“This Gentle Prophet,” Liahona, Apr. 2008, 24–26
I first met Gordon B. Hinckley more than 50 years ago. I was called as an Assistant to the Twelve in the same conference he was sustained as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
His first words at the pulpit when he was sustained as an Assistant to the Twelve were: “I know that I have not come that road alone, and I feel very grateful for the many men and women—the great and good men who are here today, and the … wonderful people, many of whose names I do not remember—who have helped me” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1958, 123).
Gordon B. Hinckley first arrived at Church headquarters on his way home from his mission in England. He had been asked by the mission president to report to the First Presidency: Presidents Heber J. Grant, J. Reuben Clark Jr., and David O. McKay. The 15-minute meeting lasted over an hour. He was asked to serve as secretary to the new Church mission literature committee.
He was on his own to rustle around to find an empty office somewhere. A friend, whose father owned an office supply store, gave him an old, warped table. He put a block of wood under one short leg. He brought his own typewriter from home.
He went to the supply room for a ream of paper and was asked, “Do you have any idea how many sheets of paper are in a ream?”
He replied, “Yes, 500 sheets.”
“What in the world are you going to do with 500 sheets of paper?”
He answered, “I am going to write on them one sheet at a time.”
He never stopped writing. For years I have had a weekly meeting with President Hinckley. Often I found him at his desk writing out his talks in longhand.
My first assignment as an Assistant to the Twelve was as assistant to Elder Hinckley in the Missionary Department.
Soon thereafter he left to tour the missions in Europe with President Henry D. Moyle. After he returned, he told me that one of the hardest things he ever had to do happened in Düsseldorf.
On their last evening in Europe, President Moyle hosted a dinner for the missionaries, including Elder Hinckley’s son Richard. Elder Hinckley said good-bye to his son at the hotel. He said that to watch Richard walk away with his companion into the cold, dark night was the hardest thing he ever had to do. He wept as he told me about it.
Brother Hinckley’s extraordinary intelligence and his incredible memory were immediately apparent. But I had learned something else more important. I had seen inside of Elder Gordon B. Hinckley. He has always been a very private person, and only occasionally does one see inside of him.
In trying to describe President Hinckley’s ability to communicate, I recalled years ago traveling in Pakistan with Elder Jacob de Jager, one of the Seventy, whom we referred to as “the smiling, happy Dutchman.” Our host was Mr. Suleman Habib, a longtime friend from a prominent banking family in Karachi.
One day Suleman took us out of the city into the countryside to see one of his farms. We came upon a large group of laborers, poorly dressed, building a road with pick and shovel. They spoke in Urdu, a language neither Jacob nor I had ever heard before. The car had hardly stopped when Jacob was out the door. He mingled with the laborers.
Suleman watched him intently then turned to me and said, “That man can communicate with these Urdu people better than I can.” And a moment later he added, “That man could charm a donkey or a king!”
Whatever power of communication and charm Suleman saw in Jacob de Jager was found in rich measure in Gordon B. Hinckley.
There came to my office one day an Islamic cleric who was in Salt Lake City to receive treatment at the Moran Eye Center. I arranged for an audience with the First Presidency. Dr. Abdurrahman Wahid, much like President Hinckley, had a sparkling sense of humor. Accompanying Dr. Wahid was Dr. Alwi Shihab, a professor of Islamic studies at Harvard University.
In that meeting, Dr. Wahid mentioned that he had been asked to run for the office of president of Indonesia. “If I am elected,” Dr. Wahid said, “Alwi Shihab will be my foreign minister.”
President Hinckley said, “If you decide to run and you are elected, I will come and visit you in Jakarta.”
He was elected, and we did go to Jakarta, where President Hinckley was the guest of honor at a dinner given at the presidential palace.
The first message of condolence I received on the death of President Hinckley was from Alwi Shihab. Yesterday there arrived a very large floral tribute from President Wahid, former president of Indonesia.
I have regarded this power of communication and charm in President Hinckley as brotherly love and humility. It was always apparent whether he was with the laborers on a dusty road or a banquet in a presidential palace.
President Hinckley grew up schooled in the doctrines of the gospel. His roots go back to Cove Fort, in central Utah. Restored, it stands now much as it did in the pioneer days when his grandfather built it.
Much of President Hinckley’s growth I attribute to his wife, Marjorie Pay Hinckley, who was patient with a man who was always on the go, always 10 steps ahead of her. For example, one evening he was packing for an overseas trip the following morning.
Marjorie asked, “Well, am I going to go with you?”
He responded, “We don’t have to decide that right now!”
He knew, as we all should know, that the doctrines of Jesus Christ are synonymous with family.
Succession to the presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a remarkable process. Always the senior Apostle becomes the President, and the next senior becomes the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Outlined in the revelations are the truths and instructions by which the Brethren administer the Church. Whatever the crisis or whatever the opportunity, the directions and guidance can be found in the verses of scripture.
No one who has known the order of things speculates on who will be the next President of the Church. It has always been this pattern. There is no aspiring for the position, no avoiding the Lord’s will.
Gordon B. Hinckley did not seek the many calls and assignments that came to him, but he did not shy away either.
In one of the earliest revelations, the Lord said, “That every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world” (D&C 1:20) that “the weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones” (D&C 1:19).
With the Church growing very rapidly worldwide, we often go to distant places to organize or reorganize a unit of the Church. We are sometimes asked, “Where on earth will you find the new leaders?” We do not have to find them. They are already there, just as Gordon B. Hinckley was there. The Lord provides them. They are serving faithfully and paying for the privilege in tithes and offerings.
In a separate ordinance following baptism, members of the Church have conferred upon them the Holy Ghost, which the scriptures explain will “teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance” (John 14:26). The Holy Ghost is the Inspirer. Inspiration is always there, if you learn to live with it and for it.
One of the things that President Hinckley understood best is the word family. It is not difficult to find statements on the family in his sermons and talks and counsel, whether to large congregations, to individuals, or more particularly to families.
I pay tribute to the family of Gordon Bitner and Marjorie Pay Hinckley. They can be described as ideal. They, like their father, are unassuming. Whatever prominence that has come to them does not show any more than it was visible in him.
In the cemetery not too far from here, there is a headstone with “Marjorie Pay Hinckley” engraved on it and, beside her name, the name of “Gordon Bitner Hinckley.”
In due course it can be said of Gordon Bitner and Marjorie Pay Hinckley, “They are not here, for they are risen and together.”
May our Father bless the memory of this gentle prophet and his eternal companion and the sacred work over which he presided, I pray in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.