President Gordon B. HinckleyThe official Church press release on LDS.org

 Beloved Church President, Gordon B. Hinckley, Dies at 97
President Gordon B. Hinckley, who led The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through twelve years of global expansion, has died at the age of 97.

President Hinckley was the 15th president in the 177-year history of the Church and had served as its president since 12 March 1995.

The Church president died at his apartment in downtown Salt Lake City at 7:00 p.m. Sunday night from causes incident to age. Members of his family were at his bedside. A successor is not expected to be formally chosen by the Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles until after President Hinckley’s funeral within the next few days.

(Update 1/28/08)  Salt Lake Tribune Editorial,  The Tribune has published a fabulous editorial praising President Hinckley’s extraordinary leadership role as President of the Church, calling him the Most Extraordinary LDS Leader since Brigham Young:

Gordon B. Hinckley: The most extraordinary LDS leader since Brigham Young

Tribune Editorial

Article Last Updated: 01/28/2008 11:44:13 AM MST

On a wall above the desk where President Gordon B. Hinckley directed the affairs of the LDS Church hangs a portrait of Brigham Young. Hinckley felt an enduring kinship with the pioneer prophet who, by sheer force of personality, brought the Mormons to a safe haven in the mountains.

Young built a city and a Great Basin Kingdom that transformed the West. Over 73 years, Gordon B. Hinckley built the image of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints into one that fits comfortably within the American mainstream, a feat no less remarkable.

Hinckley, who died Sunday at the age of 97, had many of Young’s gifts as a leader and a builder, though not Brother Brigham’s rough-hewn ways. Hinckley was famously at home in any company, from world leaders and presidents to the Mormons at home and abroad who both revered and admired him. He was a leader with vision, stamina, native wit and the intelligence to apply his many gifts to his calling as a religious leader, but also as the brilliant chief executive of an enormous and complex corporation.

In both roles, Hinckley was a decisive, penetrating presence, a natural businessman and a formidable negotiator who knew how to be blunt. In his ministry he was an articulate and inspiring speaker and beloved of his people.

Once asked what he would have liked to do had he not followed the call of his church, Hinckley said that he just maybe would have had a future as an architect. The answer was typically wry. Hinckley was the most prolific builder in the history of the LDS Church, and his attention to architectural detail was legendary.

The remaking of downtown Salt Lake City, entirely with church resources, was Hinckley’s plan as much as anyone’s, and is just one of the projects that will bear tribute to Hinckley the builder, and the architect.

When Hinckley took over as president of the church in 1995, he had spent years as the de facto, day-to-day leader in the administrations of presidents who had become enfeebled. But on that first morning of his presidency, he stood before reporters and cameramen he had invited to a news conference, the first in memory to have been called by an LDS prophet.

With the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles seated in a row well back from the podium, Hinckley commanded the moment, fielding questions with ease and aplomb, driving home the point to Latter-day Saints and the world at large that the Mormons now had a leader who would be out among his people, delivering a message of faith, hope, love – and hard work.

In fact, Hinckley would acknowledge if pressed, that he disliked traveling. But he put that aside to become the most peripatetic Mormon leader in history. When the number of Latter-day Saints abroad began exceeding the number in America, Hinckley paid them all due attention. He wanted them to know that a living prophet loved and cared for them.

Anyone who saw him move in the crowds of his followers from Africa to Asia could see his tears and smiles and know for themselves that he did.

One need not wait for history to judge the worth of Gordon B. Hinckley. His contributions to his church, and to the city that was his home, are incalculable. His legacy, quite simply, will endure as long as Brother Brigham’s.

KTVU News is reporting, that President Hinckley has died.  Peggy Fletcher Stack of the Salt Lake Tribune has also written a story:

President Gordon B. Hinckley of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints died this evening. He was 97.  Hinckley’s life spanned the 20th century, a time marked by LDS global outreach and technological advances. Hie saw his church evolve from a tiny sect in the Intermountain West to a respected religious movement with more than 13 million members worldwide. He embraced each new communication device, from radio to satellite to YouTube, as a chance to spread the Mormon word.

He began his career in the 1930s as a missionary defending the faith on a soapbox in London’s Hyde Park and lived to see the country’s first viable Mormon candidate for president. Through it all, Hinckley worked tirelessly to gain acceptance for his church on the world’s stage. 

