Mormon Leader Gordon B. Hinckley Dies at 97 The president and prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) has died after leading millions of Mormon faithful for nearly 13 years. Gordon B. Hinckley was 97. He had spent most of his adult life in the Mormon leadership.

Mormon Leader Gordon B. Hinckley Dies at 97

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From Salt Lake City, NPR's Howard Berkes reports.

HOWARD BERKES: Unidentified Woman: President Hinckley, with your background in media, can we expect more press conferences like this?


GORDON HINCKLEY: Unidentified Woman: Second of all...


HINCKLEY: You look so formidable out there. I'm - I wouldn't dare make a commitment today.


BERKES: The new Mormon president was 84 years old then, grandfatherly and approachable despite the stiff business suit. Hinckley's tone turned serious with questions about church involvement in politics, about excommunications of dissidents, and about his message for women in this patriarchal faith.

HINCKLEY: Do the best you can and remember that the greatest assets you have in this world is those children whom you've brought into the world, and for whose nurture and care you're responsible.

BERKES: Hinckley took on all kinds of reporters, including the toughest of them all - "60 Minutes" correspondent Mike Wallace.

MIKE WALLACE: His candor, his willingness to entertain any question, no matter how difficult or perhaps embarrassing. He just was absolutely open with me. And the more time that I spent with him, it became quite apparent to me that there was a great deal in the Mormon religion that I genuinely admired.

BERKES: Jan Shipps is an Indiana-based religious scholar who has studied the Mormon faith for 40 years. Hinckley was trying, she says...

JAN SHIPPS: change the image of the Church from being on the margins, from being weird to being not weird, in his language. In my language, it's moving from the margins to the mainstream.

BERKES: Kathleen Flake studies American religious history at Vanderbilt University, and she says international growth is another Hinckley hallmark.

KATHLEEN FLAKE: Making that international church feel, and an actual fact be, an integrated part of what has been an American church - in Nigeria, in Brazil, in Japan. And to make sure that the full component of the church's program was available in those areas.

BERKES: The program included thousands of new chapels and temples around the globe. It included a scholarship loan fund for thousands of poor followers overseas. There was an effort to bolster the faith with pilgrimages to historic sites and a campaign to reread the Book of Mormon. Hinckley was also the missionary-in-chief. In April of 2006 at a gathering of the faithful, he looked back 70 years at where he and the Mormon gospel have been.


HINCKLEY: Since then I have lifted my voice on every continent, all up and down - from north to south and east to west, in every great capital of the world. It is all a miracle.

BERKES: Howard Berkes, NPR News, Salt Lake City.

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