In the days before the church had a 24 hour hotline, mission presidents from around the world who needed advice after 5:00 p.m. Mountain time would call the phone number at the Hinckley residence. Marjorie Hinckley reported that their family’s dinner and her husband’s sleep were often interrupted by a request for advice from some worried mission president in some remote corner of the world who didn’t know what to do with a homesick missionary, or one who was found to be in transgression. For several years, Gordon B. Hinckley served as an on-call 24/7 customer service rep for the entire missionary program of the church.
In more recent decades, his work has been of the sort none of us wants to do. When members have a problem, they go to their bishops for help. If the problem is especially vexing, the bishop may request help from the stake president, who in turn can request help from his direct leader. The problems that make their way to the office of the First Presidency are the problems that nobody else has been able to handle. Every day for the past thirty years, President Hinckley honored his covenant to us by helping to bear those burdens of heartache, sin, and pain, and did the work that Neal A. Maxwell described as “staring into the abyss”. If there was anyone on earth who understood how very frail and imperfect latter-day saints are, it was brother Hinckley. He had a right, more than anyone else, to complain about the demands the church makes and to take a cynical view.
We loved him for his cheerfulness, and that quality becomes especially meaningful when seen against the backdrop of his day to day work. I will remember him, not only as a kind and optimistic man, but as a tough guy, too, who underwent dangerous, invasive, and painful surgery at the age of 95, on the chance that he could wring a few more months out of his useful and productive life. He loved God, and he loved the latter-day saints, and that love was reflected in his remarkable life of service.