The following is an excerpt from the new book Women of Character.
Twenty-five-year-old Marjorie Pay was anticipating her wedding day when the telephone rang. “I think we had better go to lunch today,” her fiancé, Gordon B. Hinckley, said. He did not tell her on the phone that he had cold feet and was trying to find a way out of the engagement. While ordering lunch Gordon warned his bride-to-be, “I think you should know that I only have $150 to my name.” Marjorie’s response was not what Gordon had expected: “Oh, that will work out just fine; if you’ve got $150, we’re set!” Reflecting on her thoughts that day, Marjorie said, “Well, $150 sounded like a small fortune to me. I had hoped for a husband and now I was getting $150 too!”1
Born November 23, 1911, in Nephi, Utah, Marjorie had an ability to “see the good in any situation—and to see it instantly—mak[ing] Pollyanna look like an amateur.” Her optimistic attitude included “a willingness to be flexible and adaptive, to not overreact to daily irritations.” Her basic philosophy, “Things always work out somehow,” proved a blessing in her life and the lives of those who knew her best.2
Marjorie never learned to ride a bicycle or swim, never went to college, and never viewed herself destined for fame.3 Early in her marriage she realized it would be better if “we worked harder at getting accustomed to one another than constantly trying to change each other—which [she] discovered was impossible.” She believed, “It is the artful duty of a woman to adjust.”4 And adjust she did, although Gordon never insisted that she do anything his way—or any way for that matter. He gave her space and “let her fly.”5
She was a low-stress mother who tried not to over-schedule herself or her children. One day her oldest son came up missing when there were lawns to be mowed and irrigation ditches to be cleaned. When he showed up just in time for dinner she asked him, “Where have you been?” He replied, “Down in the hollow.” She asked, “And what have you been doing down in the hollow?” He said, “Nothing.” Years later when this same son returned from a mission he said to his mother, “Mom I had a wonderful childhood, didn’t I?” Marjorie replied, “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.”6
Marjorie’s willingness to look on the bright side of life was a constant source of strength to Gordon as he served in the leading councils of the LDS Church. After his call to the Quorum of the Twelve, Gordon was asked to travel extensively throughout the world. The night before a trip to South America that would take him away for several weeks,
Marjorie asked whether she should plan to go with him. He replied, “Can’t we decide that in the morning?”7
As Marjorie traveled with her husband, Gordon would often call on her to speak extemporaneously. “I can tell you why my husband has called on me,” she would say. “It is because he is still trying to figure out what to say and I’m supposed to stall.”8 Audiences immediately responded to her humor because they felt “in Sister Hinckley, what you see is what you get—and that is what everyone wants to get! Her love, her honest interest in you as a person, her lack of affectation and self-aggrandizement, her faith—she is the real thing.”9
She once told Church members, “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.”10 Another time when she and Gordon were informed by a Church security officer of a possible danger, Marjorie smiled and said, “It will be all right” and kept reading a book. When asked how she could remain so calm, she replied, “I stopped worrying about Gordon a long time ago because I knew it couldn’t do much good. I just pray for him, ask him to be careful, and trust that the Lord knows every situation we are in.”11
When her husband was sustained as president of the Church, Marjorie’s easy-going manner and humor not only blessed him, it endeared her to Church members. Marjorie once told an audience that “sometimes as she is doing her housework the thought occurs to her of the reality that she is married to the prophet of the Lord. . . . Her first reaction is to think, ‘I want my mother!’” In explaining what it is like to live with a prophet, she said, “He leaves his towels on the floor and his tie over the couch.”12
Whether speaking to an audience or just one person, Marjorie always put others at ease because she was at ease with herself and never fussed over her appearance. Once when she was getting ready for a formal occasion her daughter dropped in to see her. When Marjorie started to put on a pleated skirt and white cotton blouse her daughter protested. “Mother, this is a huge thing. . . .The reception is in honor of Dad and you. He’s probably going to wear a tux. Every woman there will have on sequins and diamonds.” Continuing to dress, completely unruffled by her comment, Marjorie said, “Well, I don’t have any sequins in my closet. But this skirt is black, and the blouse does have a lace collar. And besides that, if we’re the guests of honor, whatever I wear will have to be right!”13
Marjorie died on April 6, 2004, in Salt Lake City. Did she ever imagine where her life would take her? “Absolutely not,” she insisted.14 It has been said that “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 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.”15
1 Virginia H. Pearce, ed. Glimpses into the Life and Heart of Marjorie Pay Hinckley (Salt Lake City: Deseret
Book, 1999), 77.
2 Ibid., 77, 145.
3 Doug Robinson, “Marjorie Hinckley—‘Every bit his equal’: The low-profile woman behind the highprofile
man,” LDS Church News, April 5, 2003.
4 Pearce, 184, 186.
5 “Til We Meet Again: Marjorie Hinckley’s Funeral,” Meridian Magazine, 2.
6 Ibid., 3.
7 Sheri L. Dew, Go Forward with Faith: The Biography of Gordon B. Hinckley (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book,
9 Pearce, 40.
10 L. Tom Perry, “An Elect Lady,” Ensign, May 1995, 73–75.
12 Pearce, 108–109.
15 “Til We Meet Again,” 4.