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President Hinckley’s David McCullough joke

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Historian and author David McCullough, left, congratulates President Gordon B. Hinckley after he received an award.

Historian and author David McCullough, left, congratulates President Gordon B. Hinckley after he received the Municipal Citizen of the Century Award on Sept 12, 2007, in Salt Lake City. McCullough died on Aug. 7, 2022.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

This article was first published in the ChurchBeat newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox each Wednesday night.

Long before I ever thought I’d become a full-time religion reporter, I found myself covering the following people in a single event: David McCullough, President Gordon B. Hinckley and what then was still called the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

President Hinckley was in typical fine form that Thursday afternoon in September 2007 as he received the Municipal Citizen of the Century Award from the Utah League of Cities and Towns as part of its 100th anniversary.

Known for his quick quips, President Hinckley served up one that today would delight TikTok.

After he noted that he’d read McCullough’s bestsellers “1776” and “John Adams” cover to cover, President Hinckley said he’d only skimmed the historian’s 1,000-page, Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Harry Truman.

“At my age of 97,” President Hinckley joked, “I cannot afford to read anything that long.”

McCullough roared with laughter.

President Hinckley ripped off another fantastic one-liner you can find in my story from that day. It starts with the word “whereas.”

That day immediately came to mind last Sunday when I heard McCullough had died.

Rereading my story brought back a good memory and laughter over those great jokes by President Hinckley, who died four months after the article was published.

It also made me put two and two together. My story notes that the Tabernacle Choir made a surprise appearance at the event that day, and that McCullough loved the choir’s renditions of “Praise to the Lord,” “Danny Boy” (a favorite of President Hinckley’s) and “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

“That music is such a summons to all of us,” McCullough said. “I’ve never heard the Mormon Tabernacle Choir before except on the radio or television. To be here today has been as moving an experience as I’ve had in a long time.”

And then, boom, two years later he hosted the choir’s 2009 Christmas special on PBS.

The story McCullough told during the special was published as a book by Shadow Mountain, “In the Dark Streets Shineth: A 1941 Christmas Eve Story.” It is McCullough’s vivid retelling of the joint 1941 wartime Christmas Eve addresses from the White House by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

Publisher’s Weekly subsequently called the pairing of the famous choir and the legendary historian “an unexpected but winning combination.”

That’s just how I felt 15 years ago covering President Hinckley and McCullough.

My recent stories

Church responds to AP story on abuse of a child and reporting hotline (Aug. 5)

President Nelson to rededicate Washington D.C. Temple on Aug. 14 (Aug. 3)

Historic NAACP, Latter-day Saint student trip begins in Ghana (Aug. 2)

About the church

President Russell M. Nelson is now the oldest apostle in Latter-day Saint history.

How one Latter-day Saint family in Utah opened its doors to Ukrainian refugees.

Read this to learn how paintings commissioned by the church are approved throughout the creative process. Very interesting. So was learning about the “toddler vandalism” committed on the new Second Coming painting in the Washington D.C. Temple by the artist’s children. Fun story.

After the recent stories about the church’s abuse hotline, Kate Taylor Lauck wrote a first-person article as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and an attorney who worked on the helpline assisting other victims of abuse. Heartbreaking and informative.

What I’m reading

Here are some pieces about David McCullough: The Washington Post called him “a master storyteller of American daring, endeavor and perseverance.” The Wall Street Journal noted that to Americans for many years he was “our national narrator” whose “velvet baritone was a cultural fixture, striking just the right note of earnestness and gravitas.” (For me, the great movie “Seabiscuit” is 100 times better because of McCullough’s sonorous narration.)

Did you see the heartwarming story from the Little League regional playoffs? It’s must-see TV. A Texas kid and an Oklahoma kid became friends one day. The next day they faced each other in a game. The Texas boy accidentally hit the Oklahoma boy in the head with a pitch and was distraught. When the Oklahoma boy did next went viral. Read about it here and here (paywall). Watch the whole sequence.

Former NFL quarterback Marc Wilson recounts how late BYU head coach LaVell Edwards avoided a mutiny after 1978 season. Great story that Wilson apparently has never told before. LaVell was a wise man.

Serena Williams announced her “evolution away from tennis” in a nice essay focused on motherhood, family and achievement.

Really enjoyed this deep dive inside one of the most incredible baseball trades ever.

Behind the scenes

The Rev. Dr. Amos C. Brown and Elder S. Gifford Nielsen share a moment during an Amos Brown Fellows event in Accra Ghana on Aug. 3, 2022.

The Rev. Dr. Amos C. Brown and Elder S. Gifford Nielsen share a moment during an Amos Brown Fellows event in Accra Ghana on Aug. 3, 2022. The fellowship bringing more than 40 American students to Africa in sponsored by the NAACP with funds from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints