It was an emotional moment when President Gordon B. Hinckley learned that his friend, CBS "60 Minutes" correspondent Mike Wallace, would be narrating a tribute to him during the July 22 concert observing his 95th birthday.
"Tears welled up in his eyes," said Craig Jessop, musical director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, who organized the program and engaged Mr. Wallace to come. "He said, 'People are too good to me.' "
That the Church leader would form a friendship with the crusty investigative journalist seemed to some unlikely. That nine years after their first meeting they would have such mutual affection is remarkable.
"You know, I really do feel that about Gordon B. Hinckley," Mr. Wallace said during a pre-concert news conference in Salt Lake City. He retold the story of his accepting an invitation to a luncheon at the Harvard Club in New York City, where President Hinckley was the speaker. Having tried unsuccessfully for years to get an interview with a high Church leader, Mr. Wallace was amazed when, during a question-answer session, President Hinckley agreed to a "60 Minutes" interview. As a young missionary in London, he had fielded questions at Hyde Park that were tougher than anything the program could pose, Mr. Wallace recalled President Hinckley saying.
"And we really developed a friendship with him and with his wife, Marjorie," he said.
He expressed amazement at the willingness of the Church president to answer every question put to him. Moreover, a request for a second interview was granted when the "60 Minutes" team determined more was needed, and President Hinckley was equally open and candid on that occasion as well.
"And out of that grew a friendship that is a genuine friendship," Mr. Wallace remarked.
"I saw him this morning, and if I reach 95 (I'm almost there) I hope I'm in the kind of shape that he is today," the 87-year-old newsman said. He expressed amazement that, soon after the concert, the Church president would be embarking on a two-week journey that would take him to Asia, Africa and Europe.
Asked his opinion on why President Hinckley seems so at ease with reporters, Mr. Wallace surmised, "Because he believes deeply in something." He said he and his wife, Mary, traveling with him, had been discussing the fact that Church members they had met on their visit look so happy.
"Everybody looks innocent. Everybody looks committed. These people are volunteering to do what they do. And you say to yourself, and we said to ourselves, 'Maybe there is something that we have been missing.' "
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