President Gordon B. Hinckley, the fifteenth president of the Church of Jesus Christ
The following article appeared in the ‘Improvement Era’ in 1961, shortly after President Hinckley was ordained an apostle.
He looked like the times in which he lived. He was lean, and freckles were beginning to fade from his thin face. In a few days he would be 23. His name was Gordon Bitner Hinckley, and the roses were just beginning to bloom across the Salt Lake Valley in 1933. But conditions in America were anything but rosy. It was the bottom of the Great Depression. People sang “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?” and men who once had prospered were selling apples on the streets.
Gordon Hinckley, who had graduated from the University of Utah a year earlier, had been working at a small job to put together enough money to take him to Columbia University to continue his studies in English and journalism. Then a tall man stepped in, John D. Duncan, bishop of the First Ward of the Liberty Stake. A mission was discussed. Relatively few young men were getting mission calls then. Parents just did not have the means. Gordon Hinckley had always been a faithful boy in the Church, but now college and a love of literature had lifted his eyes toward a career in journalism. But he answered the challenge of the Church. And that was the beginning of a new life for him — a life that was to become a mission instead of a career. That first mission actually lasted 28 years, except for 2 years during World War II.
Elder Hinckley’s mission reached a new crest on a Saturday morning in 1961, the last day of September. The sun was just beginning to send its glow over towering Mount Olympus to the east of Gordon and Marjorie’s Hinckley’s white frame home in East Mill Creek. Marjorie answered the telephone at about . It was President David O. McKay.
When Gordon B. Hinckley greeted President McKay 45 minutes later, a new call came — to the Council of the Twelve. Later that day Elder Hinckley was sustained an apostle, a witness for Jesus Christ.
Next day, at the concluding conference session, the new apostle said with his typically sincere, “over-the-backfence” eloquence: “I would like to say that this cause is either true or false. Either this is the kingdom of God, or it is a sham and a delusion. Either Joseph talked with the Father and the Son or he did not. If he
did not, we are engaged in a blasphemy. If he did, we have a duty from which none of us can shrink — to declare to the world the living reality of the God of the universe, the Father of us all and his Son the Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, our Redeemer, the Author of our salvation, the Prince of Peace. I give you my testimony that this is true.”
Gordon B. Hinckley had spoken words like those 26 years before, from a portable wooden stand to a shifting, critical crowd in London’s Hyde Park. That testimony has guided his actions since. And through nearly three decades he in turn has cast a mighty imprint on the unfolding missionary effort of the restored Church.
Elder Hinckley began his missionary labors in Preston, a town of spires and green hedges in cloudy northern England. The gospel harvest was sparse in Britain
when Elder Hinckley began knocking on tenement doors and preaching at night in Preston‘s lonely market square.
In 1933, a total of 525 missionaries were sent into the field. Approximately 7,000 converts were being brought into the Church each year then, in all of the missions of the world. In the year that Elder Hinckley has been called to the Council of the Twelve, there are more that 9,000 missionaries in 64 missions around the world. Their harvest of souls will approximate 90,000 this year.
Following his labors in Lancashire, Elder Hinckley was assigned to London where he became assistant to Elder Joseph F. Merrill of the Council of the Twelve, presiding over the European Mission.
When Elder Hinckley returned to Salt Lake City after a successful completion of his mission, he was asked by President Merrill to meet with the First Presidency
concerning the mission in Europe. President Heber J. Grant said, “Brother Hinckley, we will give you 15 minutes.” One hour and 15 minutes later, the young missionary emerged from the room. In a few days, President David O. McKay, then 2nd Counselor in the First Presidency, called Elder Hinckley and told him that the Church would like him to become executive secretary of the Church Radio, Publicity, and Mission Literature Committee. Elder Stephen L. Richards, then of the Council of the Twelve, was chairman.
He went to work in getting out filmstrips, picturing the Mormon pioneers, the temples, modern-day prophets, the Book of Mormon, and other subjects. As the years rolled on, he turned his versatile skills to other missionary tools, and for a quarter of a century, he supervised the LDS Sunday evening KSL radio programs. He wrote two books to assist missionaries. He authored and produced a major part of the classical “Fullness of Times” recordings. In 39 episodes on the history of the Church they were played over hundreds of radio stations around the globe. He also wrote and produced the popular “New Witness for Christ” series.
Elder Hinckley wrote or edited scores of gospel tracts and pamphlets. He supervised a corps of specialists, translating the Book of Mormon and other scriptures into many tongues. In 1939 he designed and supervised the erection of the Church exhibit at the San Francisco World Fair on Treasure Island. The exhibit was in the form of a scale model of the Salt Lake Tabernacle in which organ recitals and illustrated lectures were presented. Tens of thousands of people poured through.
