Roots are embedded in responsibility

The call to President Gordon B. Hinckley to be the Church's 15th president came after a lifetime of hard work, sound judgment and spiritual growth.

He is perhaps the most experienced leader to become president of the Church.This will be his 60th year in full-time association with the Church, serving as employee or General Authority since 1935, except for a year during World War II when he worked for the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad Co. No other living person has been at Church headquarters longer than he, the senior employee as well as senior apostle.

President Hinckley's roots are embedded in responsibility. His grandfather, Ira; his father, Bryant; and he have each served as stake president, as has President Hinckley's son, Richard G.

Gordon Bitner Hinckley was born in Salt Lake City June 23, 1910, the first of 11 children of Bryant and Ada Bitner Hinckley. A bout with whooping cough two years later left the toddler frail and week. So, in search of a more healthy environment, the Hinckleys purchased a farm in the East Mill Creek area, southeast of Salt Lake City.

As a child, he "kicked up a terrible fuss" about going to school. He also often squared off with his younger brother, Sherman. This happened once too often, so their father bought them each a pair of boxing gloves and sent them outside to settle their differences, according to a 1961 Improvement Era article.

But mostly they worked and learned from their tasks.

"I look back at myself as a shy and bashful boy – freckle faced and awkward," he later recalled. "But I was blessed with a great father, a man of many gifts, literary gifts, business acumen and a tremendous capacity to accomplish."

If it was work, young Gordon did it. He wasn't afraid of grease or slivers. He made stalled cars run, did household repairs, carpentry, plumbing. His first paying job was as a carrier for the Deseret News. Many years later he became president of the company.

When he became a deacon, a spiritual experience added new direction to his life. He was sitting on the back row at a stake priesthood meeting when the brethren sang, "Praise to the Man." During this hymn of the Restoration, "There welled up in me an overwhelming conviction," President Hinckley later recalled.

"Even today," wrote then-Elder Boyd K. Packer in a 1986 Ensign article about President Hinckley, "more than six decades later, he cannot tell of that experience without slipping a finger under his glasses to prevent a tear from rolling down his cheek."

The boy later served as deacon's quorum president. As he grew, his native abilities in communication won him a reputation as a speaker. Once, when President Hinckley was about age 20 and in college, his bishop had scheduled the eminent apostle and U.S. Sen. Reed Smoot as a speaker. At the last minute, the speaker was called away, so the bishop called Gordon Hinckley and Robert Sonntag to substitute, addressing an overflow congregation.

"When Gordon Hinckley finished speaking, the people had forgotten all about Sen. Smoot's absence," recalled Brother Sonntag. "The boy really stirred them," the 1961 Improvement Era stated.

In 1933, at the depth of the Depression, he graduated from the University of Utah in English and was earning money to attend Columbia University to continue his studies in journalism. Instead, he answered a call to serve a mission in the British Isles.

His maturity and experience were soon noticed in the mission field and he was invited to work in the office under Joseph F. Merrill of the Council of the Twelve, president of the European Mission.

He helped Elder Merrill in many ways. One day, newspapers carried reviews of an old, anti-Mormon book that was reprinted and touted as an authentic history. Elder Hinckley was asked to visit the publisher and protest.

He waited in the publisher's office two or three hours, and was finally invited in. "Another power seemed to be speaking in me," he recalled later. "At first he

the publisherT was defensive and belligerent. Then he began to soften."

The publisher had a change of attitude and at great expense had a statement inserted in each book to the effect that it was only fiction, and "no offense was intended against the respected Mormon people."

When he returned from his mission in 1935, Elder Hinckley was invited to report to the First Presidency about the mission.

President Grant said, "Brother Hinckley, we'll give you 15 minutes."

"It was one of the highlights of my life that I met with President Heber J. Grant and his counselors," recalled President Hinckley. "They spent more than an hour asking me questions."

A committee of the Twelve had been organized for broadcasting, publicity, and mission literature. A few days later the young returned missionary was asked to take full-time employment with the Church as executive secretary of this committee.

His circumstances were less promising than his title. He was given an empty office, bare of furniture. Undaunted, he found a cast-off table from a furniture store. One leg was short, but he elevated that corner with a block of wood. He brought his typewriter from home and talked a frugal supply clerk out of an entire ream of typing paper. With his first touch of the typewriter keyboard was launched a prolific writing endeavor that would fill the equivalent of many volumes, and which has advanced the kingdom in many ways.

Shortly after launching his career, he married Marjorie Pay on April 29, 1937, in the Salt Lake Temple. They have five children, Kathleen H. Barnes, Richard G. Hinckley, Virginia H. Pearce, Clark B. Hinckley and Jane H. Dudley.

Most of his writings were for use in the media – radio and filmstrips. He became a sort of one-man Church Office Building staff as he wrote and produced The Fulness of Times, and New Witness for Christ series of recordings. Some of these aired on some 400 radio stations nationwide, forerunners of today's media efforts. He also supervised translations of the Book of Mormon, and designed the Church's 1939 exhibit at the San Francisco World's Fair.

