President Gordon B. Hinckley provided a deep reflection — a first-person eulogy — on his life of service to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during the April 2006 General Conference.
He advised conferencegoers that this talk should not be regarded as "my obituary. I look forward to speaking to you in October (of 2006)."
But in what he described as a departure from the usual gospel-themed talks of general conference, he acknowledged that "I face the sunset of my life. I am totally in the hands of the Lord. ... I take this opportunity while it is available to express appreciation and gratitude for the remarkable blessings the Lord has showered upon me. ... Somehow, the Lord has watched over and guided my choices, although it was not always evident at the time."
The church leader said the concluding words of a poem by Robert Frost, "The Road Not Taken," came to mind. "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference."
President Hinckley also referred to recent surgery to remove a cancerous growth in his colon. "It was the first time I have been a patient in a hospital. I do not recommend it to anyone," he said, drawing knowing laughter from the audience. He said physicians involved in the Jan. 24 surgery warned him that he may have continuing problems.
He said the conference address was one of more than 200 he has presented since being called as an LDS general authority in 1958. "I have dealt with a great variety of subjects, but running through all has been a dominant thread of testimony of this great latter-day work," he said.
During his time as a church authority, President Hinckley said, he had hosted and mingled with presidents, prime ministers and ambassadors, as well as having "walked among the impoverished and poor of the Earth, and shared with them my love, my concern and my faith. I hope I have made at least a small difference."
In his tenure, the church created several humanitarian service projects, such as the Perpetual Education Fund, and greatly expanded humanitarian aid for many people around the world.
He spoke of a patriarchal blessing he received as a boy of 11. "It is personal, and I will not read extensively from it. However, it contains the statement: 'The nations of the Earth shall hear thy voice and be brought to a knowledge of the truth by the wonderful testimony which thou shalt bear."'
Later, after a mission in England, he traveled for a time in Europe and was able to bear his testimony in Berlin and Paris and then when he was in Washington, D.C. He felt this had fulfilled the promise in his blessing, he said.
However, "That proved to be a mere scratching of the surface. Since then, I have lifted my voice on every continent, in cities large and small, all up and down from north to south and east to west across this broad world. ...
"It is," he said, "all a miracle."
HUMOR — Put a little wit and laughter into your lives
President Gordon B. Hinckley was serious about humor.
"We need to have a little humor in our lives," he said in a Church News interview in September 1995. "We better take seriously that which should be taken seriously, but at the same time we can bring in a touch of humor now and again. If the time ever comes when we can't smile at ourselves, it will be a sad time."
President Hinckley's humor was always gentle and usually directed at himself.
During the press conference after he was set apart as the church's 15th president, President Hinckley was ready when he was asked about his health.
"I spent one night in the hospital in my life. I was past 75 when that occurred," he replied. "That doesn't mean I'm ready to run a 100-yard dash."
In the Tabernacle Choir performance at the Tuacahn outdoor amphitheater on a cold Sunday morning, April 9, 1995, he warmed the members of the Ivins, Washington County, audience, many under blankets, by dubbing the event "Music and the Frozen Word."
It was a quality he shared with his wife of nearly 67 years, Sister Marjorie Pay Hinckley. Following her death the Office of the First Presidency released a statement in which President Hinckley described his wife as "the lodestar of their family (who) gently guided her children with faith, intelligence and humor. Her happiest role was that of a supportive wife and mother (who) made good use of humor to settle many of life's difficulties. She was often heard to say, 'The only way to get through life is to laugh your way through it."'
President Hinckley's first address as a general authority poked fun at himself. He spoke at general conference the day he was sustained as an assistant to the Twelve, on April 6, 1958.
"My dear brethren and sisters," he said. "I don't know whether it's these new bifocals or the circumstances that make you look foggy. I'm reminded of a statement made by my first missionary companion when I received a letter of transfer to the European Mission office.
