When President Gordon B. Hinckley went on his mission to England more than 60 years ago, he received from his father a "little card" with only five words written on it.
But those five words – spoken by the Savior – epitomize the life and service of President Hinckley, who reached a milestone this week as he commemorated his 85th birthday on June 23.The card simply stated, "Be not afraid, only believe." (See Mark 5:36.) That divine injunction is one of President Hinckley's favorite scriptures and is a standard by which he has lived his life.
"I carried that card with me into the mission field and I have tried to keep that
admonitionT before me all of the years since," said President Hinckley in a recent Church News interview. "Be not afraid, only believe," he repeated. "That, I think, is a great statement."
During the interview in his office in the Church Administration Building – an office that was occupied by three Church presidents before him – President Hinckley reminisced about his life. He told of some of his early experiences while growing up in Salt Lake City and shared his feelings about some of his satisfactions and concerns since becoming the 15th president of the Church on March 12, 1995.
President Hinckley was born June 23, 1910, in Salt Lake City, a son of Bryant S. and Ada Bitner Hinckley. One of his forebears, Stephen Hopkins, came to America on the Mayflower. Another, Thomas Hinckley, served as governor of the Plymouth colony from 1680 to 1692. His grandfather, Ira Nathaniel Hinckley, who often heard the Prophet Joseph Smith speak in Nauvoo, crossed the plains in 1850 and later established Cove Fort in central Utah after receiving the call to do so from Brigham Young.
In 1937, President Hinckley married Marjorie Pay, and they have five children: Kathleen H. Barnes, Richard G., Virginia H. Pearce, Clark B., and Jane H. Dudley. They also have 26 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
Since becoming president of the Church, President Hinckley has maintained a rigorous travel schedule. He has a great desire to get out and meet with the Saints. A gifted orator who speaks from the heart, President Hinckley, since being sustained as prophet in general conference in April, has spoken to thousands of members of the Church in regional conferences and other meetings from California to Massachusetts to Alaska.
"I have been going at a pretty heavy schedule to get out with the people more, and to see the strength of the Church and the loyalty and devotion of our people," said President Hinckley. "It's been wonderful to see this."
Continuing, he spoke of the youth he has met in his travels and at conferences: "I meet young people everywhere who are wonderful and faithful; youth who want to do the right thing and who indicate the reality of what I have been saying for a long time, that we've never had a better generation of young people in the Church than we have today. They are faithful. They are active. They're knowledgeable. They are just a great generation, notwithstanding the environment in which many of them are growing up."
President Hinckley also spoke of the local leaders. "It is just marvelous to see how people develop
in the ChurchT. I don't care where you go across this Church, you will find local leaders of great strength and capacity and ability. It's really a most significant and wonderful thing."
When asked about his greatest concerns, President Hinckley replied, "I am concerned about family life in the Church. We have wonderful people, but we have too many whose families are falling apart. It is a matter of serious concern. I think it is my most serious concern."
He said there is no greater challenge or no greater opportunity in all the world than parenthood. "It is a God-given calling," he emphasized. "And it's worth every effort that one can put into it to make it successful. There is no greater work."
But, President Hinckley continued, "There is too much of worldliness in our homes. There is too much of selfishness. We need to get back to the basics of respect one for another, concern one for another, love and appreciation one for another, and working and worshiping together and living together as families who love the Lord and look to Him for light and strength and comfort.
"I just want to see our people walk in the light of the Lord," he explained. "That is where they will find their happiness; that's where they will find their progress; that's where they will find their prosperity, in walking the paths that the Lord has laid out for us. Happiness and peace lie in living the gospel."
It is evident from President Hinckley's comments that he has a great love for the members of the Church and feels deeply concerning their spiritual well-being. However, not only do his words reflect something about himself, but what is in his office also tells something about the person who is now the Lord's prophet.
Behind his desk on the wall is a painting of Jesus, which seems to characterize President Hinckley's love of the Savior and the work of the restored Church. For 60 years, except for a period of time during World War II, President Hinckley has been involved in the happenings at Church headquarters, first as an employee, then as a General Authority. He was called as an Assistant to the Twelve in 1958 and to the Quorum of the Twelve three years later in 1961. From the time he came to work for the Church in 1935 as executive secretary to the Radio Publicity and Mission Literature Committee, he has seen the Church grow from 746,000 members with only two stakes outside the United States to its membership today of more than 9 million with stakes dotting the world.
