My Grandfather, the Prophet

As told to Janet Thomas

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    Jodi Hinckley is 17 years old. She loves to play tennis and spend time with her friends. She misses her older brother who is serving in the Germany Frankfurt Mission. And when she meets new people, especially since she lives in Salt Lake City, she does get asked, “Any relation?”

    Yes, she answers, she is. Her grandfather, Gordon B. Hinckley, is the prophet and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    Jodi is not alone. She is one of President and Sister Hinckley’s 25 grandchildren, about half of whom are teenagers or on missions, facing the same challenges as other young people in the Church.

    Some children of bishops and stake presidents feel pressure to be perfect because of their fathers’ positions. So how do you think President Hinckley’s grandchildren feel? Yes, they nearly all admit, sometimes they do feel as if people expect them to be perfect and are watching to see the mistakes they make. But most of all they know how much their grandfather loves and cares about them. And that makes all the difference.

    “He’s Grandpa first,” explains Katie Barnes, age 19. “It’s sometimes hard for people to realize that.”

    “I think some people think that every time we see him he’s quoting scriptures,” says Jessica Dudley, age 17, “or we’re having some deep spiritual talk or something. It’s just talking to Grandpa.”

    Even though President Hinckley is terribly busy, his grandchildren see him quite often. “We see him about every two weeks,” says James Pearce, age 17. All of President and Sister Hinckley’s children and grandchildren get together at least once a month for family home evening. And they drop by to see him at his office or to see Sister Hinckley at their apartment. Most of the grandchildren have accompanied their grandparents on speaking assignments or to temple dedications.

    But what is he really like?

    “He’s funny,” says Spencer Hinckley, age 19.

    “He loves to tell stories that make people laugh,” says Ann Hinckley, age 20. “He doesn’t tell jokes that are at the expense of others. He laughs at himself and helps us laugh at ourselves.”

    “I love it whenever he tells a story,” says Katie. “He can hardly get through it because he’s laughing so hard. He can’t breathe because he’s laughing, which makes us laugh.”

    If President Hinckley loves a good story, he loves his grandchildren even more. He stays interested in their lives. Jessica lists the first questions he asks when they see him: “‘How are you? How’s your job? How’s school? How was your date? How’s your life?’ It seems that no matter how busy he is, he always has time to see just me and to listen.”

    “I play soccer,” says Sarah Dudley, age 13. “Every Saturday he asks, ‘Did you win your game?’ And if I say no, then he says, ‘Oh, that’s okay. There’s always another one.’ He’s really positive.”

    “You know that he cares so much,” Amy Pearce, age 20, says. “He always knows what’s going on in your life, but he stays back at the same time.”

    And he worries about his grandchildren and the challenges they are facing. Once Amy was having a hard time. “He prayed for me every night,” she says, “and he had my name put on the prayer roll of the temple. He never told me he was doing that. My mother told me. It was neat to have someone who cared so much. It was neat, too, because he always knew that I would pull through.”

    In fact, President Hinckley advises his grandchildren to be positive whenever they are worried about anything. “He always has a positive attitude,” explains Jessica. “He tells us to try our hardest, do our best, pray, and everything will work out.”

    A Fun Grandma

    Their grandmother is also very special to her grandchildren. When asked what Sister Hinckley is like, each grandchild has the same reaction. They pause as they think of her; then every one of them breaks into a big grin before saying a word.

    “We always say,” Jodi comments, “that we love Grandpa so much because he married Grandma. Everybody loves her so much.”

    “She never stops smiling,” James adds. “Never.”

    “There’s something magical about her,” says Ann. “She’s short and small. She’s never in a grumpy mood. She’s always happy. The whole way she looks at the world is so real and unpretentious. She is a fun grandma.”

    “She’s very talkative,” says Joseph Hinckley, age 13. “You go anywhere with her, and it’s fun.”

    “We could go on for hours about her,” Jessica finishes.

    Sister Hinckley often accompanies her husband as he travels and meets Church members throughout the world. She remembers her grandchildren wherever she goes, sending them individual postcards from all over the world.

    She sends several Christmas cards to every child, grandchild, and great-grandchild. Each family soon has enough cards from Grandma to decorate the door.

    Just before Christmas, she has a special grandchildren’s Christmas party. The table is set with fancy dishes, and dinner is served. No parents are invited. It’s just for the grandchildren. And on Christmas Eve all the families get together and act out the Nativity. “Grandpa reads the story, and we act it out,” says Sarah. Now there are great-grandchildren to take some of the parts, with the newest baby being laid in the makeshift manger.

