Two images will linger on our minds from Marjorie Pay Hinckley’s funeral. Her five children standing side by side taking turns telling tender stories of their mother and President Hinckley walking alone, following the casket out of the Tabernacle, after we have seen him all these years with a petite, smiling companion, whose optimism and humor have been a steadying gift to him.
A Latter-day Saint funeral is full of poignance and tears, but also sweetness as you see clearly for a few minutes the beauty of a life well-led and are filled with new vision for your own.
Marjorie Pay Hinckley always told her children that she did not want them to speak at her funeral because she thought it would be too hard for them. They would probably sit on the front row and weep.
Instead, President Hinckley was on the front row—perhaps the only time he has not been on the stand in decades—and the Hinckley’s five children, Richard, Clark, Virginia Pierce, Kathleen Barnes Walker and Jane Dudley stood together—not sharing their own words, but their mother’s.
Though crowds filled the Tabernacle on this Saturday, April 10, Sister Hinckley’s funeral was a testimony to the power of family and insight into the beauty and warmth of the Hinckley’s private life.
Perhaps Church members have never known Marjorie Hinckley so well, as they have in this last glimpse of her life.
In addition to the Hinckley children, other speakers at the funeral were Sheri L. Dew, President James E. Faust, and President Thomas S. Monson. What we share here are excerpts from those most personal reflections on Sister Hinckley’s life, first as shared by the Hinckley children, and then by Sheri L. Dew, the biographer of President Gordon B. Hinckley.
Taking turns, the five Hinckley children gave their mother’s words:
My mother said, “Each 24 of July my father took all of us children to Little Mountain in Emigration Canyon. to the place where the pioneers came over the hills to the Salt Lake Valley. He told about his mother, Mary Goble Pay, who was in the Martin Handcart Company that was caught in early storms of winter. He did not moralize or lecture, but the love that he had for his mother’s faith and courage made an impression on my mind. I wanted to be true and faithful to the gospel so that her suffering would not have been in vain. She died when I was just 6 months old,
“I knew the day would come when I would see her agahn. How could I face her if I had not built on the foundation that she had laid?’”
“Today we will lay you to rest not far from Mary Goble’s mother who died between Big Mountain and Little Mountain just before the pioneers entered the valley. You honored her with your life. Thank you mother, you surely did build upon the foundation she laid.”
My mother said, “As you create a home, don’t get distracted with a lot of things that have no meaning for you or your family. Don’t dwell on your failures, but think about your successes. Have joy in your home. Have joy in your children. Have joy in your husband. Be grateful for the journey.”
“Thank you mother for teaching us how to live joyfully”
My mother said, “I have a new project to read one chapter a day from each of the standard works. I’ve been on it four days and I’m only three days behind.”
Thank you, mother for helping us laugh at ourselves and for keeping discouragement at bay.
My mother said, “Preceding the dedication of the London temple, we took some time in Preston. As we got off the bus we walked through the temple grounds. The sweet strains of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing “O My Father,” were coming from speakers hiding in the huge oak trees. I said, “Lovely, isn’t it?” and my husband said, “Lovely.” It was just like walking through heaven. Never before in my life was I so thankful for the gospel as I was at that moment. I didn’t wonder any more why people lined up for two or three blocks to visit these grounds. It was because what they found here was peace and good will and the spirit of truth and light.”
Palpable feelings of peace and good will are ours when we contemplete your good life, mother
Mother wrote countless notes to her grandchildren like these.
“Thank you for the brief and wonderful visit this morning. You brought sunshine that will last all day and will remind me of the overwhelming blessing of having twenty-five beautiful, perfect grandchildren. How are they all so good? I ask myself can this be true? Love, Grandma”
“Happy Birthday Please get something for you with this money. I realize that it will not buy much more than a double-decker cone on today’s market. But know that my love for you is also keeping up wit inflation. It triples each passing year. Love, Grandma”
“Tomorrow you will be starting out to conquer a new world. Tuck this five dollars in your pocket. You may need a bottle of glue to keep yourself together, or to keep your smile glued on. Good luck. We are so proud of you. Love, Grandma”
“Thank you, mother for loving our children.”