Near the north wall of President Hinckley's office is a bust of his father, undoubtedly symbolizing love of family.
Family has always played a great role in President Hinckley's life, and in his speeches he often tells of his father and grandfather. On his paternal side, President Hinckley said he is only the third-generation member in the Church and "so my grandfather was a pioneer in a very real sense."
When President Hinckley was about 2 years old, he had whooping cough, and the doctors told his parents to take the child to the country "into some fresh air."
"So my father bought five acres out in East Mill Creek,
an area in Salt Lake County where President Hinckley later became stake presidentT, and built a little home there that was our summer home." The farm, which included two orchards, eventually grew to 35 acres. "We lived in town in the winter while school was on and lived out there in the summer."
On the farm, President Hinckley said, "our regular regimen was to work in the morning and play in the afternoon. We worked until noon, and then we had lunch, then we could play afterward.
"We had a couple of horses and we built a little cart for the horses to pull. We would ride around East Mill Creek in that cart," President Hinckley recalled. He said he also played marbles and "mumblety peg." "We would go back up in the hollow where there was a cool spring and sit there for hours in the afternoon playing mumblety peg."
During the winter months, the family lived in the First Ward in the Liberty Stake, a ward that covered from 6th East to 9th East and from 6th South to 9th South. "We had five deacons quorums in that ward so we had a lot of friends in the Church," President Hinckley remembered. "The ward became the center of our social activity. We had ward dances; we had ward plays; we had ward songfests; we had road shows; we had a great activity program."
On another wall of President Hinckley's office is John Hafen's 1908 painting titled "Summer Afternoon," which illustrates the prophet's interest in the classics and arts.
President Hinckley is at ease with poetry and literature and the works of the great writers.
"In our home
when he was growing upT we had a big library," he recalled. "It was a big room, and bookcases were all around. We had more than 1,000 volumes there, I'm sure. We weren't forced to read the books, but we were exposed to them."
President Hinckley said he has in his home library two sets of his father's books – the "World's Best Histories" and a 50-volume set of the Harvard classics. "We just grew up in this kind of atmosphere."
Later, President Hinckley majored in English at the University of Utah. "During my university days, I read the whole gamut of English literature – from Chaucer to modern times." He had two quarters "of intensive work on Shakespeare and the Elizabethan and Victorian writers – everybody," he added.
He also took a class at the university in poetry composition and said he enjoys poetry. "I have some good anthologies, both English and American poetry."
President Hinckley has written two poems that have been set to music, one about the Savior, titled "My Redeemer Lives" which is included in the Church's current hymnal and the other about death that has been sung by the Tabernacle Choir. "I wrote them as poems," he related. "I didn't write them as hymns." He said he wrote the poem about death while at a friend's funeral.
On his desk is a copy of a business newspaper, which may symbolize his interest in keeping up with business and financial affairs, an interest undoubtedly honed by years of leadership in various business and civic capacities, as well as being involved in the financial side of the Church. Currently, he is chairman of Deseret Management Corporation, Bonneville International Corporation and other entities.
His first job as a youngster was a paper route for the Deseret News. Years later, he was chairman of the board of the Deseret News Publishing Co., a position he held until he was succeeded by President Thomas S. Monson in May 1977.
During the Church News interview, President Hinckley was asked to comment about the tragedies that many people are facing in their lives.
At times pausing to hold back the tears, President Hinckley said: "We have lots of tragedy in the Church. Everywhere.
"It is difficult to understand," President Hinckley softly said. "The only consolation comes in the gospel. There is no other consolation, really. Life is eternal, death is a part of our eternal journey. I see lots of sadness and all kinds of letters from people that just break your heart. People with family problems, people with financial problems, people with health problems. All kinds of problems."
President Hinckley said this life "is a time of testing, a time of trials, a time of education. It is a time of gaining experience, a time of trying to qualify for things that lie ahead."
The prophet referred to the 76th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants concerning the celestial kingdom and the 14th chapter of John about the Savior preparing a mansion on high for the faithful, and said these scriptures help people look at tragedies differently.
"You rise above them to see the big, wonderful picture of that millennial vision. You get that picture and things look different," he said.
As the interview with the Church News ended, President Hinckley was asked if he had a birthday wish for members of the Church.
"Live the gospel," the prophet replied without hesitation. "Carry on, keep the work growing. Be happy as you serve."