The death of a living prophet is always a time of both mourning and excitement. Members of the Church may understand this feeling; we mourn the loss of an old, dear friend, yet look forward with great anticipation to a new administration and the changes that inevitably follow.
President Gordon B. Hinckley passed away last night. We were privileged in Southern California to hear from this tremendous servant of the Lord one last time a couple of weeks ago in one of the multi-stake broadcast conferences that the Church has implemented. It's a little ironic, perhaps, that immediately following that conference session I told Mrs. Woody that I was no longer worried about losing our prophet any time soon. I had expressed that fear after our last General Conference in October. Pres. Hinckley had seemed so frail (comparatively, that is) during the conference, and I voiced my concern to my sweetheart that Pres. Hinckley was not long for this world. She agreed with me, and we both dealt with that melancholy feeling one gets at such a thought.
During the Stake Conference, though, Pres. Hinckley had seemed somewhat more vigorous than he had during General Conference, and I felt that perhaps he had rallied and was ready for another busy year. In truth, what I probably sensed was the energy given to a man to bear one final testimony before yielding up his spirit to his Father. I saw this when Bruce R. McConkie bore his final, powerful witness of the Savior in General Conference shortly before his death of cancer. Likewise Elder Neal A. Maxwell.
At the Stake Conference, Pres. Hinckley's theme had been that of broken families, and moving forward after dealing with those issues that affect more and more families than ever before in our history. Money, infidelity, self-centeredness; all of these were summarily dealt with by our inspired prophet, and he counselled us with tremendous energy. Having been through one broken marriage, I came away with the counsel that we need to move forward from here. Fix those things that need fixing, and live our lives in accordance with God's will. It was a spiritual boost that I needed at that point in time. Not because my marriage to Mrs. Woody is in any kind of trouble, but because I still need to heal from the divorce. Or, more particularly, I need to close that chapter of my book and plow on through to the end of my earthly story.
I have loved every prophet that has served in my lifetime. David O. McKay was the prophet when I was born, and he served until I was eleven years old. I have no memory of ever hearing from Pres. McKay during a general conference because by the time I was old enough to appreciate conference, Pres. McKay was too frail to attend. I believe I regarded Pres. McKay as a kind of grandfather figure, with that brilliant white hair of his. I enjoyed the administrations of Pres. Joseph Fielding Smith, and Harold B. Lee who were the prophets during my early years in the Aaronic Priesthood.
Then came Pres. Spencer W. Kimball who served during those most critical years of my youth when I needed to grow up a little (note: tongue firmly in cheek) and get ready for my mission. It was Pres. Kimball's signature on both my mission call, and that of my future bride. Pres. Kimball helped transition me into adulthood.
With the passing of Pres. Kimball, Pres. Ezra Taft Benson took the reins. His was the administration of the Book of Mormon, and he constantly and consistently admonished us to "flood the earth" with that great book. Then Pres. Howard W. Hunter served for the briefest administration of any living prophet. Fortunately, I had come to love him as a great apostle of the Lord long before he ever sat in the Prophet's chair.
And now we mourn the passing of another great leader and friend. Pres. Hinckley, for many in the Church, will be their Pres. McKay, or Pres. Kimball; the prophet who served for a significant portion of their lives and molded their spiritual development along the way. We love him for that. We love him for having served well and faithfully for so many years. We love him for building temples around the world. We love him for presenting a friendly face to the world at large. We even love him for being interviewed by Larry King. (It's a good thing I already love and appreciate Pres. Monson. He has extremely well-worn shoes to fill!)
Farewell, President Hinckley. May the Lord receive your spirit with joy and gladness, and may your earthly family — and friends — be comforted.