Among Mormons throughout the world, Gordon B. Hinckley will be remembered as a beloved leader and a man of fervent faith. He also will be venerated for his vision – for his ability to guide the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through its greatest period of expansion in recent history.
In the Inland Northwest, Hinckley’s legacy is manifest in a temple in Spokane Valley, an 11,000-square-foot structure with gray granite walls and a spire consisting of the angel Moroni. The $4.5 million building – the spiritual center of more than 75,000 local members of the LDS church – was part of Hinckley’s plan to extend temple blessings to as many church members as possible. Before the Spokane Temple was built and dedicated in 1999, Mormons in Eastern Washington had to travel to the Seattle area to take part in sacred rites and ceremonies, including weddings.
“President Hinckley was concerned that people had to go so far to get to a temple, so he came up with the idea of smaller temples,” explained Thomas Green, president of the Spokane Temple, located at 13710 E. 40th Ave. “It was such a blessing for the people here in Spokane. It’s a special place for us.”
The Spokane Temple was the fourth one built after Hinckley launched his small-temple initiative, according to Green. Since then, dozens more, including one in the Tri-Cities, have been erected throughout the world for a total of 125 – more than double the number when Hinckley was ordained president nearly 13 years ago. During that time, church membership also grew, from about 9 million to more than 12 million worldwide.
Hinckley’s death Sunday at the age of 97 didn’t come as a shock to most local members of the LDS church. Still, many were saddened to hear the news.
“Because he had been the leader of the church for so long, it’s a major impact,” said Green, who first met Hinckley 15 years ago during a conference in California. “Because of the personality that he was, it’s even harder. … He was such a loving, kind, humorous and down-to-earth guy.
“He was a great, great man.”
Hinckley died of complications arising from old age, according to an LDS spokesman. Since his death, mourners have gathered outside the Mormon church headquarters in Salt Lake City to sing hymns and memorialize their church leader.
In North Idaho, Stanley Wood, president of the Hayden Lake Stake, said Hinckley “will be remembered for his phenomenal amount of energy, for his ability to travel and the way he was able to be comfortable in any culture.”
Wood said Hinckley’s ability to reach out to people – including world leaders, journalists and people of other faiths – fostered better understanding of the LDS church.
When Hinckley visited Spokane in 1999 for the dedication of the Spokane Temple, tens of thousands came. He drew all ages, recalled Steven Holdaway, of Spokane Valley, including 12,000 teenagers who went to the Spokane Arena one evening to hear the elderly man speak.
“All these young people were just completely enthralled in what he was saying,” said Holdaway, former president of the Spokane East Stake. “That was my fondest memory of his visit. You just felt this loving feeling from him.”
Despite his old age, Hinckley had an amazing amount of energy, recalled Frank Wagstaff, former president of the Spokane Temple.
During his visit in 1999, Hinckley was present for nearly a dozen hourlong dedication services that lasted over a period of three days. Almost 20,000 people came to the temple for the dedication and Hinckley made time to talk and visit with a significant number of members, said Wagstaff.
Mormons in the Inland Northwest can watch Hinckley’s funeral from their homes by tuning in to BYU Television. The service also will likely be broadcast by satellite to various stakes and wards throughout the world. Local memorials aren’t planned, according to Green, but each ward likely will dedicate some time for members to mourn together and share their memories of Hinckley’s presidency.
The church’s most senior apostle, 80-year-old Thomas S. Monson, is expected to be ordained president in coming days. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Monson has worked alongside every LDS president since 1963 when he was named one of the 12 apostles at the age of 36. Before that time, he worked for the church-owned Deseret News as an advertising executive and also as the general manger of the Deseret News Press, a commercial printing firm.
Monson has been described as a folksy orator known for his compassion and willingness to enlist non-Mormons in humanitarian causes. Under Monson’s direction, the LDS Church joined with other Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups in causes such as homeless shelters, food banks, nursing homes and disaster relief efforts in the United States and abroad.
Monson met with several LDS members in Spokane during a conference in October 2004. Wagstaff and others who spent time with him describe him as a great communicator and storyteller with a good memory and a profound concern for others.
While they continue to mourn Hinckley’s death, Green and others said they have no worries about their church’s future.
“We always have smooth transitions,” said Green. “The church is in good hands and we won’t skip a beat. … We’ll just really miss President Hinckley.”