"After I'd read it, I turned it over to him. He read it and said: 'Well, you must have helped an old lady across the street in the pre-existence. It isn't anything you've done here."'
Family members spoke of a man who loved laughter.
"He loves to tell stories that make people laugh," said granddaughter Ann Hinckley in an April 1997 New Era article. "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 when he tells a story," said granddaughter Katie Barnes. "He can hardly get through it because he's laughing so hard. He can't breathe because he's laughing, which makes us laugh."
Fellow church leaders also spoke of President Hinckley's humor.
"He has kept a highly developed sense of humor, seeing good cheer as a vital message of life," the now-deceased Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said of President Hinckley.
The late G. Homer Durham, a high school classmate and later a missionary companion and general authority, once described how humor fit into President Hinckley's overall character: "His judgment stands up in every situation. His insight into human character and situations is rich and meaningful. He knows when silence is better than utterance. He has a sense of humor that endears him to all."
SPEAKER — Love for language led to skills in speaking, writing
As a writer and speaker, President Gordon B. Hinckley was noted for his love of the English language. Several influences during his early years helped create this lifelong love.
One influence was his parents' background. Both were professional educators. This was reflected in the layout of their home, which featured a library of more than a 1,000 books.
His mother also was a musician, and his father was a skilled writer of history. The library featured a large oak table, a good lamp and several comfortable chairs in addition to the books.
In an Ensign magazine interview just after President Hinckley was sustained as prophet, President Hinckley's son Clark noted that his father had often spoken to his children about what a quiet, inviting place it was.
"Apparently it was a wonderful place to study," Clark Hinckley said, "and it reflected a love for good books and learning in that home. Now, I don't think that as a boy Dad spent all his time reading, but there is no question he was exposed to great literature and that it had an impact on him."
President Hinckley grew up putting that love of language and literature to good use. His early academic intentions were toward a degree in journalism, so he went to the University of Utah to prepare.
Then came another opportunity.
"I was most fortunate," he said, "in the happenstance events that formed my early university education. I went to enroll in a freshman English class, and all the sections were filled.
"Because there were several of us still trying to register, they had to open up a new section, and apparently there was no one to teach it but the able and gifted head of the department. I had a wonderful introduction to the English language at his hand. ... I loved him and all my instructors.
"I read Carlyle and Emerson, Milton and Longfellow, Shakespeare and all the others. And from there I went on to study Latin and Greek.
"I couldn't do it now, but once I could have read you the 'Iliad' and the 'Odyssey' in the original Greek. I finished up my work at the university with a minor in ancient languages."
He had a memorable speaking opportunity when he was about age 20 and a college student. His bishop had scheduled apostle and U.S. Sen. Reed Smoot as a speaker. At the last minute, the speaker was called away, so the bishop called on Gordon Hinckley and Robert Sonntag to substitute and address an overflow congregation.
"When Gordon Hinckley had finished speaking, the people had forgotten all about Sen. Smoot's absence," Sonntag recalled. "The boy really stirred them," a 1961 Improvement Era article said.
"President Hinckley is a master orator," the late Wendell J. Ashton, former missionary companion, Deseret News publisher and a longtime friend, once said. "I'll never forget Lord Thompson of Fleet saying privately to his son a few years ago: 'This Hinckley is a great speaker. He knows how to move people."'
He also devoted some preparation days during his mission to England to visiting historical sites and attending cultural events.
He was the author of one hymn in the current LDS hymnal — No. 135, "My Redeemer Lives" — with music by Elder G. Homer Durham, another former mission companion and former member of the Seventy. And even more recently, when people met President Hinckley, they commented on his facility with the language, as it gave expression to the breadth and grasp of his intellect.
President Hinckley's love of language was recognized in 1999. When the University of Utah began raising funds to create an endowment for British studies in its English department, the project was named in his honor.
The complete text of President Hinckley's address can be found at "Seek Ye the Kingdom of God".