Continuing his work with the missions, he was in 1951 named executive secretary of the General Missionary Committee. He arranged broadcasts of the general conferences of the Church and the far-flung private wire hookups for the general priesthood meeting during conference.
On April 6, 1958, Elder Hinckley was called to be an Assistant to the Council of the Twelve. His typically tangy humor opened his Tabernacle remarks that day: “My dear brethren and sisters, I am reminded of a statement made by my first missionary companion when I received a letter of transfer to the European Mission office. After I had read it, I turned it over to him. He read it and then said, ‘Well, you must have helped an old lady across the street in the preexistence. This has not come because of anything you have done here.”
Since becoming a General Authority, in addition to this service with the Missionary Committee, he has supervised the Northern and Southern Far East Missions and the Hawaii Mission of the Church. Twice he has visited mission areas in Hawaii, Japan, Korea, Okinawa, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the Philippines. In all his labors he has kept close to the heartbeats of the missionaries themselves. He has been with them in the London fog, in the cold Swiss rain, in the Montana wind, and in the humid heat of the Orient. He has helped them when sick, comforted them when bereaved, encouraged them when despondent, sorrowed with them in their tragedies, and rejoiced with them in their tremendous accomplishments. He has been on his knees with many a young man in distress. In all the difficult years during and since the Korean War, Elder Hinckley has handled their complex problems incident to Selective Service and the military. In his frequent meetings with draft officials and military officers his policy has been to get the facts and compose the difficulty equitably for all concerned. The procedures which have been developed out of these discussions have made it possible for thousands of our young men to go on missions and also meet the military obligations imposed
One of his most strenuous and far-reaching assignments has been preparation of the temple ordinances in various languages. Named in 1953 to work with President Joseph Fielding Smith and Richard L. Evans, he has supervised the production of temple materials in English, French, German, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Spanish, Tongan, Tahitian, Samoan, and Maori. He was then sent by the First Presidency to participate in the dedication and opening of ordinance work in the Swiss, New Zealand, and London temples. Few men in this century have worked more intimately or as long with the Church missionary
effort, its mission presidents, and the missionaries.
During World War II, there came an event which could have drastically altered the course of his life. Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor plunged American into war late in 1941, he applied at the United States Navy recruiting office for officer training, but he was rejected because of a history of allergies. So to assist otherwise with the war effort he went to work with the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad Company, and as stationmaster, he called the trains.
The railroad company promoted him to assistant manager of mail, baggage, and express for the entire system. This took him and his family to Denver. With the end of the war, Elder Stephen L. Richards asked him to return to the Church office. Railroad officials asked him to take a 90-day leave and return if he wished. About a year later, Elder Hinckley received a call from Denver.
He decided to stay at his post with the Church. “This is the Lord’s work,” he told a friend. “I felt I would make my best contribution in life by continuing to do my humble part to further the cause.”
And Gordon Hinckley, like Samuel of old, “… grew on, and was in favor both with the Lord, and also with men.” (1 Samuel 2:26)
Elder Hinckley is blessed with noble heritage. He is a member of the Society of Mayflower descendants. His forebear, Samuel Hinckley, was governor of Massachusetts Colony in 1680. His grandfather, Ira Nathaniel Hinckley, was born in Upper Canada, In 1835, when he was seven, his family first heard the gospel preached by Mormon missionaries. Two years later, Ira was an orphan. When he was 16, he accompanied his stepfather and his family to Nauvoo. There, Ira often heard the Prophet Joseph Smith preach in the grove west of the temple. Ira Hinckley crossed the plains to Utah in 1850. Then on a call from President Brigham Young, he erected historic Cove Fort in central Utah. He previously had been called to build the stone schoolhouse and church in Coalville. It was there that his son Bryant S. Hinckley became a leader in the Church — as teacher, author, speaker, and administrator. At the age of 93, he died, just four months before his son
Gordon was sustained an apostle.
Gordon B. Hinckley was born on June 23, 1910. His first home was a two-story gray frame house with white shutters and trim on the southwest corner of Windsor and 7th South streets in Salt Lake City. Gordon is one of eleven living children, his mother’s eldest son.
At two, he was stricken with whooping cough, which left him frail and weak. “The boy needs more fresh air and sunlight,” his doctor said. That was a factor in his father’s purchasing a farm in the East Mill Creek area. Gordon’s earliest recollection is that of watching the stonemason lay the rocks for the fireplace in the Hinckley family home. It later was the first home of the newlyweds, Gordon and Marjorie Hinckley.
Gordon’s appetite for literature came naturally. His mother often read to her children from good books. Then there was his father’s spacious home library.
