We don’t often tune into broadcast media on Sundays. So I was surprised when a friend of one of my sons called just as we were starting family scripture study last night to inform us that President Gordon B. Hinckley had just passed away. Pres. Hinckley has been the prophet and leader of the LDS Church for the past 13 years. (See LDS Church news release, AP article, D-News article.)
We turned on the TV long enough to validate the information, and then we returned to what we were doing. While I felt a tinge of loss, I also felt happy for Pres. Hinckley. I also felt concern for Pres. Thomas S. Monson, who now embarks on a new phase as leader of the LDS Church. That has got to be an overwhelming feeling.
Pres. Hinckley was a remarkable individual. He was the first LDS general authority to really understand modern media. And he used it well. The TV camera was his friend. He always seemed so comfortable in front of the camera. That medium seemed especially suited to allowing his natural love, charm, and humor shine through.
Much could be said of Pres. Hinckley. Few people have the opportunity of working in the public eye for as long as he did. But the thing for which I will most remember Pres. Hinckley was his impact on my parents’ lives. In fact, it might be said that I owe my very existence to him.
Pres. Hinckley became a general authority in 1958. In the years preceding that, he worked as the executive secretary of the church’s missionary department. Back in those days, before the advent of modern computers, each document had to typed on a typewriter. Like all large businesses in those days, the church employed phalanxes of stenographers and typing clerks. A young lady (that would later become my mother) worked in the church’s typing pool, as they called it.
One day this young lady ended up going to break late because she had been working on a document that had a tight deadline. Not being with her normal group of friends, she found herself sitting alone in the cafeteria at the Church Administration Building. During that break, a man whom she knew to be a rather high up employee came through the doors of the cafeteria and started walking toward the food service area. Suddenly he changed course and walked directly up to this young lady and introduced himself.
“Hi, I don’t know if you know me,” he said, “but I’m Gordon Hinckley. What’s your name?” The young lady responded appropriately. He then said, “I was walking across the cafeteria when I felt impressed to ask you if you’ve ever considered serving a mission for the church.” She responded that she had thought about it, but that “you have to be an old maid to go on a mission.”
At that time, the minimum age for young men to serve was 21, and the minimum age for young women was 23. “Well,” said Bro. Hinckley, “I work with the missionary department. They are considering lowering the minimum age by two years. How old are you?” She said that she would be turning 21 in a few weeks. “Then, if you’re serious about serving a mission,” he said, “why don’t you go talk to your bishop about it. Tell him that I said it would be alright for you to put in your application. I have some pull with the missionary department, so I think you’ll get a call.”
The young lady did as she had been admonished, and she ended up serving in Germany in the early 1950s. They had no language training prior to beginning service back in those days. She says that the first word she heard when she got off the ship in Germany was “achtung!” She thought some guy was clearing his throat. But she was blessed to catch onto the German language by and by.
Toward the end of her mission, this young lady missionary happened to help teach the gospel to a young German fellow that was looking for answers. He was soon converted, but back in those days they had a months-long process to go through before a new convert could be baptized. So he joined the church after the young lady had returned to the US. Some months later, he emigrated and followed her to the US, where they courted. When he had been a member of the church for a year, they went to Salt Lake City and were married in the Temple.
My parents soon found themselves serving in a host of callings in their small branch in Colorado. I was blessed to be the third of five sons (sorry, no daughters) born to my parents. I have watched my Mom serve valiantly in many ward and stake callings. So has my Dad. He was stunned when he was called to be a stake patriarch 25 years ago. I had the blessing of growing up in a loving, middle-income, church-going American family.
While Pres. Hinckley wasn’t the only variable in my coming to be, it’s difficult to imagine how my parents might have come together had he not listened to the Spirit during a break at work those many years ago. So I can say that I owe my existence and many of this life’s blessings to Pres. Hinckley. While I have many memories of Pres. Hinckley, this is the thing for which I will always remember him most.