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Posted: 4:49 PM- WASHINGTON -- President Bush on Monday praised LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley for spreading a message of love and optimism to millions of Mormon faithful worldwide.

Hinckley, who passed away Sunday at age 97, "demonstrated the heart of a servant and the wisdom of a leader," the president said in a statement released by the White House.

"He was a tireless worker and a talented communicator who was respected in his community and beloved by his congregation," Bush said. "Laura and I will miss Gordon's friendship and wisdom. Our thoughts and prayers are with his five children and the rest of the Hinckley family."

In 2004, Bush presented Hinckley with the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civil award, in recognition of his lifelong public service.

GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney, who is Mormon, said in Florida he would take time off from campaigning to attend Hinckley's services.

Though Washington centered on Bush's State of the Union address Monday, politicians took time to praise Hinckley, including about 30 minutes of speeches on the Senate floor.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat and a Mormon, called Hinckley a "phenomenal builder" for his focus on constructing new temples across the globe and new ward houses for worshipers.

"There is so much more that can be said about this good man, who was kind and gentle and epitomized everything that's good in mankind," Reid said. "On a personal basis I will miss him greatly."

Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, a Mormon and former Utah governor, said of the men he has known in his life, "I admire none more than Gordon B. Hinckley."

"His life taught unwavering commitment as its enduring message," Leavitt said in a statement. "He conveyed a grounded, balanced perspective on people and events. His characteristic wisdom and humor caused people to listen, and he communicated with them forthrightly in a way they understood."

Reid is expected to attend Hinckley's funeral, as are Republican Sens. Bob Bennett and Orrin Hatch. Leavitt's office was unsure if he could attend or not.

Romney, who has faced voters wary of the Mormon faith during his campaign, addressed Hinckley's death at a 6 a.m. news conference while campaigning in Florida.

"We will miss his leadership," Romney was quoted as saying by the National Journal. He praised Hinckley for "his effort to reach out across the world and to faraway lands and to build temples for our church."

He noted, according to the National Journal, that he had chatted with Hinckley when considering a White House bid and Hinckley "smiled and said it would be great experience if you won and a great experience if you lost."