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Laura Seitz, Deseret Morning News
Melanie and Bryant Jones were among the thousands to pay their respects.

The possibility that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints could soon be led by someone other than President Gordon B. Hinckley had been on Marcus Ryan's mind for several months.

Seeing the always-energetic LDS Church prophet and president start to show signs of age — though not that of a 97-year-old — made Ryan nervous. The thought of President Hinckley's death and the idea of a funeral were heartbreaking, he said.

"I pictured it being the kind of thing where I wouldn't even be able to go to work, that I would just be so devastated," Ryan said.

When news reached him last Sunday that President Hinckley had died, Ryan's own feelings surprised him.

"I just felt at peace and happy for him," he said. "I felt thankful for the example he left for us and the service he gave."

Ryan flew from Dallas to Salt Lake City to attend President Hinckley's funeral Saturday with his younger brother, David, and David's wife, Jill, who are attending Brigham Young University and live in Orem. And like many of the thousands of people who attended the 90-minute service, Ryan left the Conference Center with watery eyes but a smile on his face.

"You see a lot of happy faces here of people who, a month ago, never would have imagined they'd be happy (to attend President Hinckley's funeral)," he said.

Camron Smith, a BYU student from Kansas City, Ind., described the funeral as a mix of "highs and lows, laughing and crying" — a fitting tribute to President Hinckley.

"It so aptly mirrored his life," Smith said.

The love that President Hinckley displayed toward anyone he met, his ability to relate to people of all ages and make them feel as though they had a personal relationship with them was present again Saturday through the words of those who spoke at the funeral, several mourners said.

"There was a strong, comforting feeling throughout the building," Salt Lake resident Bethany Bitner said as she exited the Conference Center with her husband, Kerry, and their 14-year-old daughter, Meghan.

Few if any of the tears that fell at the funeral were shed in sadness for President Hinckley, said Jill Taylor of Bountiful.

"I think the tears are honestly just tears of gratitude and humility for having been loved by such an amazing man," said Taylor, who attended the service with her husband, Brian, and their 12-year-old daughter, Brighton.

Several people expressed joy as they left the funeral that President Hinckley had been reunited in the next life with his wife, Marjorie, who died April 6, 2004.

"I think the sense of loss is ours," said Tom Nufer of South Jordan. "We'll miss him."

The Richard and Kimberley Bracey family, including daughters Ashley, Jessica, Brianna and Natalee, came to the funeral from their home in Alpine.

Richard said the family recently moved to Utah from Virginia and was happy to get tickets. "President Hinckley was always our favorite. We wanted to honor him by being here."

Ashlee, 16, recalled that "President Hinckley challenged our family to read the Book of Mormon in six months. It was a great experience. He told us always to look for the sunlight."

Ian Haar, Centerville, parked his wheelchair at the back of the lower tier of the Conference Center. "We got up at 6 a.m. to come and were able to get tickets right away. I never met President Hinckley, but he is just a great man."

His father, Jim Haar, remembered President Hinckley as "a man of great love." He remembered a talk given by the prophet in 1976 on honesty, which left a lasting impression. "I always admired him. We really knew that he was a kind man and what we needed as church members."

Barbara Smith, general Relief Society president from 1974 to 1984, remembers serving under presidents dating back to President David O. McKay. "I learned so much from each of them. They made differences in the lives of so many. President Hinckley was just wonderful anytime we asked him to do anything for the Relief Society."

Jacque Vradenburg, 18, a West Jordan High School senior, said President Hinckley "touched me in many ways. He did so much good in the world. I felt I needed to pay my respects by coming to the funeral. He is the only prophet I've known."

Albert C. Jones, Murray, thought the funeral was a "heartfelt tribute conducted by members of the church. It was public but done by the church. I never met (President Hinckley) but was very touched by some of the testimonials. He had a sense of humanity and was a gospel man who reached out to all of the world. I wish I'd had the chance to meet him and chat with him."

Jared Stoddard, Highland, said that "being a member of the church, I felt obligated to be here. He guided and directed my life. He helped me to become what I am."

Madeleine Smith, 9, Murray, was with her parents, LaMont and Caroline Smith, and other family members. She said she will remember "how he made people laugh." Her sister, Danielle, 18, "loved the fact that he was not afraid to be around people. I got a text message right after he died and told my family to turn on the TV."

Veona Teo, formerly of Samoa, said the service was "Lovely. Quite an occasion. President Hinckley was quite a man and leaves a great legacy. It was worth standing in the cold at 5:30 to 6 a.m. to get tickets."