    A New Prophet

    The day President Howard W. Hunter died was a memorable one for all the Hinckley grandchildren. They were saddened that President Hunter had served such a short time. And they were a little apprehensive because of the great responsibility their grandfather would take on. They knew that as President of the Quorum of the Twelve, their grandfather would become the next President of the Church.

    Joseph and Spencer Hinckley were on a backpacking trip with their dad. “We were driving into a town,” says Joseph. “All the flags were at half-mast. As soon as he saw the flags, Dad knew exactly what had happened. He kind of took a deep breath.”

    At the solemn assembly when President Hinckley was sustained as the prophet by the Church membership, all the grandchildren stood at the appropriate times and raised their hands to sustain the new President. “It was an amazing experience,” says Ada Hinckley, age 16, “to raise your hand to the square and sustain the prophet of the Church, who is also your grandpa. When they sing, ‘We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet,’ you are just kind of taken aback because they are singing about your grandfather.”

    Ada found that the very experience that helped a lot of young people in the Church also helped her gain a testimony that her grandfather was indeed the Lord’s prophet. She attended a general Young Women meeting in which the theme was gaining a testimony of the prophet. “It helped me a lot to gain a testimony that he is a prophet and that he leads the Church. I know he does.”

    Katie says, “I sustain him as the prophet, not as my grandpa. With or without the prophet being my grandfather, I have to know for myself if the Church is true. I do.”

    Did they notice a difference in their grandfather after he was sustained as the President of the Church? James answers, “At first he was really quiet and just humbled.”

    “He spent more time alone,” says Ada. “I think humble is a good word. It’s cool when I hear people talk about him, and they don’t know I’m related. People just love him.”

    Jessica notices a difference most when he is speaking. “At conference, you can see the mantle of his calling on him.”

    Amy agrees, “He’ll be giving a talk, and he’ll be saying amazing things. I think, ‘Wow.’ When we visit him at his office, then I see him as both. Then he is Grandpa and the prophet at the same time.”

    Even though their grandfather gets to meet with important and influential people and leaders, he sees people just as they are. “When he has met the president of the United States or someone like that,” says Amy, “we ask, ‘Are you excited?’ He says, ‘He’s just a man.’ He doesn’t see the different levels or positions of authority. He just sees everyone as equal. If he meets a president or a housewife, he reacts the same way.”

    “Yes,” adds James, “he has respect for everyone.”

    He Understands You

    Ask any of the grandchildren if their grandfather, the prophet, understands what it is like for teenagers today, and they will answer quickly and confidently. “He is never negative about our generation,” says Katie. “He’s really positive. I think sometimes he wishes he were young.”

    “Is he in touch with the younger generation?” Spencer asks and then answers. “Yes, because of us.”

    “He knows us,” says Ann. “And he knows what we’re involved in and what our pressures are and what our joys are. He knows what’s hard for us and what’s easy.”

    Just as he does for his own grandchildren, the prophet prays for the young people of the Church. And he knows that every day in every temple the youth of the Church are prayed for specifically. The advice he gives to his grandchildren is great advice for all youth: Do the best you can. Work hard. Do what is right.

    When Jessica attended a class at Ricks College, no one except her close friends knew who her grandfather was. The teacher asked if any of those attending had met President Hinckley or any of the General Authorities. Jessica did not raise her hand. It wasn’t because she was embarrassed. She just wanted to hear what other people had to say. “I was interested that people loved seeing him at temple dedications or conferences.”

    “How lucky I am,” says Ann, “that I know him as a person, as a grandfather, and as a prophet! What an amazing thing that is!”

    Photography by Richard M. Romney and Craig Dimond

    Jessica Dudley, age 17, enjoys spending time with her loving and caring grandfather, President Gordon B. Hinckley.

    Fun and laughter fill the room when President and Sister Hinckley, married for 60 years, surround themselves with many of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Two of their grandsons are serving full-time missions.

    James and Amy always find an open door when they visit their grandfather’s office.

    Accompanying her husband on travels throughout the world has brought Sister Hinckley in touch with many cultures. She often shares her experiences and souvenirs with her grandchildren.

    Mary Dudley, age 12, worried that when her grandfather became the prophet he would stop being her grandfather. She found she needn’t have worried.