Mother loved missionaries. She packed chocolates in her bag for them. She called their mothers when she returned home. Mother said, “Let me tell you missionary work is not for the weak. If there is anything situation in the world that will separate the men from the boys, it is missionary work.. I have seen a boy shake with sobs of discouragement over problems beyond his capacity, then I have seen him six months later when through faith and prayer and sweat and toil, he has come out the conqueror.”
“Thank you mother for your love of missionaries and missionary work.”
Mother said, “Gordon always let me do my own thing. He never insisted that I do anything his way or any way for that matter.. From the very beginning he gave me space and let me fly.”
“Thank you mother for your delightful independence.”.
Mother said, “When I was a young girl I read the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, If affected me greatly. It is a book about goals. Whether or not Mr. Franklin actually carried out in detail all the ways of living that he listed is not important to me. The inspiring thing to me was that early in life he decided on some goals. They were specific;. Somehow I have the feeling that life is so short that unless we begin now to organize and plan, it is going to slip away in bits and pieces with nothing ever realized.”
“Thank you mother, and could we tell you that your life did not slip away in bitrs and pieces.”
Mother said, “One day our oldest boy turned up missing. There were lawns to be mowed and irrigation ditches to be cleaned. The hours ticked away. All afternoon I practiced the speech I would give him when he showed up, and show up he did, at meal time, which I knew he would.
‘Where have you been?’ I asked. ‘Down in the hollow.’ ‘And what have you been doing down in the hollow?’ His reply, ‘Nothing.’
“Some years later I had reason to be glad that I had not given him the speech. He was home from his mission and was a senior at the university. It was test week and he was under a lot of pressure to do well in order to get into the graduate school of his choice. The pressures of adult life were beginning to be felt. I watched him as he drove home from school one afternoon. He got out of the car, kicked a clod of dirt, went over to examine the swelling buds on a lilac tree, came out to our kitchen, straddled a chair backwards and said, ‘Mom I had a wonderful childhood, didn’t I?’
“’Well, I hope so; you did your fair share of complaining about all of the work that had to be done.’
“’Oh, it was wonderful—those long summer days when you could lie on your back in the hollow and listen to the birds sing and watch the ants build their castles.’”
“The memory of the peace of a summer day. God is in his heaven and all is right with the world. Thank you mother for letting us just be children.”
Mother said choose carefully each day that which you will do and that which you will not do. The Lord will bless you to accomplish the important things that have eternal consequences. At my age I have edited the scripture just a little, ‘For it is not requisite that a woman should hobble faster than she has strength.’”
“Thank you mother for hobbling so cheerfully through these last few years and for choosing things that have eternal consequences.”
Mother said, “There is no such thing as the perfect mother, one that fits all the eulogies. We just do the best we can with the help of the Lord. Who knows, these children who are struggling to be free may some day rise up and call us blessed.”
“Dear mother, today we stand here and with one voice, we call you blessed.”
Finally from the Hinckley children, the excerpts from a letter written by Gordon to Marjorie Hinckley in 1999.
“It is now more than 60 years since we entered the Salt Lake Temple there to be married for eternity. I had known you for a long time prior to that. I knew what I was getting in to and it has all turned out as I thought it would.
“What a treasured companion you have been. Through all of these years we have walked side by side as equals before the Lord. There have been good days and bad days, but the good days have far outnumbered the bad ones.
“Life, for the most part, has dealt gently with us. During the Depression, when we were newly married, we were poor and we didn’t know it because we were so rich in the things that really count. The laughter of happy children graced our kitchen table. The presence of a loving mother blessed our home. The Lord opened the windows of heaven and showered down blessings too numerous to mention. He has smiled upon us in a wondrous way.
“When our children were young, you seldom traveled with me. I would be gone for as long as two months at a time. There were not even telephone calls permitted in those days. We wrote letters. You never complained. How wonderful it was to come home and be held warmly in your arms and those of our children.
“You have been my critic and my judge. You have pushed aside the flattery that comes with public life and winnowed the kind and sincere words of honest and loving friends. You have held at bay that old fraud of adulation and kept my feet planted on the solid earth.
“How I appreciate you. Your voracious appetite for reading and your relentless pursuit of knowledge has kept you alert and refreshing throughout a long and fruitful life. Now we have grown old together and it has been a sweet experience. We have shrunk in stature and move a little more slowly. We are more forgetful, but as of this writing we still have one another and that is so good, and when in some future day the hand of death gently touches one or the other of us, there will be tears, yes, but there will also be a quiet and certain assurance of reunion and eternal companionship.