Much of his focus was Church history. In 1942 he compiled 60 color slides of Church history sites and wrote a script. He retraced the pioneer trail and in so doing, located the grave of Rebecca Winters, grandmother of Heber J. Grant. It had previously been lost to the Church. In Scottsbluff, Neb., he crossed railroad tracks and "after slogging through the mud of a wet field with a dog yipping at my heels, I climbed the fence to get to the railroad right-of-way. Down the track, a short distance I could see the white posts and iron rails that enclosed the sacred spot for which I was looking." (Church News, Jan. 24, 1942.)

His work changed temporarily after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. He applied for officer training at the U.S. Naval recruiting office, but was rejected because of a history of allergies. So to contribute to the war effort, he took employment with the railroad in 1943 and became assistant manager of mail, baggage and express. In 1944, he returned to Church employment.

In 1951 he was named executive secretary of the General Missionary Committee and a year later introduced uniform missionary lessons. These were garnered from the best of those used in various missions around the United States.

Callings continued to come his way. In 1937 he was called to the Deseret Sunday School Board. In 1946 he was called as second counselor in the East Millcreek Stake presidency, and in 1956 he became president of that stake. It was from this position that he was called as an Assistant to the Twelve on April 6, 1958.

In 1961, he happened to be in Seoul, Korea, for a conference. On May 16, at 4:30 a.m., Elder Hinckley was awakened by a terrible "crackling" noise outside his window. "The thought that crossed my mind was, `What a crazy hour for a Chinese wedding,' " he later wrote of the event, thinking the noise was Chinese firecrackers. He poked his head out the window looking for a wedding when he realized that the "crackling" was not firecrackers but machine gun fire. Afterwards, he and Pres. Paul C. Andrus of the Northern Far East Mission counted 26 pock marks in the masonry. The military and police forces had skirmished in what was a military upset of the Korean government.

That same year, Elder Hinckley conducted a service for American military personnel in the Philippines. A few weeks later the first full-time missionaries arrived and began a work that has grown to more than 320,000 members in the Philippines.

On Oct. 5, 1961, at age 51, he was called to the Council of the Twelve. Two years later he was in French Polynesia during a six-week tour of the Pacific. Tragedy befell a group from the island of Maupiti as they returned following dedication of a meetinghouse. The commercial boat they'd chartered struck a reef and capsized May 23, 1963. Fifteen people, including most of the Maupiti Branch Relief Society presidency, drowned.

A non-member nurse who had been pulled from the pounding surf by a fisherman cabled the sad news to the mission leaders. Elder Hinckley and Pres. Kendall W. Young traveled by boat to the island to comfort the weeping Saints. The nurse who had sent the cable was injured and distraught. He gave her a blessing in which he encouraged her to join the Church and serve the Lord. (Church News, June 1, 1963.)

Many years later, while serving as counselor to President Spencer W. Kimball, President Hinckley was assigned to dedicate the Papeete Tahiti Temple. While there, he again met the nurse, Clair. She'd married the fisherman who had rescued her. Both were by then members. In fact the fisherman, Andre Manea, had become a counselor in the mission presidency. (Church News, Nov. 6, 1983.)

During his long service in the Church, President Hinckley has supervised the work in Asia, South America and Europe. He has been a counselor to three Church presidents and continued the work during long periods of their disabilities. During his service, he dedicated or rededicated 26 of the Church's 47 operating temples.

During the crush of responsibility he has borne over the years, he rarely has had an opportunity to relax. But during those rare times away from the office, he would put on his work clothes and go to a small orchard he has kept over the years. There, he would start up a 40-year-old tractor that still "runs like a watch." He'd climb on, pull the ancient gear lever and ease forward. For the next little while, he'd putter back and forth, grooming the land beneath peach, apple, pear, and plum trees.

He once offered this assessment of his life:

"I've known disappointment at times, surely," he said. "But by and large, it really has been a great 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." (Church News, June 23, 1990.)


ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley

  • Born June 23, 1910, in Salt Lake City, Utah, to Bryant S. and Ada Bitner Hinckley.
  • Graduated from University of Utah in English in 1933.
  • Served mission, 1933-35.
  • Appointed executive secretary of the Church Radio, Publicity and Mission Literature Committee, 1935.
  • Married Marjorie Pay on April 29, 1937, in the Salt Lake Temple; parents of five children, they have 26 grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren.
  • Appointed to Deseret Sunday School Board, 1937.
  • Appointed executive secretary of the General Missionary Committee, 1951.
  • Called as stake president's counselor in the East Millcreek Stake, 1946-56.
  • Called as president of the East Millcreek Stake, 1956.
  • Called as Assistant to the Twelve, April 6, 1958
  • Called to the Council of the Twelve, Oct. 5, 1961.
  • Set apart as counselor to President Spencer W. Kimball, July 23, 1981.
  • Set apart as first counselor to President Ezra Taft Benson, Nov. 10, 1985.
  • Set apart as first counselor to President Howard W. Hunter June 5, 1994.
  • Set apart and ordained president of the Church March 12, 1995.