At 90, Still Setting the Pace of Service


The responsibilities of the presidency have not altered the way President Gordon B. Hinckley approaches life. As ever, his goal is to advance the work of the Master.

When President Gordon B. Hinckley was called as a counselor in the First Presidency 19 years ago at 71, he was already at an age when most people are slowing down in life. True to his character, he simply stepped up his personal pace to meet the demands of his new calling.

Now, as he nears his 90th birthday on 23 June, it seems that his pace is still accelerating.

President Hinckley has literally given most of his life in service to the Church. As a young missionary in England during the mid-1930s, he handled assignments that taught him to be forthright in presenting an accurate picture of the Church to influential individuals and to the general public alike. His deep, burning confidence in the gospel message has only been refined by subsequent experiences.

After his mission, he accepted a job in 1935 as secretary of the Church’s new Radio, Publicity, and Mission Literature Committee. In that and other similar work, he spent more than 20 years contributing to the Church’s missionary work and growth before his call as a General Authority in 1958.

He was sustained as an Assistant to the Twelve on 6 April 1958 and as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on 30 September 1961. He served in that quorum for nearly 20 years, until he was called as a counselor to President Spencer W. Kimball on 23 July 1981. He was called as Second Counselor in the First Presidency on 2 December 1982.

He served as First Counselor to both President Ezra Taft Benson and President Howard W. Hunter before being ordained President of the Church on 12 March 1995.

In October 1981, at the first general conference after his call to the First Presidency, President Hinckley looked back on his service as a General Authority under “four great and inspired men [who] have presided over the Church—David O. McKay, Joseph Fielding Smith, Harold B. Lee, and Spencer W. Kimball” (“Faith: The Essence of True Religion,” Ensign, Nov. 1981, 5). He reflected on some of the challenges, progress, and growth that had come to the Church during that time, voicing gratitude “for the great development of the work of the Lord.” And then he added, “Whether this assignment be lengthy or brief, I pledge my best effort, given with love and faith” (Ensign, Nov. 1981, 6).

On 2 April 1995, one day after he had been sustained as President of the Church in a solemn assembly of members, he stood at the pulpit in the Tabernacle and briefly reviewed his service in the Church, expressing deep gratitude for those who have contributed to the Church’s growth and progress. Once again he reiterated his determination to do nothing less than his best: “I stand as your servant and pledge to you and to the Lord my very best effort as I ask for your continuing faith and prayers and uplifted hands” (“This Is the Work of the Master,” Ensign, May 1995, 70). “I am fully aware that I am not a young man as I shoulder the responsibilities of this sacred office,” he continued. “But I think I can honestly say that I do not feel old. … I can still experience a great, almost youthful exuberance in my enthusiasm for this precious work of the Almighty.”

He sounded a theme that soon would become familiar, a theme of shared responsibility for the progress of the kingdom of God on the earth: “This Church does not belong to its President. Its head is the Lord Jesus Christ, whose name each of us has taken upon ourselves. We are all in this great endeavor together. We are here to assist our Father. …

“All of us in this great cause are of one mind, of one belief, of one faith.

“… What is really important is that this is the work of the Master. Our work is to go about doing good as did He” (Ensign, May 1995, 71).

President Hinckley continues to fulfill that pledge to give his best efforts to the Master’s work. His life, which any member accepting a call to serve might take as an example, is evidence of his commitment.

The accompanying photographs give glimpses of his remarkable service during the nearly two decades he has served in the First Presidency.

[photos] Background: New Church President Gordon B. Hinckley meets the press, 13 March 1995, backed up by his counselors, President Thomas S. Monson and President James E. Faust, and members of the Quorum of the Twelve. Above: President Hinckley meets Honduran members during a visit to that country after Hurricane Mitch, November 1997. Left: A 1998 feature article in the Houston Chronicle spotlights the Church and its President.

[photos] President Hinckley served as a counselor to three Church Presidents (below): President Spencer W. Kimball, President Ezra Taft Benson (shown also with President Thomas S. Monson, Second Counselor), and President Howard W. Hunter. (Photo with President Kimball courtesy of Deseret News.)

[photo] Right: A photographer captured this contemplative moment during a general conference session in 1983. (Photo by Jed Clark.)

[photos] Opportunities of the Church’s President include meeting individual members, like four-year-old Michelle Jones (left), a day before her cancer surgery in 1999, and exhorting the Saints (right), represented here by the congregation gathered at New York City’s Madison Square Garden in April 1998. (Photo by John Moe.)

[photos] In dealing with the construction and development of temples and other Church sites, overseeing the affairs of the Church, and meeting with the Saints, President Hinckley is accustomed to maintaining a schedule that would tire others. These views capture him checking on construction of the new Monticello Utah Temple in March 1998 (top left, photo by Robin Ramsay), at the groundbreaking for the Nauvoo Temple in October 1999 (top right, photo by Greg Hill, Church News), touring the Joseph Smith Sr. log home replica near Palmyra at its dedication in March 1998 (above), and waving to those who greeted him during a visit to Apia, Samoa, in October 1997 (right, photo courtesy of Deseret News).

[photo] The new Conference Center on the block north of Temple Square in Salt Lake City has been a focus of interest for President Hinckley from its groundbreaking on 24 July 1997. The building holds more than three times as many members as the Tabernacle. (Photo by Steve Bunderson.)

[photo] Above: President Hinckley and President Faust meet with Ecuadoran members at the dedication of the temple in Guayaquil in August 1999. President Hinckley has said that he draws energy from being among the Saints.

[photos] During his years of service in the First Presidency, President Hinckley has represented the Church in contacts with many internationally prominent leaders. Among those he has met are Lady Margaret Thatcher, former prime minister of Great Britain (top right), March 1996, shown with his wife, Marjorie, at a convocation at Brigham Young University; Ghana’s president, Jerry Rawlings (above left), February 1998 (photo by Steve Fidel, Deseret News); the Reverend Leonard Boyle, prefect of the Vatican Library (above), March 1992, with Elder Spencer J. Condie of the Seventy, then president of the Church’s Europe Mediterranean Area; Soviet ambassador Yuri Dubinin (left), April 1990.