Speaking of his long-time “cherished friend and colleague” and fellow Church leader, President Thomas S. Monson paid tribute to Gordon B. Hinckley Saturday as a “giant among men.”
Quoting an unnamed poet, President Monson said: “‘Here and there, and now and then, God makes a giant among men.’ President Hinckley was such a giant – a giant of knowledge, of faith, of testimony, of compassion, of vision.”
A worldwide audience estimated to be in the millions viewed President Hinckley’s funeral services today in Salt Lake City. Proceedings were available via Internet streaming on www.lds.org and satellite broadcast to over 6,000 Church buildings and on BYU Television.
Former Second Counselor to President Hinckley in the First Presidency, President Henry B. Eyring said of the former leader: “His optimism was justified not by confidence in his own powers to work things out but by his great faith that God’s powers were in place.”
Gordon B. Hinckley, the 15th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, passed away on Sunday evening, 27 January. He died at age 97 of causes incident to age.
Speaking of the Church leader’s capacity to form bonds with people, President Boyd K. Packer of the Twelve Apostles said that he regarded this power of communication and charm in President Hinckley as “brotherly love and humility.”
“It was always apparent whether he was with the laborers on a dusty road or a banquet in a presidential palace,” President Packer said.
Elder Earl C. Tingey, of the Presidency of the Seventy, said: “The Hinckley era invokes the image of missionary work to all the world. In the almost 13 years of President Hinckley’s presidency, over 400,000 missionaries have been called, representing over 40% of all missionaries ever called since the Church was organized.”
“Almost one third of members today were baptized since President Hinckley became our prophet. President Hinckley’s challenge to increase our missionary efforts and our retention of new converts remains a charge we are still working to achieve,” said Elder Tingey.
“Upon being informed of his passing,” Bishop David H. Burton said: “My unprepared emotions found me in a darkened room with tears of sadness rolling down my face, soon to be replaced with sweet tears of joy.”
President Hinckley’s daughter, Virginia Pearce, spoke of the kindness of those who worked with her father. “We cannot find words to tell you of our love for our father’s associates and their wives…There is nothing so touching to the human soul as to see men and women of great power extend private, thoughtful, and quiet kindness.”
As millions gathered around the world, thousands flooded Salt Lake City to participate first-hand in the proceedings. Many arrived early, bearing the cold while waiting in long lines for tickets.
“He always had so much energy and enthusiasm,” said a member of the Church who had traveled from Chicago to be at the funeral.
Others reflected on how President Hinckley inspired them.
“He was a man that I grew to love and honor,” said a Church member from Springville, Utah.
A Denver woman said, “He was a great man who inspired people across the world.”
“I joined the church in 1997, so President Hinckley is the only prophet I have ever known,” said a woman from Brisbane, Australia, who watched a broadcast of the funeral. “Whenever I heard him speak I wanted to become a better person.”
President Hinckley was a common public face of the Church during his tenure. He interviewed with numerous media, including Mike Wallace and Larry King, and frequently met with heads of state and government leaders. However, the majority of his time was spent among his worldwide flock. He visited 150 countries, logged more than 250,000 miles and gave over 2,000 speeches. More than 11 million members have joined or been born into the Church since he was called to be an apostle in 1961.
President Hinckley’s optimism, influence for good and messages of peace were recognized by many leaders of the world. Following his death, tributes written by government officials, religious leaders and many others filled the Church’s mailbox.
“He was a tireless worker and a talented communicator who was respected in his community and beloved by his congregation,” said President George W. Bush, who honored President Hinckley with the Medal of Freedom at the White House in 2004.
“A true friend of the United Nations, he was deeply committed to the advancing of our shared goal of improving the lives of people in need around the globe,” said Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations.
Dignitaries including government, political, civic, faith and other leaders also attended the funeral.
During the service, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang four hymns, two of which, “My Redeemer Lives,” and “What Is This Thing That Men Call Death” were written by President Hinckley. The hymns spoke of trust in God, the importance of example, optimism and hope - all central themes in his life.
A small amount of soil taken from the grounds of the Preston England Temple was placed today in the grave as President Gordon B. Hinckley’s body was laid to rest. As a young man in the 1930s, President Hinckley spent some of his missionary years in and around Preston. Britain was dear to the Church leader because of his mission experiences and many subsequent visits. This gesture was a tribute to President Hinckley and his love for the people of the British Isles.