SALT LAKE CITY — A submarine chaser in the Navy during World War II, Elder Marion D. Hanks risked his life to fly into hot combat zones during the Vietnam War to minister to LDS soldiers.
When a few of the first letters he wrote back to the families of soldiers didn't arrive until after the soldiers were killed in action, Elder Hanks took to staying up late into the night dictating the letters. Each morning, he put the tapes on a plane back to Utah, where his secretary would immediately type and send the letters.
"I can tell you by experience in my own family that a letter from a General Authority who has recently visited your 'loved one' in the field in Vietnam is a morale-builder," Army Col. Russell Meacham said in the book Saints at War about the letter sent by Elder Hanks to Meacham's family.
Elder Hanks, who served for nearly 40 years as a General Authority of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, died Friday in Salt Lake City, a week after suffering a stroke, surrounded by family members who recalled his remarkable capacity for ministering to the one.
"His intellect was just incredible, enormous, but his ability to touch the individual person in a personal way was his greatest legacy," his son Richard D. Hanks said Friday night. "The person before him always had his full devotion."
A mentor to apostles, a teacher and an athlete, Elder Hanks was the oldest living member of the Quorum of the Seventy nearly 60 years after joining what then was the First Council of the Seventy on Oct. 4, 1953, at the tender age of 31, one of the youngest men called to serve as a General Authority in the latter half of the 20th Century.
"The church lost a valued and respected leader, educator and friend with the passing of Elder Marion D. Hanks," the church's First Presidency said in a statement released late Friday afternoon. "He was an admired leader who served in numerous church callings, including the Presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy and as an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. We extend our sincere condolences to his wife, Maxine, and their family."
In the early 1960s, Elder Hanks served as president of the British Mission. Among the missionaries he mentored were Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and Elder Quentin L. Cook, now both members of the church's Quorum of the Twelve.
"President Hanks had a profound influence on my life," Elder Holland once said, "as he did upon all the missionaries."
"Elder Hanks was the most incredible teacher and learner that I have ever known," said Richard G. Whitehead, who also served as a missionary under Elder Hanks.
"I don't know of anyone who has had an influence on me — or believes in youth — like this man," said Whitehead, now vice president of Institutional Advancement at Southern Virginia University. "He just had the capacity to instill in everyone the desire to do their best."
Whitehead recalled that Elder Hanks encouraged the missionaries to memorize worthwhile writings that could help shape their lives. "Thankfully, I did," Whitehead said Friday, recalling this quote from Samuel Johnson:
"The fountain of content must spring up in the mind, and he who hath so little knowledge of human nature as to seek happiness by changing anything but his own disposition, will waste his life in fruitless efforts and multiply the grief he proposes to remove."
Elder Hanks also served as an assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve from 1968 to 1976 and twice served in the presidency of the Seventy — from 1976 to 1980, and from 1984 until he was given emeritus status on Oct. 3, 1992.
Elder Hanks had been the oldest living member of the First Quorum of Seventy and the second-oldest General Authority. Former church patriarch Eldred G. Smith, also an emeritus General Authority, is 104.
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