My Grandfather the Prophet


What is it like when Grandpa is also the President of the Church? Here’s a first-hand look.

Jodi Hinckley is 17. She loves to play tennis and hang out with her friends. She misses her older brother who is serving a mission in Frankfurt, Germany. 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 President and prophet of the Church.

But Jodi is not alone. She is one of 25 grandchildren of President and Sister Hinckley, about half of whom are teenagers or on missions, facing the same challenges and pressures as many of the teens in the Church.

Some children of bishops and stake presidents feel the 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 what kinds of 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, 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, 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, 17. All the families get together at least once a month for family home evening. And they drop by to see him at his office or to see their grandmother 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, 19.

“He loves to tell stories that make people laugh,” says Ann Hinckley, 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.”

President Hinckley stays interested in his grandchildren’s lives. “It’s always the first thing whenever we see him.” Jessica lists his questions. “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, 13. “Every Saturday he asks, ‘Did you win your game?’ 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, 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 things 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, that’s the advice he gives his grandchildren about anything they are worried about. “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 these grandchildren. When asked what their grandmother is like, each grandchild has the same reaction. They pause as they think of her; then every one of them will break into a big grin before they say 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, 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. But she remembers her grandchildren wherever she goes. She sends them individual notes on postcards from all over the world. And starting immediately after Thanksgiving, 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 that 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. They were apprehensive because of the great responsibility their grandfather would take on. 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 during general conference 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 prophet.

“It was an amazing experience,” says Ada Hinckley, 16, “to raise your hand to the square and sustain the prophet, the President 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.”

But Ada found that the very thing that helped a lot of young women in the Church also helped her gain a testimony of the prophet. She attended the general Young Women meeting before April conference where 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 prophet? 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, when he is speaking from the pulpit, 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 these days, 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.”

And 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 would also be great advice for every LDS teen to follow: Do the best you can. Work hard. Do what is right.

When Jessica attended an Especially for Youth program at Ricks College, no one except her close friends knew who her grandfather was. In one class, the teacher asked if any of those attending had met any of the General Authorities or President Hinckley. 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 and a grandfather and as a prophet. What an amazing thing that is.”

[photos] Photography by Richard M. Romney and Craig Dimond

[photo] It seems Mary Dudley once worried that when her grandfather became the prophet he would somehow stop being her grandfather. She found she didn’t have to worry. (Left) James and Amy always find an open door at their grandfather’s office.

[photo] With her grandfather, Amy Pearce (above) always feels comfortable. “I can talk to him about anything. He is so wise and so smart. He’s incredible.”

[photo] Fun and laughter fill the room when President and Sister Hinckley surround themselves with many of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They also have two grandsons filling full-time missions.

[photo] They enjoy doing simple things together, like going to the grocery store. “My grandma is always so caring about me,” says Sarah Dudley.

[photo] Accompanying her husband as he travels to speak with members of the Church worldwide has brought Sister Hinckley in touch with many cultures. She often shares her experiences with her grandchildren.