The phone rang at 7:45 a.m. on the Monday morning after the 2002 Winter Olympics ended in an explosion of fireworks. A groggy Bonnie and Jim Parkin were still in bed.

On the line was the secretary to LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley, who was already hard at work. Could they meet the 91-year-old leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints later that morning?

Jim Parkin hung up, turned to his wife and said, "This call is about you, not me."

At 11 a.m., the Parkins were ushered into Hinckley's spacious downtown office, where the man who is considered by Mormons to be a "prophet, seer and revelator" quietly asked Bonnie Parkin to take the helm of the church's Relief Society, a women's organization of 4.9 million members.

With her acceptance, Parkin gave up the life of a Salt Lake City physician's wife, whose days were filled with gardening and grandchildren, tennis and lunches, cleaning and canning, to become a kind of jet-setting global CEO -- without pay.

Parkin is now the most powerful woman in the LDS Church (with the possible exception of Hinckley's wife, Marjorie).

But that isn't how she sees the job.

Her assignment? Merely to create a "global sisterhood" among Mormon women in every culture and circumstance.

A tall task, especially for a woman who has lived the bulk of her life in the Salt Lake Valley. Parkin was born in Murray and grew up on a farm in Herriman. She earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education and early childhood development from Utah State University. She married Jim Parkin in 1963 and later the Parkins moved to Seattle for Jim's medical residency at the University of Washington.

Returned to Utah, Bonnie Parkin raised four sons while being a PTA president and volunteering on school community councils, and for reading and tutoring programs. Her numerous ward and general church positions included the Young Women general presidency and membership on the Relief Society general board.

When Jim Parkin retired as an ear, nose and throat surgeon, he was called to serve for three years as president of the LDS England London South Mission. During the first 11 days of the assignment, Bonnie Parkin contracted a virus and lost all hearing in her right ear. It didn't slow her down.

Still, Parkin believes her experiences are universal enough to connect with Mormon women everywhere.

After all, she says, she has been single, in the workforce, had children and now grandchildren. She has seen the terrible twos and troubled teens. She has nursed a mother after a stroke and a father with cancer. She has sent sons on missions to foreign lands and welcomed daughters-in-law into her embrace. She has known farm life and school life and city life and non-American life. She has seen close-up the effects of alcohol, disbelief, illness and disappointment.

Parkin also has tasted repentance and forgiveness.

Now she and her husband have changed roles -- he does much of the laundry, vacuuming and doesn't hesitate to pick up a roasted chicken for dinner, while her day is filled with faxes, files and itineraries.

"I know what it means to have a husband gone for many hours a week, days on end. I know how it feels to be alone with young children with no one to talk to," Parkin told The Salt Lake Tribune this week. "And I have crooked teeth because my family didn't have enough money for braces."

She was born with a "believing heart," Parkin says, that was fostered in a small Herriman ward by women teachers and leaders.

When she was 10 years old, Parkin's mother was hospitalized in Salt Lake City for three months. She remembers the family on its knees, begging God for healing.

"That had not always been done in our home," she recalls. "But my father needed a mother for his children and a wife for himself."

It was a "tender time," she recalls, "a gift from God."

What will weave the different strands of Mormon women together is not culture or circumstance, she says, but their common devotion to Jesus Christ.

It helps that Parkin chose two longtime friends to serve as her counselors.

Kathleen Hughes, first counselor, had a career in education for 14 years. After earning a bachelor's degree in English and a master's degree in special education, she worked as personnel director, assistant superintendent and director of special education for the Provo School District.

One of Hughes' favorite authors is the sorrowful English novelist Thomas Hardy, whose works are filled with tragic characters and circumstances.

As a young girl, Hughes was mesmerized by this scripture: "Are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend on the same being, even God, for the substance that we have?"

She has never forgotten, Hughes says, the feeling that "you can never pay the Lord back."

Anne Pingree, second counselor, and her husband, George Pingree, have lived in several states and countries, including three years in Nigeria. It was as a newlywed in France that Pingree faced one of her greatest challenges -- her mother died of cancer.

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