When Sister Marjorie Pay Hinckley stands at a pulpit to address crowds of Latter-day Saints, she immediately makes us feel at home. With her charming wit and genuine love, she gently draws us into her family circle. Then—as if she were our own mother or grandmother—she says she is proud of us. And she encourages us by saying that with the Lord’s help, we can overcome life’s difficulties and find joy.
When her husband, President Gordon B. Hinckley, speaks at the pulpit, he often shifts into the role of a loving father and grandfather, teaching us how we can be better children, parents, husbands, wives, and family members.
Wherever they go throughout the Church, President and Sister Hinckley seem to find “family”—in addition to their 5 children, 25 grandchildren, and 35 great-grandchildren. Teaching the lifestyle they have exemplified during more than 90 years of life and 66 years of marriage, the Hinckleys are remarkably qualified to give advice on the most important roles we will ever fill. They recently visited with editors from the Church magazines about ways to strengthen marriage and family.
Church magazines: Why has your marriage been so happy for so long?
President Hinckley: The basis of a good marriage is mutual respect—respect for one another, a concern for the comfort and well-being of one another. That is the key. If a husband would think less of himself and more of his wife, we’d have happier homes throughout the Church and throughout the world.
Church magazines: Sister Hinckley, you have said that your husband “always let me do my own thing. He never insisted that I do anything his way, or any way, for that matter. From the very beginning he gave me space and let me fly.”1 How has he done that?
Sister Hinckley: He never tells me what to do. He just lets me go. He has made me feel like a real person. He has encouraged me to do whatever makes me happy. He doesn’t try to rule or dominate me.
Church magazines: President, you have said: “Some husbands regard it as their prerogative to compel their wives to fit their standards of what they think to be the ideal. It never works.”2 How have you avoided doing this with Sister Hinckley?
President Hinckley: I’ve tried to recognize my wife’s individuality, her personality, her desires, her background, her ambitions. Let her fly. Yes, let her fly! Let her develop her own talents. Let her do things her way. Get out of her way, and marvel at what she does.
Church magazines: What are some of the things she does that make you marvel?
President Hinckley: Oh my, many things …
Sister Hinckley (smiling): This will be hard for him.
President Hinckley: … She has run the house all these years. When our children were growing up, I was away much of the time on Church assignments. In the early days, when I had responsibility for the work in Asia, which I had for a long time, I would be gone for as long as two months at a time. We couldn’t telephone back and forth all the time in those days. She took care of everything. She ran the home. She ran everything and took care of the children.
We had a garden in our backyard. When I came home from one of my long assignments, I found that it had all been planted to lawn. She and the children had spaded up that backyard, sown lawn seed, and there was a beautiful lawn! The garden didn’t suffer, because we could plant another garden to the south of us. But that whole backyard became a beautiful patch of lawn.
That’s typical of the way she did things. She was independent and had a great eye for beauty.
Church magazines: Sister Hinckley, you have said: “The only way to get through life is to laugh your way through it. You either have to laugh or cry. I prefer to laugh. Crying gives me a headache.”3
Sister Hinckley: If we can’t laugh at life, we are in big trouble.
Church magazines: Can you think of a time when laughter was the best medicine for you?
Sister Hinckley: I think that could be most anytime. One day when our children were young, I made a casserole. And I really did a good job. When I took it out of the oven, our son Dick said, “How come you baked the garbage?”
Church magazines: How old was he at that time?
Sister Hinckley: Fourteen—old enough to know better!
Church magazines: What do the two of you do to keep your family close?
President Hinckley: Oh, we’ve done lots of things through our lives—many, many things. In the summertime, from the time our children were very small, we’ve tried to go someplace, see something. We extended that up into the later years of our children’s lives, after they were married.
My wife once said that one of her great ambitions was to walk down the streets of Hong Kong with her children. So we all went to Asia on one occasion. Then she said she’d like to walk down the streets of Jerusalem with her children. So we arranged our family finances and all went to Jerusalem. We’ve had good times.
I want to say this for her: our children enjoy one another. We still get together. We have a family home evening of our extended family once a month—with all of our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who are in town and available. That is simply an extension of what we did when the children were small. We had family home evening. When I was away, she would go forward with family home evening and other important things. She just kept things moving.
Church magazines: Describe a home evening with your extended family.
President Hinckley: We eat together and we talk together. We just have a delightful time together and discuss one or two things. Everybody enjoys everybody else. That is a wonderful thing, really, in this day and time.
Church magazines: You have mentioned having family home evenings as a young boy in the home of your father and mother.
