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President Thomas S. Monson remembered for life of service

SALT LAKE CITY — President Thomas S. Monson of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has died at the age of 90.

The LDS Church confirms its 16th prophet was surrounded by friends and family when he passed peacefully Tuesday night. He is being remembered as a man of service, an inspirational story-teller, and a leader of millions.

Born in 1927 to G. Spencer and Gladys Condie Monson, President Thomas S. Monson described himself as not being born on the wrong side of the tracks, but between them. He had two brothers and three families.

President Thomas S. Monson as a 3 or 4-year-old in Driggs, Idaho. Photo: Deseret News Archives

“The Condies and the Monsons were unique, unique families,” son Tom, Jr., said. “The Condies were Scottish and they were rambunctious, gregarious, they were party animals, they were always getting together and having parties. But the Monsons were quiet and more spiritual, both were down to earth, nothing fancy about either one. But Dad sort of inherited the best qualities of the Condies and the best qualities of the Monsons and very few of their flaws or faults.

“He’s very much like the Condies in that he’s gregarious and outgoing and energetic, and he has a good time in almost all that he does,” Tom added. “But he’s a lot like the Monsons also, in that he is creative with the written word and is spiritually attuned in most of what he does.”

A child during the Great Depression, President Monson witnessed poverty, but also saw acts of service that touched him and stayed with him as he grew into adulthood.

“Dad has a special soft spot in his heart for those who are underprivileged or have had difficulties in life,” his son said.

William James Mortimer, the former publisher of the Deseret News, was a life-long friend.

“I think you could probably say he first realized humanitarian responsibilities as a young man,” Mortimer said. “He grew up in a less-affluent part of Salt Lake, and in those early Depression years when he was growing up, his mother would often provide food to homeless transients that were coming on the railroad and other places there. And I know he saw his mother always willing to give a meal or to help or give some work to somebody who was given food, and I think from his mother’s example, he realized the importance of being involved in alleviating the stresses and trials of other people.”

One of the stories President Monson would tell was of his father in those times. This is what he said in his own words:

“My own father, a printer, worked long and hard practically every day of his life. I’m certain that on the Sabbath he would have enjoyed just being at home. Rather, he visited elderly family members and brought cheer into their lives. One was his uncle, who was crippled by arthritis so severe that he could not walk or care for himself. On a Sunday afternoon Dad would say to me, ‘Come along, Tommy; let’s take Uncle Elias for a short drive.’ Boarding the old 1928 Oldsmobile, we would proceed to Eighth West, where, at the home of Uncle Elias, I would wait in the car while Dad went inside. Soon he would emerge from the house, carrying in his arms like a china doll his crippled uncle. I then would open the door and watch how tenderly and with such affection my father would place Uncle Elias in the front seat so he would have a fine view while I occupied the rear seat. The drive was brief and the conversation limited, but oh, what a legacy of love! Father never read to me from the Bible about the good Samaritan. Rather, he took me with him and Uncle Elias in that old 1928 Oldsmobile along the road to Jericho.”

He attended public schools and was an excellent student who became known for having a keen memory. That keen memory also helped him remember and re-tell stories, and as he grew, he gained a love of the written word, especially poetry.

Young Thomas Monson also loved the outdoors. fishing, and raising pigeons, loves he carried with him into his adult life.

“He’s always been a good fisherman, but he learned to be a good fisherman not from his father – who couldn’t catch a fish if he had to,” son Tom, Jr., remembered. “Dad grew up in a multi-family group, or family where several aunts and their children lived there at Vivian Park with his grandfather, and his uncles were the fishermen.”

Jon Huntsman, Sr. remembered one particular trip with the LDS prophet.

“It started to snow in the middle of June and I started to say, President Monson, this is really getting to be a blustery winter day. And then the guide who happened to be the bishop of the LDS ward in Driggs, Idaho turned to me and said, ‘Jon, you should know that our members have been fasting and praying for moisture.’ And President Monson turned to me and said, ‘Now, Jon, don’t you question the power of the Lord. The saints have prayed for moisture and we’re getting it all on the day we came fishing in the middle of June.'”

From his father, President Monson learned the printing business.

“He grew up working for my grandfather part-time in a small printing shop, the Western Hotel Register, that printed menus for restaurants and hotels. And after, afterwards, after college he went to work with Press Robinson for the Deseret News Press and he learned all, about all that anyone can about printing those days, and about binding and he has a real passion for examining type faces and bindings and smelling the leather on bindings, that, he really enjoys that, that’s something that he takes a lot of pleasure in,” Monson, Jr. recalled.

