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LDS leader ties record for longevity

Deseret Morning News graphic

President Gordon B. Hinckley of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints marks a major milestone today. He has now equaled President David O. McKay in age.

President McKay and President Hinckley are now tied as the oldest prophets in the history of the church.

As of today, Nov. 2, 2006, President Hinckley is 96 years old, plus 132 days — the same age that President McKay was when he died on Jan. 18, 1970. President Hinckley is thus poised to become the oldest-ever church president Friday.

Born in Salt Lake City on June 23, 1910, he has served as the 15th president of the church since March 12, 1995, and has been a general authority for more than 48 years.

President Joseph Fielding Smith lived to be 95 and 8 months old, the third-oldest church president. President Ezra Taft Benson was fourth at age 94 and President Wilford Woodruff fifth at age 91.

While President Hinckley is approaching age 97, no other church president has displayed as much vigor and energy as he has.

"I think it is significant for any church to have an extended administration that is not chopped up," said Jan Shipps, professor emeritus of history and religious studies at Indiana University-Purdue University.

She is considered among the foremost non-LDS scholars of LDS history and said she has not only been impressed with President Hinckley's vigor and vitality — despite his advancing age — but also with his openness among church members.

"President Hinckley has been strong and consistent," she said.

President Hinckley's first major health issue in his life came on Jan. 24, 2006, when he underwent surgery to remove a cancerous portion of his intestine.

President Hinckley briefly addressed his longevity in the general conference last month.

"Now, as all of you know, I am somewhat old in years," he said in the Sunday morning session. "I had my 96th birthday last June. I have learned from many sources that there is considerable speculation concerning my health. I wish to put the record straight. If I last a few months longer, I will have served to an older age than any previous president. I do not say this to be boastful but rather grateful."

He also said, "The Lord has permitted me to live; I do not know for how long. But whatever the time, I shall continue to give my best to the task at hand."

President Hinckley's father, Bryant S. Hinckley, lived to age 93 and almost 11 months. He died on June 5, 1961. President Hinckley's mother, Ada Bitner Hinckley, died at age 50 on Nov. 9, 1930.The average longevity for all 15 LDS Church presidents is 83.4 years. Not counting Joseph Smith, who was martyred at age 38, the remaining 14 presidents have had an average life span of 86.6 years.

President Hinckley currently ranks sixth in his length of tenure as church president, with 11 years and almost eight months of service. Fifth place is held by President Spencer W. Kimball, who was prophet for 11 years and 10 months.

Brigham Young had the longest tenure as church president, with 29 years, followed by President Heber J. Grant with 27 years. President McKay was prophet for 19 years and President Joseph F. Smith for 17 years.

The oldest-ever LDS general authority was Elder Joseph Anderson of the Quorums of the Seventy. He served as a general authority for more than eight years and had an additional 13 years of emeritus status. He died on March 13, 1992, at age 102.