Gordon B. Hinckley

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.


  1. Mark:

    Thank you for that post. There is a common misperception, particularly among the DAMU, that the Church leaders are somehow isolated from the body of Saints and have no understanding of what we deal with. As you note, quite the opposite is true: what the Church leaders see are the most difficult, painful, unfair and wretched cases, ones that — as you point out — have worked their way up. These include all applications for cancellation of sealing (a process both my wife and I have been through) and applications for rebaptism after particularly heinous sins (e.g., sexual abuse of children). And I can only imagine the volume of mail that the Church leaders receive, pouring out all the heartaches, frustrations, and disappointments that life can dish up. I think that in much of our carping, second-guessing, and snarkiness, we do them wrong and certainly bring no glory to ourselves. ..bruce..

  2. Someone from the 1st presidency was describing P. Hinckley’s ‘lucidness’ before his passing, saying that in their previous Thursday meeting, President Hinckley was making important decisions that had large implications for ‘both the church and for individuals.’

    Thinking back to my mission, we taught a man who was not able to pass the baptismal interview because of a passed transgression that required 1st Presidency approval. I don’t know if he was ever baptized. We were told that it was a pretty big deal which required a lot of time and demonstration of faithfulness – and even then it wasn’t guaranteed to happen.

    I think this heavy burden is often forgotten. Surely President Hinckley was confronted with the worst of the worst in terms of individual sin and apostasy, and yet he never showed that weight. He always maintained such an optimistic and positive attitude.

  3. not just any man gets to be prophet. The time, energy, devotion, and Christ-like attributes required are truly legendary. I honor pres Hinckley as a true prince among men.

  4. Thank you for that reality check, Mark. Kind of makes me think twice about complaining every 29th of the month about having to go visit two families.

    I thank you, Father, for the life of Gordon B. Hinckley.

  5. Wonderful, Mark.

    I have mentioned this previously, but my mother was a secretary in Pres. McKay’s office. One of her responsibilities was to route the mail that came to the central office, which required that she read them to know to whom they should be forwarded. She told us once that we would be APPALLED and heartsick over many of the letters that get sent to the President – especially the death threats and condemnatory bile and calls to repentance and other foul and nasty things that people write. She was able to shield Pres. McKay from those that were nothing but vicious vitriol, but she had to pass along all those that had any aspect of legitimate issue with which the President needed to be involved.

    Most members have absolutely no idea the literal attacks of Hell our leaders face as they serve.

  6. What a sacrifice he and his family made for all of us. I am feeling especially grateful today. And tearful. What a good man.

  7. I remember on one occasion, Pres. Hinckley noted that one of his “special” duties was to approve temple “divorces” or more correctly, cancellation of sealings. He said that it was the most unpleasant of all his duties.

  8. Ah, c’mon, y’all. The cheering, waving, adoring followers must ameliorate the hellish existence to SOME degree.

  9. Wow about him being on call 24/7 when there was no hotline. And Ray, also how sad that people would send such bad mail to our leaders.

    You’ve all given me even more appreciation for all they do for us. One thing I’ve learned from the passing of Pres. Hinckley is how important it is for us to pray for our leaders. I know I’ve pretty much been a slacker in this area, I resolve to do better.

  10. Lovely, lovely tribute. Thank you.

  11. Mark, thank you for this reminder of President Hinckley’s capacity for love and service. When I think of the size of his footprint on my own life, I am awed and humbled at the influence for good he has been upon the world.

  12. Great post Mark. I really enjoyed this particular eulogy of President Hinckley.

  13. I loved Gordon B Hinckley and will miss him greatly!


  14. But I think that this demonstrates that church leaders, while they certainly get a lot of information about the worst things that happen, get a different viewpoint than the rest of us do. In some ways, it may be distorted by the fact that they hear all of the worst cases, and not so much the typical ones. They don’t get to hear about the issues that are resolved at the bishop’s level, or those that don’t even make it to the bishop’s level. Certainly, they have a very important bird’s eye view that those of us down at the ward level do not have (and that should always be recognized), but even having a bird’s eye view is a view that is only partial. For example, you never get to hear what somebody wouldn’t actually say to a general authority, because you are one.

  15. mrs, but every one of them has served as a Bishop, Stake President, Mission President, and/or many callings at the local level. Not one of them vaulted from Sunday School President to Apostle.

  16. mrs, judging from what I’ve seen in stake and local meetings–and what we see on blogs–I don’t think there’s much that people wouldn’t say to a gen a.