Now in the "sunset" of his life, President Gordon B. Hinckley reminisced Sunday morning, expressing appreciation and gratitude for his opportunities, accomplishments and "remarkable blessings."
"The life of the President of the Church really belongs to the entire Church," he said. "He has very little privacy and no secrets."
President Hinckley — who has spoken in every general conference since being called as a General Authority 48 years ago — said his remarks would be "different from any, I think, previously heard" in a session of conference.
"When a man reaches my age, he pauses now and again to reflect on what has led him to his present status in life," he said.
President Hinckley, who underwent major surgery in January, said for the first time in his 95 years he had been a patient in a hospital. "I do not recommend it to anyone," he said. "My doctors say that I still have some residual problems."
However, he asked Church members to not regard the talk "as an obituary."
Instead, borrowing a phrase coined by the poet Robert Frost, President Hinckley pondered "The Road Not Taken."
"We all face choices in the course of our lives, some of them with a siren song of wealth and prosperity; others appear less promising," he said. "Somehow the Lord has watched over and guided my choices, although it was not always evident at the time."
As a General Authority, President Hinckley said he has given more than 200 General Conference addresses, all with a "dominant thread of testimony of this great latter-day work."
Yet over the years, things have changed and are changing, he said.
"My beloved companion of 67 years left me two years ago. I miss her more than I can say. She was really a remarkable woman, one with whom I walked side by side in perfect companionship for more than two-thirds of a century. As I look back upon my life, I do so with a measure of wonder and awe. Everything good that has happened, including my marriage, I owe to my activity in the Church."
President Hinckley said he recently reviewed a list of societies and organizations that have honored him because of his activity in the Church. "Presidents of the United States, a substantial number of them, have come to the Office of the Presidency of the Church. . . . I have been to the White House on a number of occasions. I have hosted and mingled with prime ministers and ambassadors of many nations. . . .
"I have known and worked with every president of the Church from President (Heber J.) Grant down to Howard W. Hunter. I have known and loved all of the General Authorities through these many, many years."
President Hinckley then quoted from an old journal of his, with sporadic entries from the years 1951 to 1954, a time he was serving as a counselor in his stake presidency and as a Church employee. The journal detailed everyday associations with numerous Church leaders.
"As I read through this old journal, I recalled with appreciation how, through the kindness of the Lord, I came to know very intimately and well all of the First Presidency and members of the Quorum of the Twelve. Such an opportunity could not now be had by anyone because the Church is much larger."
President Hinckley said that during his years he has also walked among the impoverished and poor of the earth and shared with them "my love, my concern, and my faith." He has also associated with men and women of privilege and stature from many parts of the earth.
He said as a young man he received a patriarchal blessing. He shared from this "personal" and "prophetic document," one promise: "The nations of the earth shall hear thy voice and be brought to a knowledge of the truth by the wonderful testimony which thou shalt bear."
After serving as a missionary in England and traveling to Berlin, Paris and Washington D.C., where he bore his testimony, President Hinckley assumed he had fulfilled the blessing.
However, he said, "that proved to be a mere scratching of the surface. Since then I have lifted my voice on every continent, in cities large and small, all up and down from north to south and east to west across this broad world — from Cape Town to Stockholm, from Moscow to Tokyo to Montreal, in every great capital of the world. It is all a miracle."
Then recalling recent events, President Hinckley spoke of asking Church members last year to again read the Book of Mormon and honoring the Prophet Joseph on the 200th anniversary of his birth.
He apologized for speaking in a personal vein, noting that he did so as an "expression of appreciation and gratitude" for the Church. "My heart is overwhelmed with gratitude and love," he explained.
Finally, he asked Church members to remember a powerful testimony, "that on this Sabbath day you heard me bear my witness that this is God's holy work. The vision given the Prophet Joseph in the grove of Palmyra was not an imaginary thing. It was real. It occurred in the broad light of day. Both the Father and the Son spoke to the boy. He saw Them standing in the air above him. He heard Their voices. He gave heed to Their instruction.
"It was the resurrected Lord who was introduced by His Father, the great God of the universe. For the first time in recorded history, both the Father and the Son appeared together to part the curtains and open this, the last and final dispensation, the dispensation of the fulness of times.
"The Book of Mormon is all that it purports to be — a work recorded by prophets who lived anciently and whose words have come forth 'to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations' (title page of the Book of Mormon).
"The priesthood has been restored under the hands of John the Baptist and Peter, James and John. All the keys and authority pertaining to eternal life are exercised in this Church.
"Joseph Smith was and is a prophet, the great Prophet of this dispensation. This Church, which carries the name of the Redeemer, is true."