But if Gordon liked books, he did not as a boy care for school. He “kicked up a terrible fuss” when he started at Hamilton grade school. As with many boys, he often tussled with his younger brother Sherman, bigger in body. (Sherman was later to become a successful mining executive.) One day their father tossed a pair of boxing gloves before them. “Now the next time you want to fight, put these on, move outside, and go after it in style,” Bryant S. Hinckley said.
My parents were wise disciplinarians,” Gordon later said. “I never recall their punishing us children physically.”
Gordon feasted on work, developing Spartan-like courage and determination and he could make stalled cars run, and while still a youth he could handle household electric, carpentry, and plumbing repairs. At Christmas time, the Hinckley family library sparkled with his miniature scenes, complete with lights. On the family farm he raised strawberries, corn , tomatoes, peaches, pears, and cherries.
His first paying job was a carrier for the Deseret News. Years later he was named to the board of directors and executive committee of the Deseret News Publishing Company, also to the board of directors of the parent company of KSL Radio and Television.
By the time he reached college, Gordon was beginning to gain a reputation as a speaker. It was announced one day that United States senator Reed Smoot would give an address at the First Ward’s Sacrament Meeting. Senator Smoot was a member of the Council of the Twelve. Something developed on Saturday which took the Senator away. The bishop had to adjust fast. Sunday morning he called in two of “his boys”. Bosom pals, they had been ward teaching companions, though both were only about twenty. The bishop asked them to prepare to substitute for Senator Smoot that night.
Gordon Hinckley had a watering turn to handle that day at the family farm. He handled it, but he was there on the stand at Sacrament meeting before an overflow congregation who had come to hear Senator Smoot.
“When Gordy Hinckley finished speaking,” recalled his companion, Bob (Robert F.) Sonntag, “people had forgotten all about Senator Smoot’s absence. The boy really stirred them.”
Gordon Hinckley has been acquainted with his sweetheart and wife from childhood days. She is brown-eyed, dark-haired, bright, and intelligent Marjorie Pay. They were married in the Salt Lake Temple, April 29, 1937, and soon moved into the Hinckley farmhouse in East Mill Creek, with Gordon himself installing the furnace and laying the brick flue, but 2 years later they built their present home nearby. They have been blessed with three daughters, Kathleen (Mrs. N. Alan Barnes), Virginia and Cynthia Jane, also 2 sons, Richard, now a missionary in Germany, and Clark.
Elder Hinckley served in several Church positions in Liberty Stake, including stake Sunday School superintendent. He was called to the Sunday School general board at age 27, serving in this capacity for 9 years. The Sabbath school lessons that he wrote on the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon are still in use throughout the Church. He has won wide acclaim as a writer and speaker and has distinguished himself as an administrator. In 1946 he was called to the East Mill Creek Stake presidency, and in 1956 became stake president — the 3rd generation Hinckley to hold this high office. Ira N. Hinckley had been the first president of Millard Stake in central Utah, and Bryant S. Hinckley had served as Liberty stake president for many years.
East Mill Creek Stake under President Hinckley faced great challenges, for it is situated in one of the most rapidly growing areas in the state of Utah. During the years that Elder Hinckley served in the presidency, 15 new wards were created, and the stake was twice divided to become four large stakes. One day the stake president marked a spot in the fields where as a farm boy he roamed, and at once the walls of a spacious new stake center began rising. The stake purchased a 250-acre welfare farm, and priesthood quorums and auxiliary organizations began collecting dimes and dollars to buy Herefords and hogs. This stake grew in sinew under one of its long-time sons.
Other East Mill Creek undertakings felt the influence of Gordon B. Hinckley’s straight-from-the shoulder wisdom. For two years he was president of the civic league, also a director of the water company. During these days he and his brother Sherman created two new subdivisions in the area, and in downtown business, he was one of the organizers of Recording Arts, Inc. of which he is now vice president.
A broad many-sided background, rich in missionary service and leadership, moves into the Council of the Twelve with the new apostle. As G. Homer Durham, president of Arizona State University and intimate friend of Gordon B. Hinckley through some 40 years, said: “Like his father, Gordon has magnificent gifts of written and oral expression. His judgment stands up in every situation. His insight into human character and situations is rich and meaningful He know when silence
is better than utterance. He has a sense of humor that endears him to all.”
A resident of East Mill Creek described him also. “Out our way, some of the scrub oak on the mountain side grows extra tall and slender. those trees are the first to catch the morning sun, but they give shade that draws people to them. They have seen hard winters. Snows pile high around them. They stand firm through storms. They are solid — and lofty too. Gordon Hinckley is like that — a slender oak.” — The Improvement Era, October 1961 —