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Posted: 5:16 PM- Even an optimist like Gordon B. Hinckley could scarcely have predicted the magnitude of affection and media attention focused on him during his Salt Lake City funeral Saturday.
Hinckley was "a giant among men," said President Thomas S. Monson, Hinckley's counselor in the LDS Church's governing First Presidency, "a giant of faith, of love, of testimony, of compassion, of vision."
For nearly 13 years, the man Mormons considered their prophet, seer and revelator "comforted and calmed us when conditions were frightening, he guided us undeviatingly on the path which will lead us back to our Heavenly Father," said Monson, senior apostle and Hinckley's likely successor.
Millions of Mormons in Utah and around the globe joined the nearly 20,000 church members, people of other faiths and dignitaries gathered in the giant LDS Conference Center to honor Hinckley, who died Sunday at 97. For the first time ever, a phalanx of cameras lined the back of the hall and the press room was packed with reporters representing national outlets.
It seemed a fitting benediction for Hinckley's life and work, which centered on taking Mormonism to the far reaches of the planet using any and all means available.
LDS General Authority Earl C. Tingey called Hinckley "the great communicator."
"He opened the doors to the world's media and defined the church to a worldwide audience," Tingey said at the funeral. "He pioneered the use of filmstrips, movies, colored pictures, pamphlets and missionary literature to tell the story of our church. These same techniques, continually being improved, are still used today."
Hinckley may have been a media master, but members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will most remember his humor and humanity.
Every speaker at the funeral shared at least one funny story.
Tingey described an episode where Hinckley entered a roomful of LDS authorities dressed in their dark suits, white shirts and conservative ties. Hinckley joked, "You all look like a bunch of penguins."
Virginia Pearce, Hinckley's daughter, said her father was "adorable . . . a marvel to watch."
He was "disciplined and courageous, with an unbelievable capacity for work," she said.
In the past four years, Hinckley suffered some of his biggest personal challenges ever, but responded with the same determination that had carried him throughout his life.
After their mother's death in 2004, Hinckley openly shared his grief, which was overwhelming.
"Characteristically, he acknowledged it - felt it, wept and mourned deeply," Pearce said. "He went to the Lord with his tears, thus allowing the loss to carve out an even deeper place in his heart for compassion and dig an even deeper well of faith and trust in God."
Her father also mourned "the loss of his health" after a 2006 diagnosis of cancer that had taken his mother, brother and two of his sisters.
"Knowing that his life was in the hands of the Lord, and feeling the power of the prayers of millions of you," she said, "he said he felt compelled to do his part."
Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, also celebrated Hinckley's can-do attitude.
"His optimism was justified not by confidence in his own powers to work things out, but by his great faith that God's powers were in place. . .and his unwavering faith in Jesus Christ and the power of his atonement."
Even before the 11 a.m. funeral began, many in the waiting crowd quietly wept while watching video on the auditorium's big screens of the funeral processional moving slowly down South Temple.
During the 90-minute funeral, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang four somber hymns, including "My Redeemer Liveth" and "What Is This Thing Called Death" for which Hinckley wrote the lyrics. Many in the audience found themselves staring at the empty red velvet chair their prophet recently occupied.
In what seemed a spontaneous move, as Hinckley's coffin was being wheeled out of the center, mourners pulled out white handkerchiefs and tissues and waved them, bidding their beloved prophet farewell.
Others gathered along the route to Salt Lake City Cemetery, waving hankies or canes in a gesture of affection, while the bells from the City & County Building tolled 97 times, once for each year of his life. Hinckley was buried next to his wife in a private, family ceremony. A bagpipe played the melancholy, "Danny Boy," which he heard first as a young missionary in England.
"I was saying goodbye to a holy man," said Trudy Schenk, 70, of Park City, who was baptized into the LDS Church when she was a 10-year-old girl in Germany. "Not just a holy man for this town, but a holy man who meant well and loved people from all corners of this Earth."
A pack of young missionary women walked out of the center, each one of them with red eyes.
"It's a chance, an opportunity to reflect on one of the greatest people of our time - not only for Salt Lake and Utah but really across the world - and to celebrate his life," said Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker.
Several members of the Interfaith Roundtable, including Baha'i Jan Saeed, United Methodist Bishop Warner Brown, pastors Steven Goodier and Brian and Jennifer Hare-Diggs, and American Indian Forrest Cuch, came to honor Hinckley,
"He was a great man, one of the leaders who wanted to connect all the religions," said Seid Diglisic, president of the Islamic Society of Bosniaks in Utah, who helped translate for Imam Serif Delic. "Everything we know from him is good."
About 80 Mormons gathered in a Boston-area LDS chapel to watch the funeral on a big-screen TV. When they saw the processional moving toward the cemetery, the congregation stood and spontaneously sang, "God Be With You Til We Meet Again."
"I'm certain there wasn't a dry eye in the place," wrote LDS journalist, Ron Scott, "including mine. Especially mine."
JESSICA RAVITZ contributed to this story.