“I love you, dear.
We love you, too Mother. May God bless you til we meet again which will happen as surely as the sun will rise over these valleys on Easter morning. Of these we testify, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Excerpts from Sheri Dew’s talk:
“When I learned that Sister Hinckley had slipped through the veil, I had a flood of emotions, but through my tears I also felt a sweet jubilation. I couldn’t help but think, she did it! She did what she came here to do, and she did it magnificently, for she left everywhere she went and everyone she met better than she found them.
“Ten years ago I sat out to study the life of President Hinckley, but it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t possible to study his life without studying hers. They were hand-in-glove. Sister Hinckley was quick and bright and real. There were never any pretenses with her, She had an unbelievable sense of humor, and curiously I always left her presence feeling better about myself.
“I quickly saw that she was like a perpetual transfusion for her husband, and everyone who knew her well said she had the same effect on them. They insisted that if they could package her unique brand of optimism, they could make a fortune and change the world in the process.
“For years I tried to put my finger on just exactly what it was that made Sister Hinckley so irresistible. Marjorie was faith, hope and charity personified. It is the pure love of Christ everyone felt in her presence. It was the pure love of Christ that allowed her to stop worrying about how the world saw and treated her and let her focus on how she treated others. She simply chose to see the best in any situation.
“When Kathy lived in Hawaii and grieved over the fruit in her backyard at home, her mother told her, ‘Don’t grieve over the cherries; enjoy the pineapple.
Sister Hinckley said:
“Make life an adventure.”
“Are there not days when you are simply overwhelmed by the blessings of the Lord?”
“When you see what is happening in this church, it is just thrilling to get up in the morning.”
“Life is more than I ever imagined it would be.”
“She loved people. She believed in people and no one more than her husband. A year after his ordination as president of the Church she said in a regional conference. ‘He is always been a very wonderful man, but there is something special about him now. The mantle is upon him and I try to remember that when he drapes his ties over the sofa. I try to remember that he isn’t perfect, just almost perfect.
I’m so grateful to share his wife with them.”
“She was good humored about her advancing age. More than once she was heard to say, ‘Oh to be 70 again.’
She even learned to adjust to her husband’s tendency to make last-minute travel arrangements. One incident is a family legend. One night before a trip to South American when she asked if she should plan to go with him, he said, “Can’t we decide that in the morning?”
“She told a congregation when her husband had asked her to speak, ‘I can tell you why my husband has called on me. It is because he is still trying to figure out what to say and I’m supposed to stall.’
“Through it all she found joy in the journey, side-by-side with her husband, so much so that on their 59th anniversary, she said simply, it has been 59 years of heaven on earth– which now makes this temporary parting a difficult one.
“President Hinckley, I am sure it wasn’t easy to tell us about Sister Hinckley’s failing health last Sunday in your concluding remarks, but thank you for trusting us with something so tender and for allowing us to add our prayers to yours–and we won’t stop, because now comes the challenge of carrying on.
“I’ve heard many members of the Church this week say that they are going to work a little harder to somehow lighten your load. Truly we will try to stand a little taller in your words and do our part a little better. And while 12 million members all together cannot take the place of one spunky, committed, deeply faithful, incredibly optimistic woman who was devoted to the Lord, in every time zone and on every continent, we will be praying that you will have the strength to carry on.
In President Hinckley’s first conference address 46 Aprils ago, he said that all of us are largely the product of the lives that touch ours. Today, I am deeply grateful to pay tribute to a woman whose life has touched all of ours and from whom we have learned so much. We have learned that living the gospel is the only way to be happy and that being happy is a choice.
We have learned that it is possible for a woman to be intensely supportive of her husband while continuing to grow and flourish herself. That when a righteous man and woman commit to each other completely the bond is impenetrable and eternal, that an unpretentious woman filled with the pure love of God and devoted to him can move about the entire earth and leave everybody she meets better than she found them, that a testimony of Jesus Christ is what undergirds it all, and that it is really possible in the latter part of the latter-days to do what we came here to do and to do it with joy. Marjorie Pay Hinckley is proof positive that it can be done. I will be grateful for the rest of my life for the privilege of knowing and loving and learning from this magnificent woman.