Gordon Bitner Hinckley officially became the 15th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (which some call the “Mormon Church”) on March 12, 1995. He became the acting president when his predecessor, Howard W. Hunter, passed away on March 3. In the presidencies of a number of presidents, Gordon B. Hinckley acted as acting president numerous times before the post went to him. It may be interesting to note that he acted as acting president when the president was unable to do so due to poor health. Even though he lived to be older than any president while in the position, no one had to act as acting president for him. He served with great vigor until his death on January 27, 2008.
Although he was quite advanced in years (he was 97) and his passage through the eternal veil was expected at some time, this still comes as a shock to us Latter-day Saints. We all feel a profound sense of sorrow and loss, as well as joy, at this monumentous occassion.
We have joy because we believe that after all these years of valiant and ceaseless effort in serving the Lord, President Hinckley is now with Him, and also with his beloved wife, who passed away in 2004 (after about 67 years of being married).
We have sorrow because we will miss him.
Under President Hinckley, the Church embraced technology as a way to reach the world, to keep connected, and to facilitate better resources for all to use. President Hinckley ushered in an era of outreach and openness which was unprecedented. Before, the Church was content remaining isolated (one reason not many people know about or understand Latter-day Saints); under President Hinckley (indeed, long before he became the president of the Church), it reached out to the world.
But perhaps more importantly, President Hinckley loved the people of the world and, as such, was tireless in his exhortations for us to more fully embrace and follow Christian values and virtues, to become better people. He did not fear to admonish us, and he never hesitated to show his love for us.
His gentle yet ever-present and often impromptu humor is also something none of us will forget; it will indeed be something we will sorely miss.
I joined the Church in 1998, three years after President Hinckley became president of the Church. He is all I have known as president of the Church. I have come to love and appreciate him deeply, and to share the reverence and respect the rest of the Church has for him. This respect is well-deserved and well-earned.
I could go on and on as to why I think he was such a good person for the Church, how he had a major impact, how he was good for the world, how he contributed to uplifting the downtrodden and fallen.
Many non-Latter-day Saints have remarked how not only is he a good man, but he inspires and exhorts others to be better people.
I feel like I have lost a grandfather, a grandfather I knew and loved. No one can replace him as such, but the world will move on. The best way we can continue to honor him is by implementing his words and exhortations, and to turn our attention to Him whom he preached all his life: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only Savior and Redeemer of Humanity.