Students reflect on late Hinckley

Gordon Hinckley was the president of the Mormon Church. He was 97 years old.

When the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Gordon Hinckley died Sunday at age 97, the effects of his death reached far beyond Salt Lake City, the religion’s epicenter.

University students from the Latter-day Saints Student Association gathered Tuesday morning and spoke about their former president.

His death touched many members of the Mormon church, civil engineering graduate student and LDSSA member Mark Morris said.

“I was sad in a way because he’s almost like a friend, just a familiar aspect of life,” he said.

In the Mormon church, the president serves not only as the leader of the church, but as a prophet.

While Hinckley’s death saddened members of the church, Morris said Hinckley had an interesting perspective on death.

“As a prophet, he knows so much about what’s on the other side of the veil anyway,” he said. “I wonder if it’s not such a big step for him.”

Hinckley served as president of the Mormon church from 1995 until his death, and had a large impact on the church, the students said.

During his 13-year presidency, Hinckley dedicated more temples than any previous leader, increasing the number of temples worldwide from 47 to 124, LDSSA adviser Curtis Saunders said.

Membership in the Mormon church also grew from about 9 million to about 13 million during Hinckley’s presidency, Saunders said.

The expansion of the church reflects Hinckley’s strong focus on missionary work, Katherine Harris, communications junior and LDSSA member said.

“In our church that’s sort of the cornerstone of our faith,” she said. “What President Hinckley really did is allowed people in the world to gain a more honest understanding about the church.”

But Sarah Ware, a graduate student studying family education and LDSSA member, said Hinckley’s impact reached beyond the Mormon church.

“He was the prophet to the church, but he was the prophet to the world,” she said. “He truly is a prophet, seer and revelator, just as the old prophets in the Bible.”

Ware said she was sad to hear of Hinckley’s death, but said she knows he’s with his wife, Marjorie Pay, who died in 2004.

“That gives me peace to know that,” she said.

Harris said Hinckley was a man of “tremendous impact” even outside the Mormon church.

President George W. Bush awarded Hinckley the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004, which is the nation’s highest civil award.

Despite his position in the Mormon church, some outside the faith didn’t know about Hinckley.

Physical education and health graduate student Larissa Parr said she has never heard of him.

“I haven’t read the paper in a couple days,” Parr said. “If it was recent, I guess I just missed the story. I haven’t even seen the name before.”

Still, the Mormon students will gather Saturday to pay tribute to their former president and watch the Utah funeral proceedings via satellite.