Gordon B. Hinckley, who served as the 15th president and prophet of the Mormon Church, died Sunday at the age of 97 in Salt Lake City.
Gordon B. Hinckley, who served as the 15th president and prophet of the Mormon Church, died Sunday at the age of 97 in his apartment in the headquarters of the nearly 13 million-member worldwide church in downtown Salt Lake City.
Hinckley began his presidency March 12, 1995, and did more world travel than any of his predecessors, while more than doubling the number of Mormon temples across the globe.
“He has raised my kids,” said Rosanne Robson Tidwell of Gilbert, reacting Sunday night to the news. “When my kids would have a hard time, we would read some things from some of the books that he has written, and my kids would listen to his words.”
With his death, the “First Presidency” of the church, made up of Hinckley and a first and second counselor, is dissolved, and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles serves as the authority until after the president’s funeral and a successor is chosen. In a tradition that has gone back to Brigham Young, the second president, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has chosen its next president-prophet according to the man serving longest as an apostle. Under that procedure, Thomas S. Monson would be the next president. He was sustained an apostle at the age of 36 on Oct. 4, 1963 — more than 44 years ago.
During Hinckley’s tenure, the number of temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints increased from 49 to more than 120 and membership grew by more than three million. Hinckley lived longer than any previous church president, who is chosen to serve for life. He outlived David O. McKay, who was 96 when he died in 1970.
The Arizona spokesman for the church, Don Evans, of Mesa, said Hinckley “was beloved by the members of the church. He had an optimism that sort of flew in the face of all the stuff that was going on in the world. He was optimistic, and he encouraged members to stay optimistic and not get bound down by life’s problems.”
Evans, like thousands of church members, first got the word by telephone from relatives and friends. He heard from his brother who has a sister-in-law in Salt Lake City who called Arizona, and word was subsequently passed on to Evans.
Guy Rallison of Chandler said Hinckley was the only prophet her 11-year-old daughter, Faith, ever knew.
“It is very sad, but he had had a full and incredibly unbelievable life,” Rallison said. “He has done great things for the church as far as getting the message out and the truth of what the church believes in.”
Church members, speaking outside of the Mesa Arizona Temple in the rain Sunday night, shared their thoughts about Hinckley, who made several trips to Arizona in his work.
Jackson Halm, 16, of Mesa said the president’s legacy will be his love for the Book of Mormon and “making everyone read it.” For young Mormons, he said, Hinckley set valuable standards for them to live by. “The Strength of the Youth” pamphlet especially “set some goals for us.”
For Kyle Shumway, 29, Mesa, Hinckley “was a true example of what a prophet represents.
“He was just amazing,” Shumway said, adding that the prophet “raised the bar, made sure time and time again to always remind us what our Heavenly Father expects from us.”
Tidwell said Hinckley was the church leader who helped members know the church.
“He had such a cute personality and was able to talk to people about what the church is about,” she said. “He didn’t beat around the bush, and whatever he said, he would just say what it was, but he did it in such a cute way that people just loved him.”
Tidwell said his message and leadership were strong influences. “He really helped my kids growing up ... He was a good one to help to raise our families.”
Rallison said it was a “blessing to have him around as long as we have. He has truly been an eloquent voice in the Mormon Church.”
Evans, who met and had dinner with Hinckley in 1984 before his presidency, said the leader had a engaging sense of humor and was “very down to earth. People could easily relate to him as a person and the things he had to say.”
He anticipates some Arizona Mormons will go to Salt Lake City to see the prophet’s body lying in state, as has been the tradition, and attend the funeral.
Hinckley and his late wife, Marjorie, had five children, 25 grandchildren and 38 great-grandchildren.