During the Utah League of Cities and Towns 100th Annual Convention Sept. 12, President Gordon B. Hinckley was honored as the organization's "Municipal Citizen of the Century."
"Your league is a century old, and I am shortly behind it," said President Hinckley, 97. "I do not know that is any special honor, but I think that I would like to be around until I, too, reach the century mark."
A capacity crowd filled the ballroom of a downtown Salt Lake City hotel for the event, during which the Tabernacle Choir performed several musical numbers, including President Hinckley's favorite Irish folk song "Danny Boy," and the popular "Battle Hymn of the Republic."
The luncheon was attended by President Thomas S. Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, President Boyd K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve, and numerous other General Authorities. Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve introduced President Hinckley, and historian and author David McCullough offered a guest speech.
The Most Rev. John Wester, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, gave the invocation, expressing thanks for the inspiration President Hinckley "is to all of us as president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" and "for his leadership, not only of the church but throughout Utah and beyond. Fill him with deep peace, continued good health and the satisfaction that comes from being your servant and, indeed, your holy prophet."
During brief remarks, President Hinckley said he was particularly grateful for the presence of Mr. McCullough — who, like him, received a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award given by the U.S. Government.
"I have read his books John Adams and 1776. They have given me an added appreciation for our founding fathers and of the travail of which our nation was born," said President Hinckley. "I skimmed through Mr. McCullough's 1,000-page Pulitzer-winning biography of Harry Truman. At my age of 97, I cannot afford the time to read anything that long."
President Hinckley then praised the work done by those who run cities and towns.
"Except for those who live in rural areas, all of us live in cities and towns, communities, municipalities," he said. "We are all the beneficiaries of the efforts of all who have gone before us."
Those who govern these communities "are figuratively speaking the keepers of the hearth," he said.
"Yours is not just a position of privilege, but one of great responsibility. You are responsible for the necessary infrastructure. We look to you for service. We are grateful for what you do. What would our communities be without streets and roads, without good water and sewer service....
"It is out of sense of gratitude for these blessings that I am deeply thankful for the Municipal Citizen of the Century honor which you have conferred today."
Elder Ballard thanked the organization for honoring President Hinckley, a man who has "dedicated his life to making people, places and things better."
"To share all that President Hinckley has accomplished in his 97 years would take volumes," Elder Ballard said. "All around we see the results of his vision and the importance he has always placed on respecting the sacred while embracing the new."
During his remarks, Mr. McCullough spoke of the lessons of history. The most important lesson, he said, is how to be a decent human being, learning "how to behave in the roles life will cast you in." He listed three other important lessons of history.
First, he said, there is "no such thing as the past." People prominent in history, he explained, were not living in the past, they were living in the present. "They had no idea how things were going to turn out in their time."
Second, he said, there is no such thing as a self-made man or woman. Many people have no idea how much they owe to other people, to "parents, teachers, friends, rivals who shape us."
Finally, he said, there never was a simpler time, only a different time.