President Hinckley's passing is "both sad and happy. He's now with his wife, and they'll be together forever. We'll miss his sense of humor and the legacy of all he did through his administration of the church. He touched many lives, especially in the Philippines," said Virginia Carteciano, formerly of the Philippines, now of Saratoga Springs.

Saturday was a special day long to be remembered by Alyssa Allred, 8, of Kaysville, who attended the funeral with her grandmother, Marcia Stuart, of Brigham City. Later in the afternoon, she was to be baptized a member of the church. "I liked the very last talk," said Alyssa, "the one where they had all the pictures of President Hinckley. He's the only prophet I've ever known."

Kami Antriyao, 24, sat quietly on Temple Square during the funeral, gazing at the temple and listening to the service over the loudspeakers. She and a friend drove down from Logan solely to raise canes — borrowed from older relatives — to salute their prophet. They arrived too late to get tickets to sit in the Conference Center.

"I've been thinking about President Hinckley's reunion with Heavenly Father," she said, tearfully. "I imagine Heavenly Father will give him a big hug and tell him, 'Thank you for helping the world.' He accomplished so much during his life."

Many servicegoers answered simply when asked why they took time out of their day to attend a memorial service for a man they had never met personally.

"He's my prophet," they said, eyes moist.

Most said they felt as if the church leader was a personal friend.

The first time Jeany Christensen, 38, who is from the Philippines, saw President Hinckley, she cried. She was "overwhelmed by the strength of his spirit," she said. She had similar feelings during the prophet's funeral.

"It was kind of sad, but happy at the same time," said Christensen, who moved to Orem three years ago. "You know he is finally going to be with his wife, but it is hard to know we won't see him anymore in this mortal life. I know that I am going to miss him."

Although Tuua Amosa, 53, who lives in Taylorsville, said she will miss the vibrant leader, she said she was grateful to have the opportunity to attend the funeral. For her, the funeral provided a long-awaited chance to thank the prophet for the good that he did for her native country, Samoa, by building a temple on the island.

"It's expensive for our people — my family — to travel, so to have the temple there means so much," she said. "I looked forward to coming here today to show him respect. He taught me a lot of good things. He has inspired my life."

Kathy Spencer, a 21-year-old BYU student from Connecticut, described her funeral experience as "awesome." She and two of her friends drove from Provo early Saturday to attend.

"President Hinckley is amazing," she said. "Just remembering all the things he's done for this church inspires me."

Brittney Robison, a 28-year-old Riverton resident, also was uplifted by the service.

"It was a great celebration of his life and his accomplishments," she said. "The talks were just as down to earth as he was."

Many others who attended the funeral had similar reactions.

"I came because of my reverence for the man. I said to my wife, 'I can think of nowhere else on earth I would rather be today, regardless of the cold, regardless of the wait, this is where I'd like to be,"" said state Rep. Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace.

"(The funeral) was very touching. It was wonderful and emotional to be here and say goodbye to (President Hinckley) for the last time. We were very impressed to say goodbye to such a humble man who worked very hard for the church," said Rocio Cano, South Jordan.

Echoed Liliana Cano of South Jordan, "There seems to be no words to describe the emotions of being here."

"I often reflect on how he's been able to stay strong and speak to us and the blessing of being able to listen to him. I didn't know President Hinckley personally, but he felt personal to everybody. He had so much understanding," said Chris Brown.

Brian Blanchard, of Bountiful, said: "President Hinckley related to a lot of people simply. He talked clearly and plainly, and he was able to comprehend fully the doctrine, and for that, I find that being at his funeral service was a way to honor him and all of the things he's done for us."

Seid Diglisic, president of the Islamic Society of Bosniaks in Utah, said, "We wanted to give honor to President Hinckley because he was a great person and he helped with the dialogue and bringing all of the religions together with the common goal of preventing society's evils today."

"I've lived during the presidencies of several prophets, but for me, this is the one I have the most memory of," said Eileen Woodgate of Bountiful. "He was extraordinary. There was something extraordinary about (President Hinckley), and I think most people felt the same thing — he was amazing."

"When you think about all of the things (President Hinckley) accomplished," said Crystene Briggs of Bountiful, "he just kept moving things forward. ... He reached out to the poorest person and knew their needs and knew what needed to be accomplished to help them and spread the gospel. Everything he did was to make sure every child in the world, whether they were of our faith or not, to be sure they knew God loved them."


Contributing: Jared Page, Elizabeth Stuart, Twila Van Leer, Amy Choate-Nielsen.