President Gordon B. Hinckley: The Spiritual Sculpturing of a Righteous Soul


Neal A. Maxwell

In President Gordon B. Hinckley: The Spiritual Sculpturing of a righteous soul, the tracings and lines of early experiences occasionally foretell what will stand out in bold relief later in life. The shaping patterns are sometimes surprisingly clear, as in the life of President Gordon B. Hinckley, to which the following examples demonstrate, each a success story in itself.

For a brief period many years ago, President Hinckley was a Seminary teacher. Currently, he serves as chairman of the Executive Committee of the Combined Board of Education and Brigham Young University Board of Trustees—and has so led for several years during a period when the Seminary and Institute program has expanded in a remarkable way around the world. President Hinckley, who received the University of Utah Distinguished Alumni Award in 1971 and an Honorary Doctor of Humanities from Brigham Young University in 1979, possesses a broad perspective about education.

In boyhood, President Hinckley’s first paying job was to deliver newspapers for the Deseret News. In manhood, he became president of the Deseret News Publishing Company and so served for several years.

His experience in missionary work also began at the bottom. Following his own full-time mission to the British Isles, he was appointed in 1935 by President Heber J. Grant to serve as secretary of the Radio, Publicity, and Mission Literature Committee, a forerunner of today’s Public Communications Department.

This experience was increased when President David O. McKay appointed him staff director of the Missionary Department, where he served for seven years from 1951 until called as a General Authority. Still later, as a member of the Council of the Twelve (the Church’s Missionary Committee), he oversaw the worldwide operations of that same program.

• As a young man, President Hinckley once substituted without prior notice for an absent Senator Reed Smoot, giving a speech that was very well received. In our time, his articulate spontaneity has been called upon to represent the Church on network television, such as during the 1980 15th anniversary of the organization of the Church as well as on national television.

• His staff work with state and federal officials enrolling young men in military service during the Korean War no doubt helped to prepare him for the chairmanship of the Special Affairs Committee to whom the First Presidency looks for aid in governmental and political matters.

• His service (begun just two years after his mission) on the Sunday School General Board gave him a lasting concern for high quality teaching in the Church in order that members might truly be taught the gospel and thereby experience lasting spiritual conversion.

• His great love for the Prophet Joseph Smith obtained while listening as a youth to experiences told in his home, reflects the love his grandfather, Ira N. Hinckley, had for the Prophet, whom Ira heard speak in Nauvoo when Ira was but a boy of fifteen.

• In the midst of wars and rumors of wars, President Hinckley’s many visits with servicemen in Korea, Vietnam, and on battlefields long silent, such as those in the Philippines and Okinawa, have given him a great passion for peace but also a capacity to discern “that silver thread” which shines through the “tapestry of war.”

• In such faith he has seen the tender sprout of the Church grow. His first visit, in 1961, to the Philippine Islands included a prayer of rededication. There was then only one member of the Church in all of the Philippines. Today, there are over 60,000 members, sixteen stakes, and four full-time missions in those same islands.

• His assignment years ago as a member of the Twelve to the East Rim of Asia was forerunner to such current assignments as his recent visit to the People’s Republic of China with a Brigham Young University entertainment touring group. In like manner, a previous assignment to supervise South America gave him familiarity with one of the most rapidly growing areas of the Church.

He is grateful for the many shaping influences of his life, as he said on the occasion of first being sustained a General Authority in 1958, following his service as the president of the East Millcreek Stake in Salt Lake City, Utah:

“Since President McKay spoke with me late last evening I have been thinking about the road that led here. I know that I have not come that road alone, and I feel very grateful for the many men and women—the great and good men who are here today, and the … wonderful people, many whose names I do not remember—who have helped me.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1948, p. 123.)

Church members can be grateful that President Gordon B. Hinckley has been thus prepared. He not only reflects his own unique history but also has a sense of spiritual history which is so much needed now as he helps to lead the Church into an unparalleled future.

His mind is furnished with fixed principles, and the enriching experiences of life have given him unusual opportunities to apply those principles.

When others describe President Hinckley as a man of good judgment, good humor, good will, and good natured, the common adjective good is the key to so much that makes up this man.

