As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we were saddened and surprised to hear of President Gordon B. Hinckley's passing yesterday. I'm not sure why we would be so surprised at the death of a 97 year old man, but President Hinckley's vitality and energy were such that he seemed so much younger than he was. Truly the Lord blessed him and sustained him with the Spirit as he went about doing the great work he was called to do. I guess the fact that he has been the prophet my entire adult life may also have something to do with my surprise. However, as I thought about his life and his tireless service, I (like many of the people who posted on the Facebook sites dedicated to his memory) was happy for him and the reunion he was sure to be having with his faithful wife who he has missed so much. I also thought of the opportunity he was having to reunite with family and friends who had gone before and his reunion with the Savior whom he had spent his entire life serving. While we will miss him here, I am not sad for him at his passing. What a wonderful blessing it is to know of the plan of salvation and to know that this life is not the end and families can be eternal through the ordinances and blessings of the temple.
I've been thinking back to my many memories of President Hinckley and decided to share a few. I remember being in Salt Lake with some friends on a senior trip the weekend they had the press conference as he was called as President of the Church. I had gone down to do a church history tour that weekend with a bunch of my friends from high school. It seemed rather fitting that he was the prophet, since I couldn't remember a time when he was not in the First Presidency.
Later in 1995 President Hinckley spoke at a regional conference at Ricks College. I had the privilege to sing in the choir and sit in the Hart Gymnasium where he was speaking. The theme I recall from that talk was from the New Testament (John 20:27) where the Savior tells Thomas to "be not faithless, but believing." I was also impressed with President Hinckley's keen sense of humor. The words "Please do not save seats" had been printed multiple times on the program so that the gym could be filled to capacity. As soon as he got up, President Hinckley commented on this and said he'd been wondering what he was supposed to do with his seat after the meeting. He joked that perhaps the budget at Ricks was so high because they threw the chairs away after each meeting. Along with his humor, I got to see the more human side of President Hinckley that night. At one point he told us he was speaking as Gordon, not the prophet, and joked "I think Heavenly Father loves his daughters more than his sons. I know I do; they make me cookies." We all got a good laugh, but I also felt the deep love he had for his family. That was an amazing day for me. Not only was it the first time I had been in the same room as the living prophet of God, but I was blessed to receive my patriarchal blessing later that evening.
One night as a missionary in Michigan my companion and I came home from a particularly difficult day. A family who had been investigating the church invited their pastor to our discussion and had spent the whole time trying to tear us down and malign the church. We chose not to give into the spirit of contention and simply bore our testimonies and left. I was downhearted that such a wonderful family was being prevented from hearing the good news of the gospel we were there to share. As we walked in our apartment, I saw a picture of the First Presidency on the wall. At that moment I felt the spirit testify unmistakably that I had been called to represent Jesus Christ by a living prophet of God who was acting under the direction of the Lord. Gordon B. Hinckley was that prophet.
I remember talking with my dad about President Hinckley's sense of humor and Dad shared some very useful insight with me. He reasoned that Jesus is perfect and therefore has a perfect sense of humor so it would stand to reason that the closer President Hinckley came to the Savior the better his sense of humor would be. Under President Hinckley's leadership, it has been wonderful to see that same sense of light-heartedness without levity emerge among the members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve over the last 13 years. However, with that sense of humor it was also clear when our prophet was being serious. He did not mince his words and was never afraid to tell things like they were. He was straightforward and honest, humble and wise, caring and a servant to all.
I know that the priesthood has been restored to the Earth and it is the power given to man to act in the name of God according to His will. I know that President Hinckley held all of the keys of that priesthood until his death last night. I also know that those keys are safely held by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and will soon be bestowed on the new President of the Church under the direction of the Lord Jesus Christ whose Church this is.
As I have read the many articles (and comments to articles) on the web today, I was impressed with President Bush's comments. It is quite a rare occasion that I am impressed with anything President Bush has done or said lately, but how can you go wrong describing such a wonderful man as President Hinckley? Said Bush, "While serving for over seven decades in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Gordon demonstrated the heart of a servant and the wisdom of a leader. He was a tireless worker and a talented communicator who was respected in his community and beloved by his congregation." Truly President Hinckley had the heart of a humble servant (as many of us have felt) and the wisdom of a great leader.
Senator Joe Lieberman said "President Hinckley was known and beloved throughout the world for his spiritual guidance and good works... His life story was quintessentially an American one - and he tirelessly dedicated his life to building his Church and promoting our nation's ideals of understanding and tolerance."
The world is a better place because of President Hinckley. In addition to helping bring the church out of obscurity, I think he also helped take some of the obscurity out of the world. I'm grateful that I was blessed to be on the earth to see his mission fulfilled. The world has lost one of the greatest and most influential forces for good of this generation. And I think this is true for Mormons and non-Mormons alike. Gordon B. Hinckley showed us in all that he did that he loved and served God with all his heart and loved and served his fellowmen.
The quotes from Pres. Bush and Senator Lieberman came from the following articles:
For more information about President Hinckley or the church: