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Top Utah Stories 2008, #1: The passing of President Gordon B. Hinckley



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He was beloved by millions across the world, and his death had a profound impact on members of his church; the top story of 2008, as chosen by KSL viewers, is the passing of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints President Gordon B. Hinckley.

On Jan. 27, 2008, the Church made the official announcement that President Gordon B. Hinckley had died at 7 p.m. He was at home, surrounded by members of his family.

The news came as a shock to many people. His last public appearance was at the State Capitol Rededication on Jan. 4. Reporters and others at the event say he looked like he was in good health.

LDS Church Managing Director of Public Affairs Bruce Olsen said President Hinckley used to pray that he would be able to work until he died. "He worked and was in his office in the last few days before he passed away," Olsen said.

Within minutes of the announcement of President Hinckley's death, people flocked to Temple Square in Salt Lake City, singing hymns and reflecting on the life of President Hinckley.

One woman said, "We were just very surprised." Another said, "He always had this huge spirit." Another Church member said, "He had a great style about him."

The characteristic more Church members said they would miss was his humor. President Hinckley once said, "People wonder what we do for our women. I'll tell you what we do. We get out of their way and look with wonder at what they're accomplishing."

Another time he told a group of missionaries, "You're not much to look at, but, you're all the Lord has."

President Hinckley had no problem cracking up the national media. Mike Wallace once said some people think of the Church as a gerontocracy. "This is a church run by old men," Wallace said, to which President Hinckley replied, "Isn't it wonderful?"

One of his most famous jokes happened in front of the National Press Club in 1995. Someone asked, "Someone wants to know, has God forgotten about BYU football?" He answered, "That comes from an alumnus."

For two days, tens of thousands of people passed through the Hall of the Prophets in the Conference Center to pay their respects. West Valley resident Norma Montoya said, "We really had to be here. We just couldn't miss it, see him for the last time."

Vienna Latu, also a West Valley City resident, said, "I am very grateful to see him today, and it's a very important day for me in my life and for my kids."

Leaders of other faiths paid their respects as well. Rabbi Benny Zippel, with the Chabad Lubavitch of Utah, said, "He was a true friend, a true supporter of Chabad's activities throughout Utah and a great advocate."

Utah Episcopal Bishop Carolyn Tanner Irish said, "There was always that warmth, and it was more than tolerance, it was real mutual respect and affection."

President and Mrs. Bush sent condolences, as did congressional leaders and governors.

Thousands filled the Conference Center, wanting to be part of President Hinckley's funeral service. It was broadcast to dozens of countries in 69 languages.

People waited for hours to get tickets, and those in line said they felt a personal connection, in some way, to President Hinckley. The podium was decked with flowers, a large block "Y" and block "U" on either side with his flower-draped casket on stage in the center.

At President Hinckley's funeral, his daughter, Virginia Pearce, said her father had an unbelievable capacity for work. She said, "Our father was adorable and he was a marvel to watch."

Current LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson said, "Since all who wanted to greet President Hinckley personally could not go to him, he went worldwide to them as long as he was able to travel."

President Monson had these parting words for his friend: "Gordon, God be with you ‘til we meet again."

Church membership grew under President Hinckley's leadership to more than 13 million worldwide. He dedicated or rededicated 95 of his faith's 124 temples, and he created the Perpetual Education Fund.

He is credited with leading his faith into the mainstream.

Elder Earl C. Tingey, of the Presidency of the Seventy, said, "Gordon B. Hinckley was the great communicator. He opened the doors to the world's media and defined the church to a worldwide audience."

"It is a miracle. President Hinckley was about miracles. He knew that breaking the cycle of poverty in developing countries was critically important to full participation in the gospel of Jesus Christ," a senior bishop, H. David Burton, said as he spoke about temples and other milestones.

One week after his predecessor, colleague and dear friend had passed away, Thomas S. Monson became the 16th Latter-day Saint Church President.

LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson said, "With a light of the new dawn, we move forward. We desire to cultivate a spirit of kindness, of understanding, of love."

Since President Hinckley's death, nine more LDS Temples have been announced in places like Arizona, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Canada, Argentina, Peru and Italy.

President Monson will dedicate two new temples in the first half of this year in the Salt Lake Valley.

E-mail: pnelson@ksl.com
E-mail: cmikita@ksl.com

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Paul Nelson
    Carole Mikita

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