As a new missionary serving in Preston, England, Elder Gordon B. Hinckley was facing a major trial in his life. He was sick when he arrived in the mission field, and he quickly became discouraged because of the opposition to the missionary work. At a time of deep frustration, Elder Hinckley wrote in a letter to his father that he felt he was wasting his time and his father’s money. A little while later, Elder Hinckley received a reply from his dad. It said, “Dear Gordon, I have your recent letter. I have only one suggestion: forget yourself and go to work.”
Earlier that morning during scripture study, Elder Hinckley had read in the Bible, “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it” (Mark 8:35).
“With my father’s letter in hand, I went into our bedroom in the house at 15 Wadham Road, where we lived, and got on my knees and made a pledge with the Lord. I covenanted that I would try to forget myself and lose myself in His service” (Ensign, July 1987, p. 7).
It is a pledge Gordon B. Hinckley has honored since that day in 1933, and will continue to honor as the 15th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was ordained March 12, 1995, succeeding the late Howard W. Hunter.
Gordon Bitner Hinckley was born on June 23, 1910, in Salt Lake City, Utah, to Bryant S. and Ada Bitner Hinckley. His father was president of the Liberty Stake in Salt Lake City, which at the time was the Church’s largest stake, counting approximately 15,000 members.
After young Gordon had been ordained a deacon, his father took him—somewhat unwillingly, he recalls—to a stake priesthood meeting. While his father as stake president took his place on the stand, Gordon sat on the back row. During the singing of the opening hymn, “Praise to the Man,” his attitude changed. “As I heard them sing that hymn with power and conviction, there came into my heart a witness of the divine calling of the boy Joseph, and I am grateful that the Lord has sustained that witness through more than seventy years since then” (Ensign, Nov. 1993, p. 51).
Gordon B. Hinckley had begun to mature, but his growing-up years weren’t without normal childhood mischief. One day, he and several of his schoolmates decided to skip a day of class. The boys knew they couldn’t stay home because their mothers would ask questions. They couldn’t go to a movie because they had no money, and they didn’t want to go to the park for fear the school’s truant officer would catch them. After much deliberation it was decided they would just wander around and waste the day.
The following morning, the boys’ principal, Mr. Stearns, met them at the school’s front door. “His demeanor matched his name. He said some pretty straightforward things and then told us that we could not come back to school until we brought a note from our parents,” President Hinckley recalls. “I remember walking sheepishly into the house. My mother asked what was wrong. … I said that I needed a note. She wrote a note. It was very brief. … It read as follows:
“‘Dear Mr. Stearns,
“‘Please excuse Gordon’s absence yesterday. His action was simply an impulse to follow the crowd.’
“… I have never forgotten my mother’s note. Though I had been an active party to the action we had taken, I resolved then and there that I would never do anything on the basis of simply following the crowd” (Ensign, May 1993, p. 53).
Gordon attended and graduated from the University of Utah, and married Marjorie Pay. Early in his career he also began working for a new Church committee that was established to help further missionary work through communication. He served as a producer and secretary for the Church Radio, Publicity, and Mission Literature Committee, which later evolved into the Church’s Public Communications Office.
Before his call as a General Authority, President Hinckley served as a member of the Sunday School General Board and as a stake president. On April 6, 1958, President Hinckley was sustained as an Assistant to the Twelve. During that April’s general conference, he said of his new calling, “I know that I have not come that road alone, and I feel very grateful that many men and women—the great and good men who are here today, and the … wonderful people, many whose names I do not remember—have helped me” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1958, p. 123).
He was ordained an Apostle on October 5, 1961. On July 23, 1981, President Spencer W. Kimball called him as a Counselor in the First Presidency, and he was called as Second Counselor in the First Presidency on December 2, 1982. President Ezra Taft Benson called President Hinckley as First Counselor on November 10, 1985, a position he has filled until his calling as president.
“This is the greatest day—the greatest season—in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in my judgment. How wonderful to be alive today. How wonderful to be a part of this great cause at this time in the history of the world and in the history of this Church. … I don’t minimize the accomplishments of any other era of the history of the Church or the greatness of any president who has presided over the Church. I simply say that things are getting better and better. And I feel profoundly grateful for that” (BYU Fireside, Mar. 6, 1994).
Sixty-two years have passed since that day a discouraged missionary wrote his father. “Forget yourself and go to work,” was his father’s reply. Clearly that suggestion has been heeded.