier to contact Elvis than arrange an interview with the Hinckleys, because of his demanding schedule and because of her discomfort with interviews. As always, one of her daughters was by her side for the interview — in this case, Kathy Barnes, their oldest child. As the interview approached, President Hinckley reminded Kathy, "You're going to be there for your mother, aren't you?"

Sister Hinckley was patient and humorous throughout the interview, but her answers were brief, with almost no elaboration. At one point, recognizing her discomfort, I jokingly asked her how she liked the interview so far.

"Well, I'm not having any fun at all," she said brightly.

When I told her she acted as if she were in a dentist's chair, she said, "I am."

"You can't wait to get out of here, can you?"

"I can't," she said. "I like you, but I can't wait." Even in her moment of discomfiture, she tried to make me feel betterby saying it wasn't personal.

As the interview progressed, I began to feel like I was Ed McMahon to their Johnny Carson. I was their straight man, setting them up for one-liners, some spontaneous, some old ones they had used previously. They are funny and playful together, and they play off one another, not to mention their interviewer.

When President Hinckley noted that he remembered Marjorie as a little girl, she mumbled to him, "I was really cute. Tell him that."

"Oh, yeah, she was a cute little girl," he said without missing a beat.

When she was reminded of the long months that her husband used to be away from home on church business, leaving her to tend their household and five children, she said, "Then he'd come home and think he was in charge."

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