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Marion D. Hanks, longtime Mormon leader, dies

Published August 15, 2011 6:28 pm

Marion D. Hanks • Longtime Mormon leader helped lead the way with humanitarian outreach.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In the early 1980s, LDS general authority Marion Duff Hanks, who died Friday, was assigned to oversee Mormon missionaries in Southeast Asia.

During visits to Vietnam, he saw refugee camps awash with disease, distress and death. He convinced LDS leaders that doing Christian service would be as important for the church as proselytizing.

After gaining approval, Hanks then handpicked a few of his missionaries and trained them in Hong Kong to work in various camps. They taught English and basic hygiene, offering any humanitarian aid, but Hanks expressly forbade them from preaching the Mormon faith.

"He taught us that we should work with no strings attached," recalled Maryan Shumway, one of those chosen to work with Filipino refugees, "that we should just do work because it needed to be done."

Hanks, whose life and sermons exemplified selfless acts that went well beyond the Mormon faithful, died of conditions incident to age. He was 89. (Funeral services are pending for Aug. 13.)

Hanks was a "sweet companion to those who suffered," Brigham Young University professor Warner Woodworth wrote in an email. "The world has Albert Schweitzer. The [LDS] Church has Elder Hanks."

With Hanks' passing, the Utah-based faith "lost a valued and respected leader, educator and friend," the LDS First Presidency said in a statement. "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."

Hanks was one of the longest-serving LDS general authorities, tapped in 1953 as a Seventy at age 31, and was not released from full-time church service until 1992, when he was 70.

"Dad was one of a kind," Hanks' son, Richard D. Hanks, said Friday. "His life was dedicated to two things: other people and God."

During his 40 years of service to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Hanks became known for his winning ways as a speaker and teacher, especially with Mormon teens.

He could quote Shakespeare and popular television shows, the Scriptures and the newspaper, ancient history and contemporary issues. Hanks' speeches were eloquent but seemed effortless.

"He has the soul of a poet-philosopher," his lifelong friend, the late Coy Miles told The Salt Lake Tribune in 1993 at the time of Hanks' retirement. "He may have been the poet-soul of the general authorities."

Duff — as he was known to his friends — grew up on Salt Lake City's west side, the youngest of seven children. He was reared by his mother after his father died when Duff was 2.

It was a time when the church was at the center of LDS kids' lives — young Mormons had the chance to dance, to sing, to perform in plays, to debate and to play sports.

Duff always was a good athlete, winning championships in grade-school marbles and at an all-church basketball tournament. After his mission near Chicago, Hanks joined the Navy and went to Hawaii, where he met Maxine Christensen.

Maxine "could literally have had her pick of the entire U.S. Army, Navy and Air Corps," Miles said. But she set her sights on the dashing Duff Hanks.

The pair dated through college at the University of Utah, but Hanks felt he was in no position to marry because he was supporting his widowed mother. So he pursued a law degree at the U., even though he had no intention of practicing law.

Instead of becoming an attorney, Hanks began teaching seminary at West High and was an instructor at the U.'s LDS Institute of Religion. Hanks finally married his sweetheart in 1949 in the Hawaiian LDS Temple. The couple went on to have five children, four of them daughters.

Four years later, he became an LDS general authority.

In the early 1950s, he took black visitors into his home after no hotels in Salt Lake City would receive them, said the late Eugene England, who was one of his students at the U. His children say he even gave away several family TV sets to people who needed them.

Hanks served the nation on the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports from 1968 to 1980. A Sports Illustrated story commended him for "connecting mental, moral and spiritual fitness to physical fitness."

From 1962 to 1964, Hanks was the president of the British Mission, where two future LDS apostles, Jeffrey R. Holland and Quentin L. Cook, were among his missionaries. He urged them to study the country, to know its history and to love its people completely.

When he retired in 1993, Hanks clearly didn't just play golf. Instead, his civic responsibilities multiplied. He was chairman of the board of Enterprise Mentors in the Philippines, where he always led "meetings with great humor and insight," BYU's Woodworth recalled. He also was a member of the Ouelessebougou Alliance board working in Mali.

"He mentored me, loved me and supported our poverty-fighting projects around the globe," Woodworth said. "Duff was so wise, so kind, so humble."

Among Hanks' lasting legacies, Woodworth believes, is his suggestion to help the poor without proselytizing. Now Mormon missionaries are required to do weekly humanitarian service.

LDS history might well say it began with one Salt Lake City-born teacher — Duff Hanks.

pstack@sltrib.com