President Gordon B. Hinckley, who led The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through twelve years of global expansion, has died at the age of 97.
President Hinckley was the 15th president in the 177-year history of the Church and had served as its president since 12 March 1995.
The Church president died at his apartment in downtown Salt Lake City at 7:00 p.m. Sunday night from causes incident to age. Members of his family were at his bedside. A successor is not expected to be formally chosen by the Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles until after President Hinckley’s funeral within the next few days.
President Hinckley was known, even at the age of 97, as a tireless leader who always put in a full day at the office and traveled extensively around the world to mix with Church members, now numbering 13 million in 171 nations.
His quick wit and humor, combined with an eloquent style at the pulpit, made him one of the most loved of modern Church leaders. A profoundly spiritual man, he had a great fondness for history and often peppered his sermons with stories from the Church’s pioneer past.
He was a popular interview subject with journalists, appearing on 60 Minutes with Mike Wallace and on CNN’s Larry King Live, as well as being quoted and featured in hundreds of newspapers and magazines over the years. During the Salt Lake Olympics of 2002, his request that the Church refrain from proselytizing visitors was credited by media with generating much of the goodwill that flowed to the Church from the international event.
In recent years, a number of major developments in the Church reflected President Hinckley’s personal drive and direction. In calling for 100 temples to be in operation before the end of the year 2000, the Church president committed the Church to a massive temple-building program.
In 1999 — 169 years after the Church was organized by its founder, Joseph Smith — the Church had 56 operating temples. Three years later that number had doubled, largely because of a smaller, highly practical temple architectural plan that delivered these sacred buildings to Church members in far-flung parts of the world. Many more Church members can now experience the sacred ceremonies that occur only in temples, including marriages for eternity and the sealing of families in eternal units.
President Hinckley was the most traveled president in the Church’s history. His duties took him around the world many times to meet with Latter-day Saints in more than 60 countries. He was the first Church president to travel to Spain, where in 1996 he broke ground for a temple in Madrid; and to the African nations of Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Cape Verde, where he met with thousands of Latter-day Saints in 1998. In 2005, he traveled nearly 25,000 miles on a seven-nation, nine-day tour to Russia, South Korea, China, Taiwan, India, Kenya, and Nigeria.
At a general conference of Church members in April 2001, President Hinckley initiated the Perpetual Education Fund — an ambitious program to help young members of the Church (mainly returning missionaries from developing countries) receive higher education and work-related training that they would otherwise likely never receive.
Closer to his Salt Lake City home, President Hinckley announced the construction of a new Conference Center in 1996 and dedicated it four years later. Seating 21,000 people, it is believed to be the largest religious and theater auditorium in the world and has become the hub for the Church’s general conference messages to the world, broadcast in 91 languages.
Even before his term as president, President Hinckley’s extensive Church service included 14 years as a counselor in the First Presidency, the highest presiding body in the government of the Church, and 20 years before that as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
President Hinckley was born 23 June 1910 in Salt Lake City, a son of Bryant Stringham and Ada Bitner Hinckley. One of his forebears, Stephen Hopkins, came to America on the Mayflower. Another, Thomas Hinckley, served as governor of the Plymouth Colony from 1680 to 1692.
President Hinckley’s first job was as a newspaper carrier for the Deseret News, a Salt Lake City daily. After attending public schools in Salt Lake City, he earned a bachelor of arts degree at the University of Utah and then served two years as a full-time missionary for the Church in Great Britain. He served with distinction and ultimately was appointed as an assistant to the Church apostle who presided over all the European missions.
Upon successfully completing his missionary service in the mid-1930s, he was asked by Heber J. Grant, then president of the Church, to organize what has become the Church's Public Affairs Department.
President Hinckley began serving as a member of the Sunday School general board in 1937, two years after returning home from missionary service in Great Britain. For 20 years he directed all Church public communications. In 1951 he was named executive secretary of the General Missionary Committee, managing the entire missionary program of the Church, and served in this capacity for seven years.
On 6 April 1958, while serving as president of the East Millcreek Stake in Salt Lake City (a stake is similar to a diocese), President Hinckley was appointed as a general authority, or senior full-time leader of the Church. In this capacity he served as an assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles before being appointed to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on 5 October 1961.
President Hinckley received a number of educational honors, including the Distinguished Citizen Award from Southern Utah University; the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Utah; and honorary doctorates from Westminster College, Utah State University, University of Utah, Brigham Young University, Southern Utah University, Utah Valley State College and Salt Lake Community College. The Gordon B. Hinckley Endowment for British Studies, a program focused on the arts, literature and history of the United Kingdom, was established at the University of Utah.
President Hinckley was awarded the Silver Buffalo Award by the Boy Scouts of America; was honored by the National Conference for Community and Justice (formerly the National Conference of Christians and Jews) for his contributions to tolerance and understanding in the world; and received the Distinguished Service Award from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In 2004, President Hinckley was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush in the White House.
In March 2000 President Hinckley addressed the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. He also addressed the Religion Newswriters Association and the U.S. Conference of Mayors and twice addressed the Los Angeles World Affairs Council.
President Hinckley wrote and edited several books and numerous manuals, pamphlets and scripts, including a best-selling book, Standing for Something, aimed at a general audience. In it he championed the virtues of love, honesty, morality, civility, learning, forgiveness, mercy, thrift and industry, gratitude, optimism and faith. He also testified of what he called the “guardians of virtue,” namely traditional marriage and family.
President Hinckley married Marjorie Pay in the Salt Lake Temple in 1937. They have five children and 25 grandchildren. Sister Hinckley passed away 6 April 2004.