Life begins at 80! What a great time to be alive."
President Gordon B. Hinckley, first counselor in the First Presidency, who turned 80 on Saturday, June 23, made this observation during a recent Church News interview."I can't repudiate my birth certificate, but I don't feel old," he said.
And that is remarkable for a person who still travels the world and puts in extremely long days on scores of weighty matters that are required in his position as a member of the First Presidency.
He attributes not feeling old "to having work to do, having a challenge every day."
And through the years, President Hinckley has had many challenges.
For almost 55 of his 80 years, he has been faced with the responsibilities and challenges of helping to carry out the work of the worldwide Church, either as a Church employee or as a General Authority.
Since 1935, except for a period of time during World War II, he has worked in the Church Administration Building.
"Joseph Anderson, who is now in his 101st year, is the only one living who has been around this building longer than I have," President Hinckley declared. Elder Anderson, now an emeritus General Authority, served as secretary to the First Presidency and to the president of the Church for many years before his call as a General Authority.
In 1935, the year President Hinckley returned home from a mission to England, he started working as secretary to the Radio, Publicity and Literature Committee of the Church, working particularly close to the six General Authorities who comprised the committee, but also with other members of the Twelve as well as the First Presidency.
"There was no charter of what we should do," President Hinckley remembered. It became his responsibility to suggest what ought to be done and then present it to the committee.
As secretary of the committee, the young returned missionary carried a heavy responsibility. As part of his job, he wrote most of the scripts for a series of 39 half-hour radio dramatizations on the history of the Church, which was titled "The Fullness of Times" and produced in Hollywood.
The project required extensive research, and from that research President Hinckley gained a knowledge and love of Church history, which is still evident today in his addresses.
"In those days, I had no help; it was a one-man operation," he said. "I just sat down at the typewriter and wrote the scripts."
The dramatizations aired on more than 400 radio stations in the United States, explained President Hinckley, "and were really the forerunner of all the things we've done since in the way of radio and television productions."
Later, the future Church leader was given the responsibility of managing the Missionary Department. He wrote many radio programs and various tracts, pamphlets and publications. He had the responsibility for the preparation and printing of all missionary literature, and of the translation work that was done at that time.
Writing was something young Gordon did well. In college, he majored in English and minored in ancient languages, Greek and Latin. He took what writing classes were offered at the time, and had hoped to go into a journalism career. He planned to attend the Columbia School of Journalism after his graduation from the University of Utah.
Fate, however, dictated otherwise.
After serving in Church employment for 23 years, he was called as an Assistant to the Twelve on April 6, 1958, while serving as president of the East Mill Creek Stake in suburban Salt Lake County. Three years later, on Oct. 5, 1961, he was called to the Council of the Twelve, and 20 years later on July 23, 1981, as a counselor in the First Presidency.
Among his responsibilities as a General Authority he has had supervision of the work in Asia, South America and Europe. He estimated he spent a cumulative 3 1/2 years in Asia during the 10 or 11 years he supervised that part of the world. His last trip to Asia as a member of the First Presidency was his 45th to that continent.
President Hinckley said when he gets a chance to get away from his responsibilities, he likes to go "to a little piece of land we still own in East Mill Creek," and work in his orchard. "The orchard isn't what it ought to be, but I like to go out there and do some physical work," he said. The orchard has about 25 peach, apple, pear, cherry, plum and apricot trees. To help him in his orchard work, he drives an old tractor that's 40 years old. "That tractor still runs like a fine watch."
"I don't know of anybody who's been more richly blessed than I have," President Hinckley said.
"I've really had a wonderful life. I've had a good marriage and I've been blessed with good children." President Hinckley and his wife, the former Marjorie Pay to whom he was married in 1937, have five children: Richard G., who is the fourth-generation stake president in the family; Clark B.; Kathleen H. Barnes; Virginia H. Pierce; and Jane H. Dudley. They also have 26 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, "and their grandmother knows all their names and birthdates."
"I have had the association of great men," President Hinckley went on, "and that's been my tutoring. I've been active in civic undertakings and business affairs. I've had many, many friends at all levels of life, good and wonderful people who have blessed my life and from whom I've learned a great deal.
"I've known disappointment at times, surely. But, by and large, it really has been a great and good life. I can't be thankful enough for the tremendous opportunities I've had, which I did not earn, but which came as blessings from the Lord."