President Gordon Bitner Hinckley was a man for all seasons and a prophet for all time. Seldom has one been so thoroughly prepared personally and spiritually for a ministry that took him worldwide with unswerving dedication though his heart remained fixed on home and family. Now he has returned home in an eternal sense, leaving behind an extraordinary legacy of consecration, caring and commitment.
The accomplishments of the 15th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are remarkable and could fill volumes. His influence for good spanned borders, race and religious creeds but he never lost touch with his pioneer roots or his family. Those influences combined with an unshakable faith in the Lord Jesus Christ were ever his lodestar.
Someone once asked him in paying tribute: "How can the world ever measure the good, the blessings, the benefits bestowed on the people of the world by you?" The answer is simple: It cannot. Yet President Hinckley would never have claimed such. He would be the first to deflect credit for his accomplishments to a higher source of spiritual power he came to understand and draw upon early in life.
Born June 23, 1910, in Salt Lake City to Bryant S. and Ada Bitner Hinckley, he suffered from whooping cough at 2 years of age. Physicians advised the Hinckleys to take the child out of the city into fresher air, so the elder Hinckley acquired five acres in East Mill Creek. A small residence was built that became the family's summer home and farm, expanding to 35 acres. Young Gordon learned early a regular regimen of work and chores, a pattern that was evident throughout his life.
He also was exposed to his father's library, with more than 1,000 volumes, including many traditional literary classics. It was a natural thing for President Hinckley to later major in English at the University of Utah. This helped form a foundation for his excellence as a writer and orator and his effectiveness with mass media.
As a young missionary departing to England, he received a note from his father imploring him to "be not afraid, only believe." The New Testament reference became a favorite admonition during a challenging mission and throughout President Hinckley's subsequent lifetime of service.
His vision may only have been matched by his vigor, which sparked an untiring work ethic that included a rigorous travel schedule. Upon fulfilling his mission to England and returning home, he told his father he was through touring and would be content to remain close to Salt Lake City forever. Divine providence dictated otherwise, to the benefit of millions who partook in person of his love, graciousness, engaging sense of humor and prophetic testimony.
President Hinckley's ability to retain self-effacing perspective and demeanor in spite of widespread personal acclaim endeared him to the masses and put people of all stations and stature at ease in his presence. When questioned about what went through his mind when the beloved LDS hymn "We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet" was sung in his presence, he responded that his thoughts turned toward the prophet Joseph Smith and centered on gratitude for his sacrifices in establishing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"They are focusing on the office and not the man when they sing that hymn," he emphasized. Such was his ability to deflect praise and adulation, which he often termed as dangerous and intoxicating if not checked. With him, that was never a problem.
His keen sense of humor and quick wit were a delight. Though he wore the mantle of prophet and president of a 13 million-member church with dignity and was earnest about his duties, he never wrestled with an inflated sense of self.
His beloved wife and traveling companion, Marjorie Pay Hinckley, told a group of missionaries in England that the president had always been the life of the party wherever he was but never inappropriately or at anyone else's expense. His self-deprecating humor was used often to deflect attention sent his way.
Receiving one of his countless honors on April 15, 1999 tax-deadline day he commented that the event would soon end, allowing audience members to "still be able to get your tax returns in the mail." Such was his charm, his grace, his energetic way.
Blessed for most of his life with excellent health, President Hinckley channeled his good fortune into unending service. To the end, he wore out his life in doing good and in meeting his responsibilities. When asked if he exercised, he was fond of responding that he did not run, jog or swim but he kept plenty busy attending and speaking at funerals of friends who did.
Yet underlying his buoyant persona and delightful demeanor was a man converted to the cause of Christ, one who never shirked his duty and was fearless in proclaiming right over wrong to all who would give ear. Many did and were better for it both within and without The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. President Gordon Bitner Hinckley was such a servant a man steeped in faith and service, knowledge and integrity who traveled the world over to teach and inspire countless lives. His memory will be forever sweet and his legacy rich and lasting. A beloved leader has left us, but his teachings and example will live through the ages.
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Among the many positive imprints left from his ministry and leadership, foremost may be the expanded program of LDS temple construction undertaken in recent years. In considering how more faithful church members could be beneficiaries of sacred temple ordinances without undue travel and financial hardship, President Hinckley felt impressed to build smaller edifices closer to the members.
An ambitious program of planning and construction began almost immediately that has vitalized many LDS faithful who previously had little hope of ever attending far-away temples. As with all of his successes, he was quick to credit the inspiration of heaven for the innovative change.
Yet even heaven's help would have had little efficacy without a willing and recipient vessel.