President Hinckley: Right, going back to 1915, when President Joseph F. Smith announced the program. My father said, “We’ll have family home evenings.” We tried it, and it wasn’t very successful at first. But it got better, and we’ve always had family home evenings—in my father’s home and in my home, and the children have it in their homes.
Church magazines: What would you say to parents who have heeded the counsel to have family home evening and are living their covenants to the best of their ability—and yet they have a son or daughter who has gone astray?
President Hinckley: Well, you do the very best you can. And when you have done that, you just place the matter in the hands of the Lord. Go forward with faith.
Sister Hinckley: Never give up. You never give up on them.
President Hinckley: Nobody is lost until somebody has given up. You stay with it. Now, fortunately, we have never had that experience in our home, I’m grateful to say. Our family has turned out amazingly well in my judgment. And I give all of the credit to this little lady.
Sister Hinckley: Thank you.
Church magazines: What counsel would you give to children who are living in a home where family home evening isn’t held—and yet they want it desperately?
President Hinckley: Children can do a great deal. It is unfortunate that we have those situations, but they are real. Children can do the best they can do. They can sometimes influence their parents. Many a home has been brought to a better standard of living because children prayed for it and asked their parents for it. Some children in unfortunate circumstances can have uplifting experiences in the homes of their friends in the Church. But it is just sad when children can’t have the blessings and benefit of a home in which there is a desire to live the gospel and follow the program of the Church.
Church magazines: You have said that your father never laid a hand on any of his children when disciplining them.4
President Hinckley: That’s right. I don’t believe that children need to be beaten, or anything of that kind. Children can be disciplined with love. They can be counseled—if parents would take the time to sit down quietly and talk with them. Tell them the consequences of misbehaving, of not doing things in the right way. The children would be better off, and I think everyone would be happier.
My father never touched us. He had a wisdom all his own of quietly talking with us. He turned us around when we were moving in the wrong direction, without beating us or taking a strap to us or any of that kind of business. I’ve never been a believer in the physical punishment of children. I don’t think it is necessary.
Church magazines: Sister Hinckley, you have said that “you don’t teach a child not to hit by hitting.”5
Sister Hinckley: When my daughter Jane was a young girl, she said to me one day that she had a friend who was grounded. I said, “Grounded? What does that mean?” We let our children figure things out for themselves. They knew when they were doing wrong, and they would fix it themselves. One of our daughters decided to stay home from church one Sunday. So she stayed home. She got very lonely. Everybody was in church but her, and she just sat on the lawn. She didn’t try that again. She figured it wasn’t any fun. It was lonely.
Church magazines: You have delighted audiences, Sister Hinckley, with your comment that when your husband became President of the Church, you wondered, “How did a nice girl like me get into a mess like this?”6 Could you put that comment into perspective now that you have been married 66 years to this fine man?
Sister Hinckley: Well, it turned out better than I expected. It has been a good life.
President Hinckley: We’ve really had a good life. Really we have. We don’t have many regrets in our lives. We’ve made mistakes, of course, here and there, but nothing of any serious consequence. I think we’ve done all right.
Church magazines: Do you think young people getting married today face the same kinds of challenges you did, or do they have different challenges?
President Hinckley: They face the same challenges, essentially. We were married in the Depression. We didn’t have anything when we were married, to speak of. No one else did either. Everyone, it seemed to me, was poor.
Sister Hinckley: We didn’t know we were poor.
President Hinckley: We started out in a modest way. The Lord has so richly blessed us. I don’t know how anyone could have been more richly blessed than we have been. We’ve had problems. We’ve lived through all the things that parents go through—sickness with their children, things of that kind. But really, when all is said and done, if you can live with a good woman through your life and see your children grow to maturity as happy, able individuals who are making a contribution, then you can count your life a success. It isn’t how many cars you own, the size of your house, or things of that kind. It is the quality of life that you’ve lived that makes a difference.
Church magazines: How do you handle differences of opinion?
President Hinckley: We’ve just gone along and tried to be decent to one another. As I’ve said, mutual respect makes all the difference in the world—having respect for one another as individuals and not trying to change your partner after your manner. You let her live her life in her way and encourage her talents and her interests. You will get along better then.
If there is anything that concerns me, it is that some men try to run their wife’s life and tell her everything she ought to do. It will not work. There will not be happiness in the lives of the children nor of the parents where the man tries to run everything and control his wife. They are partners. They are companions in this great venture that we call marriage and family life.
Sister Hinckley: I married well, didn’t I?
President Hinckley (laughing): We’ve had a good life. We still appreciate one another.