Howard W. Hunter, already frail when he became president of the Mormon Church last spring, died Friday at age 87 after just nine months as “prophet, seer and revelator” of the 9 millionmember faith.
The former corporate lawyer, who had suffered from prostate cancer, served the shortest tenure of any leader in the 165-year history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
By tradition, Hunter will be succeeded by the church’s senior apostle: 84-year-old Gordon B. Hinckley, a career church administrator. He will be ordained within a day or two of Hunter’s funeral, which was set for Wednesday at the Tabernacle on Temple Square.
Hunter was the second-oldest man ever to become church president and the first born in this century.
During his ministry, Hunter eschewed the partisan politics of his ultraconservative predecessor, Ezra Taft Benson, a former U.S. agriculture secretary.
In his first public appearance as the church’s 14th president in June, Hunter stressed the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. He also urged greater attendance at the church’s 47 temples, which only faithful Mormons may enter.
“It would be the deepest desire of my heart to have every member of the church temple-worthy,” he said.
Upon his death, President Clinton and Utah’s all-Mormon congressional delegation and governor sent condolences.
Hunter was “everything we think of as good, honest, compassionate and loving,” a man who “reached out to all, as did Christ, to reconcile people to the gospel,” said Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch.
During nearly a quarter-century, Hunter was struck by a string of ailments that left him weak and unable to get around without an aluminum walker or motorized cart.
He underwent quadruple-bypass surgery in 1986, and in 1987 had operations for a bleeding ulcer and a painful lower-back condition. During gall bladder surgery in 1993 he had a bad reaction to medication and went into a three-week coma.
Hinckley has no history of health problems. An apostle since 1961, he has worked in the church bureaucracy most of his life.
MEMO: This sidebar ran with story: LEADERS Former presidents of the Mormon Church: Joseph Smith, 1830-44 Brigham Young, 1847-77 John Taylor, 1880-87 Wilford Woodruff, 1889-98 Lorenzo Snow, 1898-1901 Joseph F. Smith, 1901-18 Heber J. Grant, 1918-45 George Albert Smith, 1945-51 David O. McKay, 1951-70 Joseph Fielding Smith, 1970-72 Harold B. Lee, 1972-73 Spencer W. Kimball, 1973-85 Ezra Taft Benson, 1985-94 Howard W. Hunter, June 5, 1994, to March 3, 1995