President Thomas S. Monson as a seaman in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Photo: Deseret News Archives

Near the end of World War II, he joined the Naval Reserve and gained a reputation for being industrious and hard working. Like many others, his life was not un-touched by war. President Monson would speak specifically of a childhood friend, Arthur Patton. Here again are his memories in President Monson’s own words:

“In March 1944, with the war now raging, Arthur was transferred from the USS Dorsey, a destroyer, to the USS White Plains, an aircraft carrier. While at Saipan in the South Pacific, the ship was attacked. Arthur was one of those on board who was lost at sea. The blue star was taken from its hallowed spot in the front window of the Patton home. It was replaced by one of gold, indicating that he whom the blue star represented had been killed in battle. A light went out in the life of Mrs. Patton. She groped in utter darkness and deep despair. With a prayer in my heart, I approached the familiar walkway to the Patton home, wondering what words of comfort could come from the lips of a mere boy. The door opened, and Mrs. Patton embraced me as she would her own son. Home became a chapel as a grief-stricken mother and a less-than-adequate boy knelt in prayer. Arising from our knees, Mrs. Patton gazed into my eyes and spoke: ‘Tommy, I belong to no church, but you do. Tell me, will Arthur live again?’ To the best of my ability, I testified to her that Arthur would indeed live again.”

In 1948, Thomas Monson graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in Business and also met and married Frances Beverly Johnson. At various times they would each recall an early visit to Frances’ home.

“The first day I saw Frances, I knew I’d found the right one. The Lord brought us together later, and I asked her to go out with me. I went to her home to call on her. She introduced me, and her father said, ‘Monson – that’s a Swedish name, isn’t it?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Good.'”

Frances Monson also recalled the meeting.

“My father was just thrilled. He said, ‘oh, we knew him.’ He was a missionary in our home in Sweeden and helped convert my mother and father and 12 children so, by that time he was in.”

Photo: Intellectual Reserve, Inc

President Monson says the meeting was warm.

“He kissed me on the cheek. And then her mother cried, and she kissed me on the other cheek. And then I looked around for Frances. She said, ‘I’ll go get my coat.'”

Daughter Ann Monson Dibb spoke of thier marriage and relationship in their home and over decades.

“Thomas Monson wouldn’t be who he is without Frances, and he does acknowledge her and has always been very sweet and supportive of my mother and her needs. So they do work together in a beautiful way.”

Newly married, and only in his early twenties, Thomas Monson soon became Bishop Monson of the Sixth-Seventh ward, with its 85 widows. Maretta VanWeerd was a child in the ward at the time.

“We all knew that he was a great man, uh, in the ward people said when he was made the bishop that someday he would be a general authority.”

Betty Moon, Maretta’s sister-in-law, was also in the ward.

“It was a very poor ward, there was poor people and people getting started, a lot of elderly.”

He reached out, especially to the widows.

“He felt a special need to look after them. Every year at Christmas, he began his own personal tradition of visiting them.”

Professionally, Bishop Monson’s life progressed as well. Mortimer remembered their first meeting.

“And I remember so vividly the first time I met him as he came to Salt Lake with his sales rep in Logan. Here was a unique individual. He was a special person. I sensed that right from the very first time I met him.”

At the age of 32, President Monson was called to preside over the Church’s Canadian Mission. Though his responsibilities continued to take a lot of his time, President Monson always found time for his children, his son Tom, Jr., recalls.

“Every night, shortly before it was time for me to go to bed, he’d invite me into the office and he’d pull out of his drawer a checkerboard and he’d pull out the tray next to his, above the drawers on his desk, put out the checkerboard and we’d play three games of checkers. He’d let me win one then he’d beat me at one and then we’d play give away checkers and either one of us could win that, but he did that almost every night and that, knowing how busy he was, even though I was just 7, 8, 9 years old during those years, knowing how busy he was that meant a lot to me as a kid.”

At the end of their mission, the Monsons returned to Salt Lake and to the Deseret News. But a year after their return, President Monson received a higher calling to serve as an LDS Church Apostle.

Photo courtesy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

As an Apostle, Elder Monson traveled the world. In 1965, he supervised missions in the South Pacific. Elder John H. Groberg of the Seventy remembers President Monson’s recollections of Tonga, as he dedicated the Rexburg Idaho Temple, decades later.

“In his talk he told the people about the experience of the Tongans going to New Zealand and then coming back and then told them that if they were faithful that the day would come that the Lord would inspire the leaders to have a temple in Tonga and President Monson just reminded us of that experience and said they did, and the Lord did, and they have a temple.”

In 1968, he traveled behind the Iron Curtain to minister to church members in the German Democratic Republic. Daughter Ann Monson Dibb remembers it was an emotional experience for him.

