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A tender farewell to an elect lady

A follower of the Master, a devoted wife and mother, and friend to all she met


On the day before Easter, a cool and windy April 10, mourners gathered in the Tabernacle on Temple Square for the funeral of Sister Marjorie Pay Hinckley, wife of President Gordon B. Hinckley. Amid expressions of gratitude for the Atonement and the Resurrection, and the promise of eternal life, speakers remembered Sister Hinckley as an elect lady for all seasons, a follower of the Master, a devoted wife and mother, and friend to all she met.

As the congregation of some 2,500 people and members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir stood, President Hinckley entered the historic edifice from a door on the north side, walking behind the floral-covered casket of his wife of 67 years. He took, for him, an uncustomary seat on the front row of the Tabernacle, along with two sons, three daughters and other family members.

Just six days earlier, in the closing moments of the 174th Annual General Conference on April 4, he told the worldwide Church of how Sister Hinckley had collapsed from weariness while returning in January from the dedication of the Accra Ghana Temple and visits with members on the barren island of Sal in the Atlantic and St. Thomas in the Caribbean. "She has had a difficult time ever since," President Hinckley said.

Two days later, on April 6, Sister Hinckley passed away. (Please see special Church News section, April 10, 2004.)

More than 2,600 people filed past Sister Hinckley's coffin in the main reception hall of the Relief Society Building on Friday, April 9. For nearly an hour, President Hinckley stood or sat on a tall stool next to her casket and shook hands with General Authorities, auxiliary leaders, civic and government leaders, friends and associates who had come to offer condolences.

Hers was among the most widely broadcast funerals in the Church; the service's proceedings were telecast live to Church meetinghouses and member homes over the Church satellite system, BYU-TV and all except one of Salt Lake City's network affiliates and cable channels.

President Thomas S. Monson, first counselor to President Hinckley, and President James E. Faust, second counselor, were the concluding speakers at the funeral. Also participating were President and Sister Hinckley's children: Kathleen H. Barnes Walker, Richard G. Hinckley, Virginia Lee Hinckley Pearce, Clark Bryant Hinckley and Jane Hinckley Dudley. Sheri L. Dew, who wrote President Hinckley's biography, gave a tribute to Sister Hinckley.

President Boyd K. Packer, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve, offered the invocation. Douglas L. Pay, Sister Hinckley's brother, offered the benediction. Music was by the Tabernacle Choir, with Craig Jessop directing and John Longhurst at the organ.

President Monson recited a verse from a headstone in a cemetery in Clarkston, Utah:

A light from our household is gone,

A voice we loved is stilled;

A place is vacant in our hearts

That never can be filled.

"Today," he said, "there is a place vacant in our hearts, for the voice of Marjorie Pay Hinckley — a voice we loved — has been stilled. We mourn her passing; we honor her life.

"And yet, we know where Marjorie Hinckley is, and we rejoice in that knowledge," he said, quoting the Savior's words, "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die" (John 11:25-26). He said that Sister Hinckley believed in that glorious promise of the Lord and lived her life accordingly.

He spoke of having been closely associated with President Hinckley for 52 years, serving side by side with him in the Quorum of the Twelve for 18 years, and for 10 years as counselors to President Ezra Taft Benson and President Howard W. Hunter. For the past nine years, he has been first counselor to President Hinckley.

Similarly, he noted, at social functions and in other settings, Sister Hinckley and Sister Monson were placed side by side. "My wife, Frances, has described Marjorie as one of the most pleasant and choice persons she has ever known," President Monson said.

He observed that one of Sister Hinckley's noble virtues was a complete absence of guile. "She was genuine. She treated all people with loving kindness," he said.

He proclaimed her "an elect lady for all seasons" who loved people, challenges, her husband and family, and her Heavenly Father. Like the Master, President Monson declared, Sister Hinckley "went about doing good" and was equally at home with the poor and underprivileged as with the rich and famous.

He described Sister Hinckley as a mother and grandmother who read to her children and grandchildren, thereby enriching their lives.

"All that we knew and loved about our dear Marjorie Pay Hinckley continues," President Monson testified. "Her spirit has simply gone home to that God who gave her life. I have no doubt that she will hear the greeting of the Master, 'Well done, thou good and faithful servant: . . . enter thou into the joy of thy Lord' " (Matthew 25:21).

He said Sister Hinckley was a teacher of truth and left behind a heritage of honor and a legacy of love.

President Faust said that during the 50 years he has been "a dear friend and associate" he had seen President Hinckley in public and in private and heard him speak of his "love, respect, and gratitude for dear Marjorie, and the influence that she had on you, your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren."

President Faust asked, "What made her so outstanding? Was it her charming personality? Was it her exceptional intellectual capacity? Was it her sense of humor? Was it the way she treated other people? It was all of these, but much more. It was in large measure her sensitivity to the Spirit of the Lord with which she was so richly endowed. This sensitivity came abundantly through her genes and DNA, from her special ancestral heritage of faith and sacrifice."

