SALT LAKE CITY — A submarine chaser in the Navy during World War II, Elder Marion D. Hanks risked his life to fly into hot combat zones during the Vietnam War to minister to LDS soldiers.
When a few of the first letters he wrote back to the families of soldiers didn't arrive until after the soldiers were killed in action, Elder Hanks took to staying up late into the night dictating the letters. Each morning, he put the tapes on a plane back to Utah, where his secretary would immediately type and send the letters.
"I can tell you by experience in my own family that a letter from a General Authority who has recently visited your 'loved one' in the field in Vietnam is a morale-builder," Army Col. Russell Meacham said in the book Saints at War about the letter sent by Elder Hanks to Meacham's family.
Elder Hanks, who served for nearly 40 years as a General Authority of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, died Friday in Salt Lake City, a week after suffering a stroke, surrounded by family members who recalled his remarkable capacity for ministering to the one.
"His intellect was just incredible, enormous, but his ability to touch the individual person in a personal way was his greatest legacy," his son Richard D. Hanks said Friday night. "The person before him always had his full devotion."
A mentor to apostles, a teacher and an athlete, Elder Hanks was the oldest living member of the Quorum of the Seventy nearly 60 years after joining what then was the First Council of the Seventy on Oct. 4, 1953, at the tender age of 31, one of the youngest men called to serve as a General Authority in the latter half of the 20th Century.
"The church lost a valued and respected leader, educator and friend with the passing of Elder Marion D. Hanks," the church's First Presidency said in a statement released late Friday afternoon. "He was an admired leader who served in numerous church callings, including the Presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy and as an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. We extend our sincere condolences to his wife, Maxine, and their family."
In the early 1960s, Elder Hanks served as president of the British Mission. Among the missionaries he mentored were Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and Elder Quentin L. Cook, now both members of the church's Quorum of the Twelve.
"President Hanks had a profound influence on my life," Elder Holland once said, "as he did upon all the missionaries."
"Elder Hanks was the most incredible teacher and learner that I have ever known," said Richard G. Whitehead, who also served as a missionary under Elder Hanks.
"I don't know of anyone who has had an influence on me — or believes in youth — like this man," said Whitehead, now vice president of Institutional Advancement at Southern Virginia University. "He just had the capacity to instill in everyone the desire to do their best."
Whitehead recalled that Elder Hanks encouraged the missionaries to memorize worthwhile writings that could help shape their lives. "Thankfully, I did," Whitehead said Friday, recalling this quote from Samuel Johnson:
"The fountain of content must spring up in the mind, and he who hath so little knowledge of human nature as to seek happiness by changing anything but his own disposition, will waste his life in fruitless efforts and multiply the grief he proposes to remove."
Elder Hanks also served as an assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve from 1968 to 1976 and twice served in the presidency of the Seventy — from 1976 to 1980, and from 1984 until he was given emeritus status on Oct. 3, 1992.
Elder Hanks had been the oldest living member of the First Quorum of Seventy and the second-oldest General Authority. Former church patriarch Eldred G. Smith, also an emeritus General Authority, is 104.
Born in Salt Lake City on Oct. 13, 1921, Elder Hanks was a son of Stanley Alonzo and Maude Frame Hanks. His father was a prominent municipal judge who died when Elder Hanks was 2. His widowed mother reared six of the seven children to maturity. Elder Hanks was the youngest.
Elder Hanks returned from World War II to earn a law degree at the University of Utah. He and his wife, the former Maxine Christensen, are the parents of five children.
An author and compelling speaker, he also wrote the lyrics to one of the church's hymns, "That Easter Morn," was honored with the Silver Buffalo Award by the Boy Scouts of America and served as president of the Salt Lake Temple from 1982-85.
Asked in 1993 by Dennis Lythgoe of the Deseret News what he thought his epitaph could read, Elder Hanks was hesitant to answer but offered a few possibilities:
"A teacher affects eternity. (It's definitely the most fun I've ever had.)"
"We live on in the lives we have influenced for good."
"Through Christ he early caught a glimpse of what man might be. His generous investment as a teacher produced rich dividends in the lives of others."