“And I remember one time he met a Sister Snedefler and there was no possibility of there ever being a temple. And he visited thieir home and there were just pictures of temples, various temples all over their home. And in his limited language in trying to communicate, with her he’d say, ‘I can see that you love the temple.’ And she said, ‘yes, I love the temple so very much.’ And again he would come home and think, what could we do?”

While in East Germany, he also made a promise to the people.

“I stood at the pulpit and with tear-filled eyes and a voice choked with emotion, I made a promise to the people, if you will remain true and faithful to the commandments of God, every blessing any member of the church enjoys in any other country will be yours.”

On June 29, 1985, the Freiberg temple was dedicated, opening up an opportunity for those in East Germany, and other Communist countries to visit. President Monson made the announcement.

President Monson in Germany. Photo courtesy of Ken Smaellie.

“It will be the focal point in the lives of all our church members in this land. They are extremely eager to come here to the temple to receive their endowments and to be sealed together as families,” he said.

East German leaders took part in the celebration and praised the church and its leaders for their efforts. Then in 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. President Monson placed part of the wall in a time capsule placed in honor of the Sunday School Sesquicentennial.

“And we watched as the darkness of tyranny gave way to the light of the truth. And freedom, the blessed bells of freedom rang a new millennium for the people of that area. And I’d like Brother Nelson to come up here with me. We sat together and received the approval for full-time missionaries to come into what would have been beyond the Berlin Wall. Take a corner Russ, and there it is, freedom forever.”

As an Apostle, Elder Monson became well known for his ability to inspire, for his passion for organization, for service and for his keen memory and meaningful stories. Some of those stories harkened back to his days as a Boy Scout. As an Apostle, Elder Monson served on the Church’s Scout Committee, then on the National and International Committees. In 1982, President Monson honored Founder Baden Powell and the scouting movement.

“Baden Powell did not sail the stormy seas of glory. He didn’t lead a conquering army on a battlefield. He didn’t found an empire of worldly wealth. He was a builder, a builder of boys who taught them well how to run and win the race of life. I think he was motivated by the little verse. Nobody knows what a boy is worth, we’ll have to wait and see. But every man in a noble place, a boy once used to be.”

He also underscored the church’s support of the scouting program and Boy Scouts.

“He subscribes to a motto, be prepared. He lives by a code of conduct, do a good turn daily. Scouting provides proficiency ratings to encourage a boy how to succeed, to hone his skills and develop his talents. Scouting teaches a boy how to live, not merely how to make a living.”

Over decades, President Monson became the longest-serving member of the scouts’ national board. Former Scout Executive Roy Williams Jr. worked closely with him.

“Anything he takes on, he would do more, if he could,” Williams remembered.

In 2013, as the church celebrated 100 years in Scouting, President Monson was honored again. National President Wayne Perry announced a leadership training center in President Monson’s name at the Summit National reserve. President Monson that night spoke to scouts in the audience.

“As you continue to participate in this fine program, our abilities to think, to plan, and to achieve will be heightened. This, along with your personal integrity and spirituality, will help guide you and keep you on the right path as you journey through life. If ever there were a time when the principals of scouting were vitally needed, that time is now.”

President Charles W. Dahlquist, former President of the Church’s Young Men’s organization, worked closely with President Monson in scouting and other areas.

“He can go through a sea of bodies and be able to pick out the one, and to be able to kneel down and to be able to talk to a child or to a young man or a young woman and it makes all the difference not only in their lives but in the lives of those that are with them.”

And many times, it WAS the individual. As a bishop, apostle and church President, he would stop many times at a hospital bedside to visit both those he knew and those he did not know. Some visits took him to Primary Children’s medical center, and some were completely unannounced.

“He’s mentioned some of them by name. He’s become friends with them. He’s held them up as examples of courage and faith many times, telling stories also of love that he’s seen them share with other patients.”

His daughter, Ann Monson Dibb remembers one experience, with a widow at a nursing home.

“The nursing caregiver was a little bit in a grumpy mood and she told him, she said ‘Brother Monson, why do you even bother coming here. She doesn’t know who you are. She can’t remember anything.’ And he went in and he started talking to her. And then she said, ‘I know you, you’re Tommy Monson,’ and then she started talking. And afterward this nurse was very emotional and my father was able to comfort her and assure her. And afterwards he said she was one who needed my visit that day.”

President Monson says he often followed promptings to visit a bedside and would become known to say over many sermons, “Never postpone a prompting… I never cease to be amazed by how the Lord can motivate and direct the length and breadth of His kingdom and yet have time to provide inspiration concerning one individual.”