News stories are beginning to appear throughout the media.  Peggy Fletcher Stack noted how President Hinckley had re made the image of a Mormon leader.

Hinckley also remodeled the image of a Mormon leader.

When he became the church’s 15th president in March 1995 at 84 years old, Hinckley essentially had been leading the church for more than a decade due to the frail health of his predecessors. He was determined to defy the view of LDS presidents as feeble, secretive and quaintly parochial. He dazzled people – members and outsiders alike – with his encyclopedic memory and almost superhuman work ethic. During his TK years as president, Hinckley gave more than 2,000 speeches, visited more than 150 countries, and greeted hundreds of diplomats and ambassadors. He was interviewed by journalists from nearly every major American newspaper, charming many with his folksy wisdom and self-deprecating humor.

“Treat me well,” he would say with a sly grin. “I’m just an old man.”  Yet even in his 90s, the figure Mormons consider a “prophet, seer and revelator” rarely thought like an old man.

“His keen intellect and thirst to understand how everything works resulted in a storehouse of knowledge that will be nearly irreplaceable,” said Elder Marlin Jensen, the church’s official historian. “I believe he was a true prophet but it didn’t hurt that he was a genius, too.”

Overall, a very positive article by Peggy on President Hinckley. (Update 1/28/08) In fact, the Tribune now hosts several excellent, well written articles by Peggy Fletcher Stack.  She has by far provided the most comprehensive, excellent coverage of any reporter I have read in the media.  So far the news reports do not give a cause of death, other than possibly natural causes.  I’m certain the Deseret News has coverage; however, I can’t seem to access their website.  It appears to be down.  I will post a link as soon as possible.

Update 1/28/08:  For Mitt Romney’s comments on President Hinckley’s passing, please see my post over at The Council of Fifty.

Update, the Deseret News site is again up.  Their story appears here, and lists the cause of death as incident to age:

President Gordon B. Hinckley, who led The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through explosive growth during his more than 12 years as president, died at 7 p.m. today of causes incident to age, surrounded by family. He was 97.

He traveled the world during his tenure, which was marked by a number of significant milestones, including the “Proclamation to the World on the Family,” construction of dozens of small temples and the creation of several new quorums of the Seventy. He called for increased fellowshipping of new converts and reaching out to other faiths. Church membership has grown from 9 million to more than 13 million members during his administration.

The Deseret News article lists some of President Hinckley’s many accomplishments as head of the 13 million member Mormon Church:

His ministry was characterized by a strong desire to be out among the people. He traveled more than half a million miles and spoke to hundreds of thousands of members in more than 60 nations, employing his mastery of electronic media to bring unprecedented press attention to the church.

Under his leadership, the 21,000-seat Conference Center, north of the Salt Lake Tabernacle, was built and dedicated, and the portion of Main Street between Temple Square and the Joseph Smith Memorial Building was turned into a plaza. Online computer access to church information as well as online and CD access to family history resources grew exponentially.

President Hinckley began his service to the Church when he was only 25 years old, just home from a full time mission.  It continued for some seven decades, to what I believe was his greatest accomplishment of massive expansion of temples, and the temple ceremony world wide to a world wide Church:

A young man of 25 and just home from his mission when he went to work for the church in 1935, he remained an employee, administrator and general authority for almost seven decades, an eyewitness — and key contributor — to what he called, with the approach of the 21st century, “a great season in the history of the world and a great season in the history of the church.”

His proposal to build small temples launched what some have termed the most ambitious temple-building program in world history. Some 122 temples are now in use and nine more have been announced, or are under construction. His goal of having at least 100 temples in use, authorized or under construction by Jan. 1, 2000, was accomplished with the dedication of the church’s 100th temple in Boston on Oct. 1, 2000.

President Hinckley served some 12 years as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator of the Church, being sustained as such in 1995.

President Hinckley, who spent nearly 14 years as a counselor in the First Presidency, was set apart as 15th church president on March 12, 1995, three months before his 85th birthday. He was sustained in solemn assembly at the 165th Annual General Conference that April 1.

