Tears come easily these days when I remember LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley.
Some write about the great things he accomplished. He was, indeed, a great man. Others write about his vision. He was, indeed, a visionary. But I remember his friendship.
He had the unusual ability to make thousands feel he was our friend. He called me "Don," and he always seemed concerned about what I was doing. "How are things at Words, Words, Words?" he would ask, referring to the company I created when I retired from KSL and Bonneville International.
At KSL, I wrote 6,000 editorials. President Hinckley read most of them. At his request we sent him printed copies (as we did for other leaders). Sometimes, he sent editorials back with handwritten notes. His comments were always positive, even when he may have disagreed. Now and then, he added a reference. He would say: I read such and such or I saw such and such, naming specific magazines or specific television shows. I was amazed by how widely he read and watched. I learned from his comments. When he questioned my grammar, I worked harder at writing correctly.
President Hinckley attended management functions of Bonneville International. He was always asked to speak, and he invariably had something relevant to say to the assembled managers, many of whom were not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He approached the lectern with that marvelous smile of his and a manila folder filled with marked-up clippings from newspapers, magazines and other sources. All the clippings he had saved in that folder were related to broadcasting. Somehow, from that stack of loose papers, he created coherent, meaningful remarks that charmed the assembled managers.
One year he said: "I've been looking at that banner on the wall. It says BIC for Bonneville International Corporation. But it has another meaning best in class. We should be the very best in the broadcast business."
That's the way President Hinckley was. He did not believe in being second best at anything. He believed his church and all activities associated with it should be "best in class."
When the LDS Church was criticized or misrepresented in the national press, he did not blame the press. Instead, he encouraged associates to do a better job of telling the story. He believed in the power of truth. Therefore, if someone misunderstood the message, it was not because the message was wrong but because the messenger had somehow failed to communicate accurately. He was, himself, a communicator. He believed in his message, and he had the faith that others would believe it, too, if he conveyed it correctly. Sometimes, I escorted dignitaries from the media to his office. He charmed them all with his humor, his intelligence and his friendliness.
President Hinckley's sense of humor was legendary. He had that twinkle in his eye that said: Let's not be overly serious here; life is meant to be enjoyed. At one Bonneville Christmas party, the entertainer invited audience members on stage for a high-kick dance number. He had no idea who the man in the front row was, and so he invited President Hinckley and several others onto the stage. Audience members gasped. But President Hinckley laughed and joined the dance line, kicking as high as his 70-year-old legs would let him. It was a very human moment. The crowd cheered ... and they understood a little more about the joy of living.
He taught us about life. He taught us about laughter. And he taught us about love. He and his wife, Marjorie, were never apart. You could tell he appreciated her ... And you could tell she added dimension to his personality. I once wrote a KSL editorial about our propensity to save, to collect and to keep things long after their usefulness ended. Sister Hinckley sent me a note that said: "Would you see that Gordon gets a copy of today's editorial ... He saves everything."
President Hinckley saved things. More importantly, he saved people. All over the world he made human beings feel better about themselves. He certainly gave me a sense of well-being and self-worth I might never have achieved without his encouragement.And so when my tears flow at his passing, they are tears of joy and thankfulness. He was a great man who never allowed his greatness to overshadow his goodness.
G. Donald Gale is the president of Words, Words, Words Inc. E-mail: [email protected]