President Faust spoke of Sister Hinckley's grandmother, Mary Goble Pay, who joined the Church in Brighton, England, in 1856 and traveled with her family in a handcart company that was caught in a bitter cold winter en route to the Salt Lake Valley. Two of her siblings died of exposure, as did her mother, whose desire it had been to "go to Zion" and rear her children in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

President Faust told of Sister Hinckley's grandfather, George Paxman, a finish carpenter who died after suffering a strangulated hernia while hanging heavy doors on the Manti Temple.

"Now to you who descend from this noble woman, who have her genes and DNA, you will find a measure of the joy that was Sister Hinckley's if you resolve to make the same commitment she did, to sacrifice all for the gospel and her family. All of us would benefit from following her faith, commitment and devotion."

President Faust said, "President Hinckley, you are our prophet. You have taught us so much. You have taught us the mysteries of godliness. . . . who we are and about our history. . . . of our nobility as sons and daughters of God by your example. You have also taught us by the way you treated your wife and children what a husband and father should do and should be. We need you so very much. We need your example and guidance. We need you to continue to lead us and give us the word of the Lord. We love you. We sustain you. We pray for you. We ask the Lord to give you and your family peace and comfort."

Sister Dew said that Sister Hinckley left everyone she met better than she found them, and described her as bright and quick and real. "There were never any pretenses with her," Sister Dew said. "She had an unbelievable sense of humor."

She characterized Sister Hinckley as "faith, hope and charity personified." She said she could see Sister Hinckley's name in every verse of Moroni 7, especially verse 45: 'And (Marjorie Hinckley) suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil . . and rejoiceth in the truth, . . . believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.'

"Moroni had explained it. It was the pure love of Christ everyone felt in her presence. It was the pure love of Christ in her that allowed her to stop worrying about how the world saw and treated her, and left her free to focus her attention on others. And the results were stunning."

Richard Hinckley, who conducted the service, said, "Mother told us on more than one occasion that she didn't want her children to have to speak at her funeral. She thought it would just be too hard on us. She would say, 'Just sit on the front row and weep.' "

Therefore, instead of giving speeches, he, his brother and sisters took turns reading quotes by Sister Hinckley that reflected her testimony, wisdom, wit, philosophy and motherly advice. Most began with "Mother said. . . ."

Her words that were quoted included advice for happy lives, counsel about the home and family, encouragement to dwell on successes rather than failures, and her testimony.

President and Sister Hinckley would have celebrated their 67th wedding anniversary on April 29. Clark Hinckley read excerpts from a letter President Hinckley wrote to Sister Hinckley in 1999:

"My darling, It is more than sixty years since we entered the Salt Lake Temple, there to be married for eternity. I had known you for a long time prior to that. I knew what I was getting into, and it has turned out as I had hoped it would.

"What a treasured companion you have been. Through all these years we have walked side by side as equals before the Lord. There have been good days and bad days, but the good days have far outnumbered the bad ones.

"Life for the most part has dealt gently with us. During the Depression, when we were newly married, we were poor and didn't know it because we were so rich in the things that really count. The laughter of happy children graced our kitchen table. The presence of a loving mother blessed our home. The Lord has opened the windows of heaven and showered down blessings too numerous to mention. He has smiled upon us in a wondrous way.

"You have been my critic and my judge. You have pushed aside the flattery that comes with public life, and winnowed the kind and sincere words of honest and loving friends. You have held at bay that old fraud of adulation and kept my feet planted on the solid earth. How I appreciate you.

"Your voracious appetite for reading and your relentless pursuit of knowledge have kept you alert and refreshing throughout a long and fruitful life.

"Now we have grown old together, and it has been a sweet experience. We have shrunk in stature and move a little more slowly. We are more forgetful. But as of this writing we still have one another — and that is so good. And when in some future day the hand of death gently touches one or the other of us there will be tears, yes, but there will also be a quiet and certain assurance of reunion and eternal companionship."

Richard Hinckley said, "We love you, Mother. May God be with you 'till we meet again, which will happen as surely as the sun will rise over these valleys on Easter morning."

At the Salt Lake City Cemetery, Clark Hinckley dedicated Sister Hinckley's grave. As a cold wind whipped over the hillside a lone bagpiper, Andrew Morrill, played "A Piper's Prayer" and "Scotland the Brave," a tune to which is set "Praise to the Man." As the last note faded, a quietness settled over the gathering. Only the trill of birds filled the air. For many seconds, no one seemed to move or speak. Then family members stepped forward, one by one, to lay a flower — a rose, a tulip, a daisy, a lily — on top of the floral spray that adorned Sister Hinckley's casket.

At last, President Hinckley stood. He kissed the tips of his fingers, placed his right hand on the casket, and uttered a tender farewell: "Goodbye. I love you, my dear."

E-mail to: gerry@desnews.com

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