After a long life of dedicated service to God and his fellowman, President Gordon B. Hinckley died Jan. 27 of causes incident to age. He was 97.
President Hinckley ended his mortal journey Sunday at 7 p.m. in his apartment, surrounded by his five children and other family members. In past months the beloved Church leader had lost strength, making fewer appearances and most recently using a wheelchair, though not entirely giving up his well-employed cane.
His dedication of the Utah State Capitol Jan. 4 was his last public appearance. He kept up with his daily work schedule until the last week of his life.
Two years ago, on Jan. 24, 2006, he underwent laparoscope surgery in a bout with cancer of the large intestine. Although he recovered well and completed the subsequent chemotherapy, on Tuesday, Jan. 22, he underwent what was called a "follow-up chemotherapy." A day or two later, he began feeling weaker. On Friday, Jan. 25, at the funeral of LDS inventor and philanthropist James L. Sorenson, President Thomas S. Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, announced that President Hinckley was not feeling well. After that, he continued to decline.
(Coverage of President Hinckley's funeral, scheduled at 11 a.m. Feb. 2, will be in the Feb. 9 issue of Church News.)
Despite being the longest-lived Church president in history, his nearly 13 years as president of the Church were marked with vigor and massive projects on multiple fronts. Behind his energetic encouragement of these projects was the soft lining of his love and compassion for members of the Church.
He showed this compassion in great personal effort to travel the globe to visit the saints in distant regions. In so doing, he outdistanced all his predecessors and engendered a sense of global community among saints of all nations, from the continents of Africa and Asia to Pacific atolls. During his presidency, he traveled more than 1 million miles. He always arrived early to events and was eager to get started. He was a man of wisdom and wit, relentless in his devotion to his duty and expectations of high standards.
He also saw to it that the number of temples more than doubled, from 47 when he became president in 1995, to 124 at his death. This burst of temples was accomplished by building smaller temples in more distant locations. He sketched a design himself for these smaller temples while visiting such a location, Colonia Juarez in Mexico. This administration also saw the construction of the huge Conference Center, dedicated in October 2000.
A gifted communicator, he worked well with the media. He often called the local reporters by first name and was also comfortable with national and international reporters. He used his ready wit to disarm questions and was charming and forthright on national television.
President Hinckley was set apart and ordained president of the Church on March 12, 1995, just as the Church reached 9 million members. He pledged to "go forward in faith." Shortly after he became president, the Proclamation on the Family was issued, which has not only been influential around the world, but prophetic in its timing. President Hinckley also emphasized the Savior in the name of the Church, with a revised logo, and emphasized the correct name of the Church in references by the media.
On Nov. 2, 2007, he became the longest-lived president of the Church, which by then had a membership of 13 million.
Reflecting on his life in October conference 2006, President Hinckley quoted a poem by Robert Frost:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
"It was 48 years ago at this April conference that I was first sustained as a General Authority," he said in that address in 2006. "Since that time I have spoken in every general conference of the Church. I have given well over 200 such talks. I have dealt with a great variety of subjects. But running through all has been a dominant thread of testimony of this great latter-day work."
At that time, he reflected on his life, "with a measure of wonder and awe."
"Everything good that has happened, including my marriage, I owe to my activity in the Church."