Last night, as I sat contemplating my own faith, a man who inspired faith in literally millions of people passed away. Gordon B Hinckley had served as the Prophet and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since March 12, 1995. I was a Senior in high school at the time he was called, so President Hinckley has had a profound impact on shaping my faith in the years since then.
George Bernard Shaw is quoted as saying:
I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live.
I can’t think of a sentiment to more perfectly describe President Hinckley. He was 97 years old. During the almost eighteen years that he served as the President of our church, he oversaw tremendous expansion. The number of LDS temples, alone, more than doubled. I read yesterday that our church is growing at such a rate currently that we are completing, on average, a new meetinghouse every work day. Pres. Hinckley traveled the world (many times) to bring the gospel, and hope, to thousands upon thousands of people. Indeed, almost his entire adult life was spent in service to the church.
As a young man, Pres. Hinckley studied journalism. He went from his studies to the church’s headquarters, working with others to develop written manuals and other forms of media. As President of the church, he entered uncharted waters by doing media interviews with the likes of Mike Wallace (60 Minutes) and Larry King. Even Pres. Hinckley admitted nervousness over the ways in which these interviews opened our religion up to misunderstanding and criticism at the time. The fears, though, were unfounded. The interviews were fair and very positive. Pres. Hinckley even developed a friendship with Mike Wallace. When his book, Standing for Something: 10 Neglected Virtues that will Heal Our Hearts and Homes was published in 2000, Mr. Wallace wrote the foreword. Wallace said this of the experience:
Well, what happened was that my 60 Minutes colleagues and I learned, from the time we spent with Gordon Hinckley and his wife, from his staff, and from other Mormons who talked to us, that this warm and thoughtful and decent and optimistic leader of the Mormon Church fully deserves the almost universal admiration that he gets. I know that may sound more than a trifle corny coming from a dyed-in-the-wool, jaded, New York-based reportorial cynic. But it was difficult not to arrive at that conclusion after talking not only with him, but about him with hardheaded folks such as Orrin Hatch and Bill Marriott and Steve Young and Dave Checketts…
Further in the interest of full disclosure, as an 81-year-old myself, perhaps I can be excused for recalling the exchange I had with President Hinckley near the end of that 60 Minutes profile.
Wallace: There are those who say: “This is a genontacracy…this is a church run by old men.”
Hinckley: Isn’t it wonderful to have a man of maturity at the head? A man who isn’t blown about by every wind of doctrine?
Wallace: Absolutely, as long as he’s not dotty.
Hinckley: Thank you for the compliment.
He is far from dotty. As you read on, you’ll find an agile, thoughtful, and engaging mind bent on persuading us to ruminate, along with him, on old-fashioned values: by name, Virtue and Integrity.
Since I attended Brigham Young University, I had several opportunities to see Pres. Hinckley speak in person (one time, I even got to be present when both he and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher spoke–definitely on the list of cool moments in my life). Wallace is absolutely correct–nothing about him was “dotty.” He was amazing, inspirational, and filled with the Spirit. He was the type of person that you truly loved without knowing. Every time he came to BYU, he packed the Marriott center. And every time he left, it was with a smile and repeated waves to those of us in the stands. Each section would wave back because we knew the gesture was genuine.
Pres. Hinckley’s beloved wife died a few years ago. Since that time, his mind remained sharp, but his health has steadily declined. After so many years of such an amazing life together, who wouldn’t be ready to join his beloved in the eternities? While so many of us who loved and followed Pres. Hinckley are truly mourning the loss of this tremendous man today, I have no doubt that there is a celebration occurring in the Heavens. A family has been reunited. And a man who “thoroughly used up” his life is being welcomed to a deserved rest.
If those around him can convince him to take it.