we turned on the tv and saw a 'breaking news brief' on fox that confirmed it. we all went for our phones, sending out texts and receiving phone calls. i've since heard rumors of phone networks seeing a surge in activity for about an hour that night. it was the top story on yahoo, yet i found a one-line statement on cnn.com after a brief search. within a few minutes of telling my brother, he said it was already on wikipedia.
the news was a surprise, but not a shock. it was sad, but not tragic. he was 97 years old and his wife had passed away almost four years ago. whenever we heard him speak, it was evident that he missed the woman he loved so dearly. jack's text put it best, saying, 'we just heard. what a happy day for him and [his wife] marjorie pay.' that was how i saw it.
i don't know of another multi-billion dollar corporation that would install an 84-year old ceo and expect them to serve for 13 years, but that is what president hinckley was for the church. he saw membership grow from 9 million to 13 million; he traveled close to a million miles, visiting people around the world again and again; he headed the construction of the 21,000-seat conference center and oversaw the number of temples grow from 47 to 124 around the world; he was the first president of the church to start his ministry with an open press conference, and continued this theme of public relations, making himself more accessible to the media than any prophet before him, including appearing with mike wallace on '60 minutes' and with larry king.
but any obituary or press release can tell you that and more.
for myself and most of my friends, he is really the only church leader we have known. he was sustained as prophet and president of the church in 1995, but had been serving as a counsellor to the presidents since 1981. i was twelve when i started paying a little more attention during the general conferences of the church, when it was often president hinckley conducting the meetings, as president benson's health was weakening at that time. it was similar during president hunter's service as prophet.
my spiritual awareness has largely come since 1995; president hinckley has always been there. he was the prophet when i went on my first temple trip. he was the prophet when i went to my first stake dance and danced with tami niswander. he was the prophet when i went on my mission. he was the prophet i taught about when i told people in japan that there was a prophet on the earth again. he was the prophet when i was in college; his name is on my diploma.
in high school, i had a framed picture of him in my room, which confused some of my friends ['jeff, why do you have a picture of lee iacocca on your wall?' was the most notable comment]. he was never an old man--he knew what was going on in the world and was someone you could turn to for advice; he was a dictionary example of what it meant to have a twinkle in your eye; he cracked jokes that made us genuinely laugh; his smile made you feel comfortable, loved, and encouraged; just hearing his voice brought peace and optimism; when he spoke, the worries and fears around you were forgotten, and the choices to doing good were suddenly so clear. he taught us to be grateful, be smart, be clean, be true, be humble, and to be prayerful.
this morning, jessica and i went up to the conference center for his viewing. the line moved faster than we expected, so we stood by the doors as we sipped our mcdonald's hot chocolate from cups that said 'fresh coffee' and received a good number of odd looks.
we waited in the main auditorium until it was our turn to go upstairs. sitting there, i thought of how much i loved being in there at the start of saturday morning session, when the room was alive with the murmurs of a large crowd. shortly before the meeting began, president hinckley and his counsellors would enter. the lights would brighten, the entire room immediately became silent, and we would all stand to our feet as the prophet came in. he would wave his cane at us. we'd laugh, smile, and wave back, then sit down.
we made our way up the escalators and down the hall to the viewing room, and i gave jess a hug, grateful to have a friend with me at such a special moment. we passed displays of flowers from his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, one reading, 'it's been sad not having grandma at Christmas. it'll be sad without you, too.'
walking into the room itself quickly became a more tender and merciful experience than i had expected. tears welled up. jess and i stood back and just looked for a while. she gave me a hug.
we stood on hallowed ground.
i couldn't have asked for a better day.
p.s. president hinckley, if you see him, please say hi to elder mcconkie for me.