President Gordon Bitner Hinckley, the 15th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, on 23 June 1910. He was the oldest of Bryant Stringham and Ada Bitner Hinckley’s five children. Several years before, Bryant’s first wife, Christine, had died suddenly, leaving a young family of eight children. Ada became mother to all of the Hinckley children, and Gordon noted that they were “one family.”
When young Gordon had a bout of whooping cough, his doctor suggested that he spend time in the country to recover, so his father purchased a 30-acre fruit farm in Millcreek, on the southeast side of Salt Lake City. The farm did more than help the boy regain his health—it helped him and his brothers learn to work. Each Saturday during the spring and fall, his father took them to the farm. The family lived there during the summer months and in town during the school year.
“I learned to live around animals and learned the lessons of nature—the beauty that is there and the penalties that come when nature is abused. We had large fruit orchards, and we learned how to prune trees,” President Hinckley later recalled. “In January, February, and March we pruned the trees, but we didn’t like it because it was hard work. We did learn something from it: You can determine the kind of fruit crop that you will have in September by the way you prune the trees in February. That was a great lesson, and it applies to people as well. You can pretty much determine the kind of adults you will have by the way you care for them as children.”
He also worked as a newspaper carrier and learned plumbing and electrical skills. Later he built his own home. He said, “I learned to use tools, and I love them.”
Since they had no radio or television as he grew up, he remembers, “the Church was the center of our activities.” He and his friends also enjoyed wintertime sledding and skating on the pond at a neighborhood park.
As a deacon, he attended stake priesthood meeting with his father, the stake president. “All the men in that great congregation stood and sang ‘Praise to the Man’ (Hymns, 1985, number 27), and there came into my heart the conviction that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. That conviction flooded over my being then, and it’s never left me.”
In his patriarchal blessing, he was told: “Thou shalt ever be a messenger of peace; the nations of the Earth shall hear thy voice and be brought to a knowledge of the truth by the wonderful testimony which thou shalt bear.”
The Hinckley home had a library of more than a thousand books, and young Gordon developed a lifelong love of reading. Throughout his life, his love of language and his talent with words have been a powerful influence for good. While in the Missionary Home before he left to serve in England, he and the other missionaries wrote papers on what it means to be a missionary. A member of the First Presidency said that Elder Hinckley’s paper was the best he had seen.
Having graduated from the University of Utah in English, taking “every writing course available” to him, Elder Hinckley went to work for the Church. He wrote hundreds of scripts for radio, filmstrips, and movies, and he prepared pamphlets and mission materials. He also supervised the missionary program throughout the world.
He and Marjorie Pay grew up in the same ward. They were married on 29 April 1937 in the Salt Lake Temple. They and their five children enjoyed taking summer vacations that included seeing historical sites and learning about the areas where they traveled. They built a home on the farm in Millcreek, and the children learned to plant trees and pick the fruit, just as their father had.
Gordon B. Hinckley was only 27 when he was called to the Sunday School General Board. He wrote lessons on the Book of Mormon that were used for more than 25 years. He served in the presidency of the East Millcreek Stake, and in 1956 he was called as the stake president. Two years later, in April 1958, Church President David O. McKay called him to serve as an Assistant to the Council of the Twelve. He was ordained an Apostle in 1961. As a member of the Missionary Executive Committee, he supervised missions, held a worldwide meeting for mission presidents, and traveled throughout the world visiting missionaries.
President Spencer W. Kimball, the 12th President of the Church, called Elder Hinckley to serve as a counselor in the First Presidency in July 1981. President Hinckley also served as a Counselor to President Ezra Taft Benson and President Howard W. Hunter. On 12 March 1995, he was ordained and set apart as prophet, seer, and revelator and as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He told Church members that we will “move forward on course,” that we should “bear witness of Jesus Christ and practice His teachings in our daily lives,” and that he has great faith in the youth of the Church.