“Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah! Jesus anointed that Prophet and Seer.”
-W.W. Phelps, “Praise to the Man,” Hymn #27, LDS Hymnbook, 1985
While this was written for the Prophet Joseph Smith, this line can certainly apply to President Gordon B. Hinckley, who passed away this past Sunday, January 27, 2008 at the age of 97.
“And I … bear personal witness, as a witness, of the divine calling of President Gordon B. Hinckley to this holy office and sacred assignment for which he has been so long and so well prepared. And by “preparation” we mean not only the many experiences which he has had in the Church from his youth, but also mean that doctrine Alma taught, that such a man is “called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God,” a calling predicated at least in part upon demonstrated “faith and good works” before President Hinckley ever came to this earth”
-Jeffrey R. Holland, “Our Priesthood Legacy,” Ensign, May 1995, 38
I wanted to share a few of my own personal recollections about President Hinckley and his family and invite you to do the same in the comments below.
When I joined the church in 1982, President Hinckley was already a Counselor in the First Presidency, assisting ailing President Kimball and his Counselors. In many ways, he was the face of church leadership to me and was the constant for the last 25 plus years. I loved his sense of humor the most.
I had the opportunity to work with his daughter, Kathleen Hinckley Barnes, her husband Alan and their daughter Heather. My wife, prior to our marriage, attended the University (UC Berkeley) Ward of the Oakland Stake. I got involved with a couple of stake musical productions, playing drums for them. I also played with the Oakland Mormon Symphony. I enjoyed working with the Barneses as they were excellent dancers and very nice to me as a non-member.
Heather, who also attended the University Ward, was called as a Stake Missionary, along with my wife and a few others. Because I was a non-member, I was “practiced” on by the eager missionaries. A few weeks before our marriage, these friends held a small party for us. Tom Blair, who was the Ward Mission Leader, challenged me to baptism and we set a date of Jun 6, 1982 (it was early February). I agreed to do that because as I told him at the time, “it will never happen.” But it did. After I decided to join the church in late April of that year, my worried missionaries waited with baited breath as I honored my baptism date of June 6th. Tom confirmed me a member of the church. He and Heather were married shortly after.
On one occasion, Debbie and I went to Utah for a vacation. We attended sunday church meetings at the church office building. It was President Hinckley’s Ward (16th Ward, Eagle Gate Stake) and, he was attending that day. This was the time I found out about the concept of presiding authorities at Sacrament meeting. He was sitting on the stand. Debbie and I waited after the meeting to shake his hand. While we were waiting, I caught a sister standing off to the side, waiting for him. At the time, it didn’t occur to us that it was Sister Hinckley. I kick myself now that we didn’t go over and talk to her, knowing what I know about her now. Shortly, President Hinckley walked up, shook our hand, said a few words and walked away with Sister Hinckley trailing behind. Then we recognized her!
The last direct encounter I had with President Hinckley was at a Regional Conference, held in San Jose March 4th and 5th, one week before he became President of the Church. At the start of the Saturday Priesthood Leadership Meeting, he opened his remarks by saying, “Brethren, don’t move to Utah. You’re driving up the home prices and you need to build up Zion here.” He then asked for a glass of water. When one of the brethren brought him 4 glasses of water, he quipped, “I guess you don’t want me up here too long.”
One part of the meeting that I always regretted was the Q&A session. Most of the questions asked by the brethren from the congregation were either just silly or not very important. Here we had a Prophet of God in our midst and we were asking questions like, “Will we have a temple in San Jose?” Or, “What about those anti-Mormons?” In spite of that, it was a great meeting and President Hinckley and the other Authorities gave us great counsel and President Hinckley was in great humor, which made the meeting go very fast.
I loved President Hinckley and sustained him as my prophet and leader. I always enjoyed his talks, especially those with his incredible humor. But he also taught us valuable lessons related to the gospel and to life in general. He spoke of tragedy of abuse in the family, pornography and racism. He understood both the positive and negative uses of technology. He challenged us to be good and to do the very best we could, even in the most trying of circumstances.
I think it is easy to say he moved the church further along than any other Prophet, other than Joseph Smith himself and perhaps, David O. MacKay. That is debatable. He will be sorely missed, but we must rejoice that he is reunited with his beloved Marjorie and his ancestors of whom he always spoke of so lovingly.
“I remember a time in the Tabernacle years ago on a Sunday morning during general conference when it was hot. Everyone was fanning themselves with whatever they could find. President Hinckley got up and said something like “It’s hot in here. We know you’re hot. But you’re not as hot as you’re going to be if you don’t repent!” Mary Ellen Edmunds, Women’s Conference address at BYU, 29 April 2004
I remember that too. I will miss him.