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Father and Grandpa: His family life

Family prayer, standards, and frequent humor

Celia Barnes Benson will always remember her grandfather's phone calls during the years she worked in Washington, D.C. "I looked forward to those phone calls," Sister Benson, granddaughter of President Gordon B. Hinckley, wrote the Church News just before her maternal grandfather's 90th birthday. She is the daughter of the late Alan Barnes and Kathleen Hinckley Barnes Walker.

"He was genuinely interested in the details of my life," Sister Benson wrote of her grandfather. "He would ask about work, Church, and my friends. Whenever I have faced challenges or have had major decisions to make he has always been accessible. He has never preached to me or told me what to do. Instead, he has always listened, made me laugh with one of his quips and then expressed confidence in my ability to make the decision or overcome the obstacle.

"Over and over I have heard him say, 'Don't worry. Things will work out.' His faith and confidence have been an anchor and gift in my life."

The gift of faith, the gift of confidence, the gift of humor and the gift of laughter. These have been freely shared in the Hinckley family since Gordon Hinckley was a boy growing up in Salt Lake City. The son of Bryant S. and Ada Bitner Hinckley — the eldest of his mother's children — the future Church president was born June 23, 1910. (Please see pages 13-16 for article on life of President Hinckley.)

His father's first wife, Christine Johnson Hinckley, died after giving birth to nine children (one died in childhood). Bryant Hinckley then married Ada Bitner, with whom he had five children: Gordon, Sherman, Ruth, Ramona and Sylvia. The "ready made" family, however, never referred to themselves as half-brothers or half-sisters, according to Go Forward With Faith: The Biography of Gordon B. Hinckley by Sheri L. Dew. They were simply family.

In fact, Sherman Hinckley described the "first sad days of our existence" as the time in November 1918 when the family received word that the oldest child, Stanford Hinckley, died of pneumonia in France while in the U.S. Army during World War I. Go Forward With Faith states, "It was the first time Gordon and Sherman had seen their father cry, and they too wept."

Despite the heartache of Stanford's death, there were many happy days in the Hinckley household. Being little more than a year apart made for a close — and typical brother-to-brother relationship — between Gordon and Sherman Hinckley. The December 1961 Improvement Era describes Sherman as being larger, though younger. The boys often tussled. "One day their father tossed a pair of boxing gloves before them. 'Now the next time you want to fight, put these on, move outside, and go after it in style,' Bryant S. Hinckley said," the article reported.

The boys spent long summer days on the family farm in East Mill Creek. A Sept. 28, 1996, Deseret News article describes the boys sleeping "out of doors on a wagon bed under the stars. We would lie in our blankets and look up at the sky."

In a general conference address when he was first counselor in the First Presidency, President Hinckley used those star-gazing experiences as the basis of one of his memorable addresses, "Let Love Be the Lodestar of Your Life." (See Ensign, May 1989, p. 65.)

In 1930, tragedy again struck the Hinckley household. Ada Bitner Hinckley, mother to the future Church president, died on Nov. 9. According to the biography, President Hinckley later said: "We put on a front of bravery and fought back the tears. But inside, the wounds were deep and painful." (Bryant S. Hinckley married two more times before his death in 1961 — to May Green and Lois Anderson.)

Many of the elements of the home of Bryant and Ada Hinckley carried over to the home of Gordon and Marjorie Pay Hinckley, who were married April 29, 1937, in the Salt Lake Temple. And from the outset, the Hinckley home was one of faith first. In the biography, the bride-to-be is said to have realized: "As we got closer to marriage, I felt completely confident that Gordon loved me. But I also knew somehow that I would never come first with him. I knew I was going to be second in his life and that the Lord was going to be first. And that was okay."

Putting the Lord first only seemed to make the Hinckley family more close-knit — a family that came to include five children: Kathleen H. Barnes Walker, Richard G. Hinckley, Virginia H. Pearce, Clark B. Hinckley and Jane H. Dudley. In 1998, at a dinner during which the Utah-California Women presented the Utah Heritage Award to Sister Hinckley, President Hinckley said of the mother of his children: "She's been the lodestar of their lives,... a source of inspiration and one to have a happy time with. They love her. She loves them." (Nov. 7, 1998, Church News).

The home that Gordon Hinckley built himself on the farm in East Mill Creek was filled not only with prayer, but also laughter. Along with visits to "Papa Hinckley's" and visits to the movie theaters, the Hinckleys looked forward to their annual family vacation, which included trips to Bryce Canyon, Moab and Monument Valley in Utah, and to Yellowstone National Park and many other places in the western states.

Along with the humor in the Hinckley family came a code of conduct — and family prayer. In the biography, Sister Hinckley is quoted: "I think family prayer had a great deal to do with the way our children responded to us. Even though Gordon didn't preach to them, they heard everything we wanted them to hear in family prayer."

These traits have carried over in the lives of the 25 grandchildren and 62 great-grandchildren of Gordon B. and Marjorie P. Hinckley, all of whom appreciated the love President and Sister Hinckley had for each other.

That love was apparent to family and friends on April 9, 2004, when the Church president greeted well-wishers while standing next to the casket of his wife, who passed away April 6, 2004. The next day, April 10, in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, which was filled with some 2,500 people and members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, "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," according to the April 17, 2004, Church News.

A little more than a month later, on May 22, 2004, President Hinckley spoke to a congregation of 4,000 in Copenhagen, Denmark, and referred to the passing of his beloved companion.

"This is the first such trip I've made since my beloved companion passed away. We'd been married for 67 years. That's a very long time, and we've had a rich and wonderful life together. We traveled on every continent of the world and bore testimony of this work in scores of nations."

Celia Barnes Benson recalled the close of a family Christmas party. "Grandpa gave each of us a picture of Grandma taken at the time of their engagement. He then expressed to us his deep and abiding love for her. It was an emotional moment for all of us. He then went on to express his love, confidence and faith in each of us as individuals."

The gifts of love, confidence and faith are inherent in the family life of President Gordon B. Hinckley.

E-mail: julied@desnews.com

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