He then set out to visit as many church members as possible in their homelands. He continued an ambitious travel schedule throughout his stewardship, urged the members to get their houses in order and warned against pornography and maltreatment of spouses and children. The “Proclamation to the World on the Family,” that he announced in September 1995 gave Latter-day Saints a ready reference for their beliefs on family life, and has been used as a model by international organizations seeking to preserve the traditional family.

Upon President Hinckely’s death, the First Presidency was dissolved as a governing quorum of the Church.  The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles now takes the governing reigns and will guide the Church until after the Twelve unanimously selects, through the process of revelation, the new Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, who in turn will choose his own counselors.

With the death of President Hinckley, the First Presidency was dissolved and the Quorum of the Twelve became the governing body of the church. President Hinckley’s counselors, Presidents Thomas S. Monson and Henry B. Eyring, took their places — first and 11th — within the 14-member quorum. Until his death in August 2007, President James E. Faust served as President Hinckley’s second counselor for 12 years.

Sometime soon, following President Hinckley’s funeral, quorum members will sustain a new church president. If historical precedent holds, the quorum’s senior apostle and president, President Monson, will succeed President Hinckley.

The Deseret News article is rather lengthy, and well worth the read.  It lists many of President Hinckley’s accomplishments as Presdient of the Church for the nearly 13 years he served in that position.

The New York Times has just posted a lengthy article as well.  It is worth the read; however a couple of highlights, including a quote from Richard Bushman:

With his buoyant personality and affinity for public relations, Mr. Hinckley made Mormonism more familiar to the public and more accepted in the Christian fold. He gave news conferences and was the first church president to sit for interviews on “60 Minutes” and “Larry King Live.” When the Winter Olympics went to Salt Lake City in 2002, the church’s home base, he guided the church outreach campaign.

To emphasize its commonality with other churches, he changed the church’s logo, making the words “Jesus Christ” in the church’s name much larger than “Latter-day Saints.” He arranged to make the church’s huge library of genealogical records publicly available on the Internet.

“He’s been the face of the church, not only for church members, but more than any other president, to the world at large,” said Richard Lyman Bushman, professor of history emeritus at Columbia University, a member and scholar of the church. “He exposed himself to all these interviews and seemed to enjoy it. That has won the admiration of church members. We have been a little bit isolated and clannish, and it’s wonderful to see our church presented to the world.”

On President Hinckley’s return to Nauvoo to dedicate the temple, rebuilt after the Saints had been forcefully driven out of the state, the Times noted:

Gordon B. Hinckley was born on June 23, 1910, in Salt Lake City, a descendant of a governor of the Plymouth Colony. His grandfather joined the Mormons as a teenager in Nauvoo, Ill., where they had taken refuge in 1839 after being run out of Missouri. But four years later in Nauvoo, anti-Mormon mobs killed the church’s founder, Joseph Smith, and chased his followers out of the state. Mr. Hinckley said his grandfather was among those who made the trek by covered wagon and handcart across the Great Plains to Utah.

Mr. Hinckley returned 158 years later to Nauvoo as the 14th successor to Joseph Smith to dedicate the rebuilt temple, which had long ago been destroyed by a fire and tornado. “This is the greatest season in the history of the church,” he said in a news conference, “and it will only get better.”

President Hinckley, like no other Prophet before him, I think brought the Church into the main stream, at least as much as we really want to be in the main stream of modern day Christianity.  I am almost half his age, yet he had twice my energy, optimism, vigor and vision for life.  I will miss his example, and will recall him fondly.  As I find more information I will post the links below.

Other media reports include:

Deseret News Nauvoo Temple A Crowning Achievement

Deseret News The Life of President Gordon B. Hinckley

Deseret News Reaction to President Hinckley’s Death

Deseret News A Prophet for All Time

Deseret News Majorie Hinckley–Every Bit His Equal

Salt Lake Tribune, Hinckley A Legacy of Taking Temples to the People

Salt Lake Tribune, Milestones in President Hinckley’s Life 

Salt Lake Tribune, An Interview With Gordon B. Hinckley

Salt Lake Tribune, Monson Ready for Presidential Duties

Salt Lake Tribune, President Hinckley Vibrant to the End

Salt Lake Tribune, What Happens When an LDS President Dies?

Daily Herald, President Hinckley Obituary

Los Angeles Times

Washington Post

Chicago Tribune

MSNBC

Reuters

KSL.com

Fox News

Guardian Unlimited

CNN 

The White House Response