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Many mourn Mormon church president

JENNIFER DOBNER
Associated Press
Vail, CO Colorado

SALT LAKE CITY ” Tens of thousands passed his casket and attended his funeral. After an emotional week, it was fitting Saturday to describe Gordon B. Hinckley, president of the Mormon church, as “prophet to the people.”

“He was our prophet, seer and revelator. He was an island of calm in a sea of storm,” said Thomas S. Monson, likely to be Hinckley’s successor as head of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“He was a lighthouse to the lost mariner. … He comforted and calmed us when conditions in the world were frightening,” said Monson.

Hinckley, who died last Sunday at age 97, was laid to rest Saturday after a 90-minute funeral in the church’s nearly full 21,000-seat conference center.

The service included fond remembrances from Hinckley’s children and closest advisers who chronicled a lifetime of service to the rapidly growing worldwide church.

“A man for all seasons,” said Monson, a friend for more than 50 years.

The eulogies were mixed with soothing hymns from the world-famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Hinckley’s presidency, which began in 1995, was marked by unprecedented growth. The church expanded from 9 million to 13 million members in 160 countries. He established an education fund to help returned missionaries, expand the church’s humanitarian work and built more than 75 temples around the world.

Next week, the church will dedicate its 125th temple, in Rexburg, Idaho.

“Disciplined and courageous, with an unbelievable capacity for work, he believed in growth,” daughter Virginia H. Pearce said. “He was a marvel to watch.”

The grandson of Mormon pioneers, Hinckley was born in Salt Lake City and spent much of his youth on a family farm.

He had his eye on a journalism career, but instead went to work for the church in 1935 to establish a public relations department. He was credited with seeing the potential of media and technology to spread the church message.

“Gordon B. Hinckley was the great communicator,” church elder Earl C. Tingey said, adding to the long list of the late president’s attributes celebrated Saturday.

Henry B. Eyring, promoted last year to Hinckley’s leadership circle, called him an optimist who was undaunted by difficult challenges and often responded with a smile and a simple phrase: “Oh, things will work out.”

Hinckley was driven by his desire “to bless individuals with opportunity,” Eyring said. “Always he thought of those with the least opportunity, the ordinary person struggling to cope with the difficulties of everyday life.”

Hinckley loved to be among the faithful, visiting 150 countries and logging more than 250,000 miles.

Monson called him a “prophet to the people.”

Starting Thursday, Latter-day Saints came in droves to pay their respects. The church said 57,443 people attended two days of a public viewing ” some standing in line for up to five hours to walk past Hinckley’s open casket.

Among the mourners Saturday were politicians from Utah, Idaho, California, Arizona, Nevada and Oregon, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Mormon.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, whose father once served in the church’s highest leadership, and his wife, Anne, were also in attendance.

The back of the funeral program carried quotations from Hinckley. In 2001, he counseled Mormons against a “holier-than-thou attitude” toward people of other religions and last year wished prayers, peace and harmony among families

In a final gesture, mourners waived white handkerchiefs as Hinckley’s coffin left the conference center, repeating a gesture he often used to greet the crowds wherever he appeared

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Associated Press writer Brock Vergakis in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.


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