Expressing gratitude for his parents, General Authorities, and other Church leaders and teachers who had blessed his life, President Gordon B. Hinckley gave his first address as a General Authority on April 6, 1958.
Newly sustained as an Assistant to the Council of the Twelve and speaking at the pulpit in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, he said: "I say these things for two reasons: First because I am grateful to all who have helped me along the way and secondly because I would like to make the point that all of us, in our various situations, are the result, largely, of the lives that touch ours; and that as teachers and officers in the Church we affect for good or ill all who come under our direction according to our diligence in meeting our responsibilities."
Now celebrating his 97th birthday, his life has touched for good the lives of countless others who are grateful that the Lord has extended his life.
President Hinckley was born to Bryant S. and Ada Bitner Hinckley on June 23, 1910, in Salt Lake City. President Joseph F. Smith was leading the Church at the time, William Howard Taft was president of the United States and King George V was the newly crowned king of England.
Only one other actively serving General Authority in this dispensation has lived into his 98th year; Elder David B. Haight served as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve until his death at age 97 years and almost 11 months. (Elder Joseph Anderson died at age 102, but was given emeritus status as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy at age 89.)
Much has changed in the world over the nearly 10 decades of President Hinckley's life, including many things that have been instrumental in his administration over the Church.
At his birth, Orville and Wilbur Wright were still engaged in the early development of airplanes. There were two aviation "firsts" in June 1910 — the first flight over the English Channel and the first one-day round-trip flight between New York and Philadelphia.
Though, to serve his mission from 1933-1935 President Hinckley sailed to and from England on the S.S. Manhattan, by the time he was called as a General Authority, worldwide passenger travel by airplane was commonplace. A year after he was sustained president of the Church, he said in April 1996 general conference: "I am determined that while I have strength, I will get out among the people at home and abroad to express my appreciation, to give encouragement, to build faith, to teach, to add my testimony to theirs and at the same time to draw strength from them."
Advances in transportation facilitated his goal. In a warm, personal address during the April 2006 general conference, he declared, "I have lifted my voice on every continent, in cities large and small, all up and down from north to south and east to west across this broad world — from Cape Town to Stockholm, from Moscow to Tokyo to Montreal, in every great capital of the world. It is all a miracle."
Since that flight over the English Channel the year of his birth, aviation reached the point where President Hinckley was able to crown his travels with an 11-day, 24,995-mile trip on a private jet during the summer of 2005, with stops in Vladivostok, Russia; Seoul, Korea; Taipei, Taiwan; Hong Kong, China; Delhi, India; Nairobi, Kenya; and Aba, Nigeria.
Aviation was not the only technology that grew and matured with President Hinckley, becoming a valuable tool in his leadership of the Church.
The evolution of wireless electronic transmission was slow, but the pace of radio broadcasting picked up during the decade prior to President Hinckley's birth. He was a teenager when another Church member, Philo T. Farnsworth, developed electronic television technology.
Electronic and satellite broadcast capabilities today supplement travel as President Hinckley and his associates among the General Authorities extend their reach around the world. Large numbers of Church members gathered in stake and regional conferences around the world are addressed by Church leaders from a studio in Salt Lake City's Conference Center.
President Hinckley grew up with the motion picture industry and took advantage of film as a way to present the temple ceremony in many languages in the Bern Switzerland Temple when it was dedicated in 1955. That technology has been a big part of his vision for the expansion of temples around the world.
From the four operating temples — all in Utah — at the time of his birth, there are now 124 temples in 38 countries, 95 dedicated or rededicated by President Hinckley.
He was born into a Church of fewer than 400,000 members in 62 stakes, and now presides over a Church of more than 12 million members in some 2,700 stakes.
Shortly after returning home from his mission during the summer of 1935, President Hinckley was employed by the Church. With the exception of a short time of employment with the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad during World War II, his entire working life was spent with the Church, mingled with Church service in various callings.
He spoke during the April 2006 general conference of the "remarkable relationship I had as a young man with members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve."
He himself has served for 49 years as a General Authority, including as a counselor to President Spencer W. Kimball, President Ezra Taft Benson and President Howard W. Hunter, before becoming president of the Church.
In his first address as Church president during the April 1995 general conference, he said, "In circumstances such as these one's searching thoughts go back over all of the years of one's life, and even beyond." He then spoke of noble ancestors who began a legacy of Church membership and service in his family.
"For these forebears I feel a great sense of gratitude and love, and an almost overwhelming obligation to keep the trust which they have passed."
He also expressed appreciation for his wife, Marjorie Pay Hinckley, who passed away in 2004, and for his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
In his 2006 conference address, after sharing personal feelings he brought smiles to the congregation when he said, "I trust that you will not regard what I have said as an obituary. Rather, I look forward to the opportunity of speaking to you again in October," which he did, and also in April of 2007.
A man of strong testimony from his youth, he ended the 2006 address saying, "Now, in conclusion, I hope that all of you will remember that on this Sabbath day you heard me bear my witness that this is God's holy work."
It is a work he was born to be a part of 97 years ago, and has done so faithfully.
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