His wife, Sister Marjorie Hinckley, herself a capable individual, says of her husband how deeply she appreciates his “integrity and loyalty,” saying, “He has never hesitated to do whatever was needed to make me and the family more comfortable.” Sometimes the increased comfort is the result of his own hard work, for President Hinckley’s respite and renewal often consist of working with his hands both in gardening and in repairing things—skills acquired in a rural setting so many years ago which have not been lost.

Her husband, says Sister Hinckley, “always expressed complete confidence in his wife and children” giving them the encouragement which caused them to do more than they felt capable of doing.

One can see President Hinckley’s prescient concern, expressed years ago, over the importance of the institution of the family, especially in these times of social disintegration.

Another source of inspiration to his family, Sister Hinckley says, has been President Hinckley’s “beautiful and articulate daily prayers.” She notes how he is eternally optimistic, always reassuring concerned individuals that “things will come out well in the end. His love of music and literature and of life itself has made being with him a great adventure,” Sister Hinckley observes.

Elder Howard W. Hunter, who has sat next to President Hinckley in the Twelve for about two decades, says of him:

“For twenty years Elder Hinckley and I sat side by side in the circle of the Council of the Twelve. I learned to appreciate his wisdom and judgment. No one was more pleased than I when he was sustained as a counselor in the First Presidency, although I will miss the strength I felt when we sat together. Men of his ability are rare, and he will make a great contribution to the Church in his new calling.”

Another person who has sat next to him for years in the Twelve, Elder Thomas S. Monson, describes President Hinckley as a “unique blend of knowledge coupled with compassion. His mind grasps quickly the details of any matter put before the Council. In his response, however, justice is always tempered with mercy.” He is, says Elder Monson, “a tireless worker” and has constantly “demonstrated his belief that one should put first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.”

President Hinckley has a sense of the high importance of the precious reality that, in the end, the Church is built upon individual testimonies and the voluntary devotion and service of its members. In a general conference address he said of testimony, “Those who speak ill of the Church may debate theology, but they cannot refute this testimony which has come by the power of the Holy Ghost into my heart and into your hearts.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1961, p. 116.)

He has never lost his love of and interest in the Church’s worldwide heaven-given missionary calling to happily share gospel truth with all mankind. At the same time, one can see a broadening and a deepening in his two-and-a-half decades of utterances at successive general conferences, such as in his articulately expressed concern over the “erosion of morality” among the world’s inhabitants. His conversation with a young man in South America who had withdrawn from society reflects both President Hinckley’s compassion and his insight as the two of them conversed over objectives such as “peace and freedom.” President Hinckley’s humble response to the young man’s condescending attitude toward true morality was expressed thusly: “I shocked him a little when I declared that his peace was a fraud, and that I would tell him why.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1970, p. 63.)

President Hinckley, the only leader in this dispensation who has gone from being a staff member at Church headquarters to membership in the First Presidency, has been continually schooled by the Lord in a truly impressive array of assignments and callings. And it began when an anxious, humble, and just-returned missionary came to Church headquarters on assignment from Elder Joseph F. Merrill to make a fifteen-minute report to the First Presidency. This appointment—stretched to nearly an hour and a half by the First Presidency’s interest—in a sense, has never ended. A faithful steward over small things, Gordon B. Hinckley now sits almost daily in that same First Presidency room to which he first came so many years ago.

[photo] President Gordon B. Hinckley at work in his office.

[photo] President Hinckley as a graduate in 1932.

[photo] The barefoot boy with dog is President Hinckley when he was about nine years old.

[photo] Taken in 1961, this photograph shows the board of Directors of the Deseret News, the Church-owned daily newspaper in Salt Lake City. President Hinckley is seated at the bottom left corner. The board was chaired by Elder Mark E. Petersen, center left, at the rear of the table.

[photo] Long an advocate of friendship with others outside of the Church, in 1972, Elder Hinckley met with a group of ministers from Arizona invited to visit Salt Lake City.

[photo] For more than thirty years Elder Hinckley has been involved with the development and operation of the Church’s missionary program. Here, in the early 1970’s, he discusses the work in Europe with a visitor to Church headquarters.

[photo] Stepping to the Salt Lake Tabernacle pulpit at April General Conference, 1958, Elder Hinckley is introduced as a new Assistant to the Twelve by President David O. McKay.