"I know that thou canst do everything, and that no thought can be withholden from thee ... but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." — Job 42:1-6.
"I would have ended my last general conference address with Job but didn't have the time. I think these verses mean that Job sees that what he did pales beside that of the Savior. If I had anything on my epitaph, I would be happy with these verses from Job."
Funeral services are being planned for Aug. 13.
After receiving emeritus status, Elder Hanks became chairman of the Ouelessebougou Mali-Utah alliance group, which has supported a program of community service for a consortium of villages in Mali, West Africa.
In addition, he chaired the International Enterprise Development Foundation, which assists people in the Philippines and Third World countries in establishing small-business and other economic improvement efforts.
In April 1993, he received an honorary doctorate of Christian service as the main speaker at BYU's graduation.
Elder Hanks had also continued as a public speaker in his later years. For example, in 2002, he gave a talk titled, "I Do Not Do My Work in the Spirit of Benefaction but of Atonement" (a quotation from Albert Schweitzer), at Utah Valley State College in Orem.
He received BYU's David M. Kennedy Public Service Award in 1995. When he received that award, Ray Hillam, Kennedy Center associate and emeritus BYU faculty member. said, "The career of Marion D. Hanks has been a career of service. We cannot recognize all of his accomplishments. They are legion. However, the center wishes to honor Marion D. Hanks for his service in two specific areas: refugee work and rural and free enterprise development."
LDS-oriented Southern Virginia University in Buena Vista has also honored Elder Hanks with its Leader-Servant Award.
Elder Hanks was executive director of the Priesthood Department at the time he received emeritus status. He had also been executive director of the Correlation Department and chairman of the Communications Coding Committee.
As a youth, he won the Utah State Marble Championship, attended West High School and was offered a basketball scholarship to the University of Utah, but declined to serve a church mission.
His mission to the Northern States was cut short by World War II. He served in the Navy where he was group leader of 600 LDS servicemen.
On another assignment, while on an extended tour through the South Pacific, he was the only LDS member aboard a submarine chaser. Appointed acting chaplain by the ship's captain, he conducted weekly services, attracting many of the crew. He achieved the rank of first class petty officer.
He received a law degree from the University of Utah. in 1948. While at the university, he was active in Delta Phi, the returned missionaries' social fraternity. He later was an adviser to this group.
He never practiced law, but worked for the church's seminary and institute system until becoming a general authority.
As a general authority, he served for a number of years as military relations representative of the church.
His service in the Navy is credited with his introduction to his wife-to-be, Maxine Christensen, who was living in Hawaii with her parents at the time. Their four-year courtship led to marriage in the Hawaii Temple on Aug. 27, 1949. They were the parents of four daughters and a son.
After returning from the service, Elder Hanks continued his schooling and entered the teaching profession, becoming a principal and teacher of the seminary at West High. He was also an instructor at the Institute of Religion at the University of Utah.
He held these positions at the time of his call to the First Council of the Seventy. He remained as an institute teacher until 1970.
"I grew up participating in all kinds of sports, partly because of the example of my brother, who was an outstanding athlete, and partly because it was born in us, I guess," Elder Hanks said in a 1984 Church News interview. He was a member of the 19th Ward basketball team that won the all-Church championship in 1947.
Elder Hanks also earned his Master M-Man award and during June conferences of the MIA performed a number of special services for the MIA general boards.
For a number of years at the Mission Home, Elder Hanks taught classes in the Book of Mormon and conducted a "difficult" questions class.
He was a popular fireside speaker at the time of his call as a general authority and was noted for his attention-holding style of speech and for his rapport with audiences, especially young people.
Elder Hanks was active in numerous civic programs and was especially active in Scouting. He formerly served on Scouting's National Executive Board and International Committee and also was a member of the National Advisory Board. In 1988, he received the Silver Buffalo, the highest honor of the Boy Scouts of America, for nationwide service to youth.
He also was chairman of the Deseret Gym board and in February 1995 spoke at the gym's 85th anniversary open house.
Elder Hanks and his wife also founded the Hanks Foundation, a Salt Lake humanitarian group.
CONTRIBUTING: Tom Hatch, Rick Hall