In November of 1985, the apostle received a new calling.

“It is proposed that we sustain President Ezra Taft Benson as prophet, seer, and revelator and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Gordon B. Hinckley as First Counselor in the First Presidency; and Thomas S. Monson as Second Counselor in the First Presidency.”

He served in that role for nine years, then again as a counselor to President Howard W. Hunter.

Then In March of 1995, he was called and set apart as the First Counselor in the Presidency.

“It’s a privilege for me to be serving with President Gordon B. Hinckley. We have served together in one capacity or another for many, many years. He is a man of enormous talent and one who has the capacity for reaching out and lifting up. He is a man also of great spirituality as well as capability in a realm of areas. I believe that we are poised on the edge of a great new movement of spirituality and expansion of the work of the Lord, under his leadership.”

At the time, he also reached out to those in other faiths.

“I likewise have a great feeling of love and respect for the leaders of other religious faiths in our area and in this marvelous community which headquarters the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

President Monson, President James E. Faust and President Hinckley served in the First Presidency until President Hinckley’s death on Jan. 27, 2008.

A few days later, he was introduced as the LDS Church President.

“Yesterday, Feb. 3, 2008, in the Salt Lake Temple, the Quorum of the 12 Apostles met. And Thomas S. Monson was ordained and set apart as the 16th President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

President Monson called Elders Henry B. Eyring, and Dieter F. Uchtdorf as his counselors, and vowed to continue the work along the path paved by President Hinckley. He did just that, overseeing the construction, completion and dedication of dozens of temples, announcing new temples along the way.

“The building of temples continues uninterrupted, brothers and sisters. Today, it’s my privilege to announce several new temples. First, may I mention that no church-built facility is more important than a temple. Temples are places where relationships are sealed together to last through the eternities. We’re grateful for all the many temples across the world and for the blessing they are in the lives of our members.”

In August of 2010, he dedicated a temple in Kiev, Ukraine. That same year, he dedicated the Gila Valley temple in Arizona, the first temple he had announced shortly after becoming President.

In 2011, he made a significant announcement on the church’s plan for the burned-out tabernacle building in Provo.

“Late last year, the Provo Tabernacle in Utah County was damaged by a terrible fire. This wonderful building, much beloved by generations of Latter-day Saints, was left with only the exterior walls standing. After careful study we’ve decided to rebuild it with full preservation, and restoration of the exterior, to become the second temple of the church in the city of Provo.”

In May of 2012, President Monson dedicated the Kansas City, Missouri temple, continuing a move by the church to build temples in areas key to the church’s history. The church at that time also announced the purchase of thousands of acres of historical property in the area. Dr. Alex Baugh is a Professor of Church History and Doctrine at Brigham Young University.

“To kind of return to our roots, it’s something that is happening in the church. We have a temple in the Palmyra area, we have a temple at Winter Quarters, we have a temple at Nauvoo.”

The availability of temples to church members grew significantly, allowing well more than 80 percent of church members access to a temple within 200 miles. As more temples were announced and dedicated, President Monson encouraged church members to contribute to the general temple assistance patron fund.

“This fund provides a one time visit to the temple for those who otherwise would not be able to go to the temple and yet who long desperately for that opportunity.”

Temples were also built in Brigham City, and in Ogden, the temple that had stood for decades there underwent a major renovation.

But the focus on buildings and construction went beyond temples. In 2012, the City Creek Center, a massive redevelopment of church-owned property downtown, opened to the public. In October of that same year, President Monson made an announcement that stunned attendees and listeners at the Church’s semi-annual general conference.

“For some time, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have allowed young men from certain countries to serve at the age of 18 when they are worthy, able, have graduated from high school, and have expressed a sincere desire to serve. This has been a country-specific policy and has allowed thousands of young men to serve honorable missions and also fulfill required military obligations and educational opportunities.

“Our experience with these 18-year-old missionaries has been positive. Their mission presidents report that they are obedient, faithful, mature, and serve just as competently as do the older missionaries who serve in the same missions. Their faithfulness, obedience, and maturity have caused us to desire the same option of earlier missionary service for all young men, regardless of the country from which they come.

“I am pleased to announce that effective immediately, all worthy and able young men who have graduated from high school or its equivalent, regardless of where they live, will have the option of being recommended for missionary service beginning at the age of 18, instead of age 19. I am not suggesting that all young men will – or should – serve at this earlier age. Rather, based on individual circumstances as well as upon a determination by priesthood leaders, this option is now available.

“As we have prayerfully pondered the age at which young men may begin their missionary service, we have also given consideration to the age at which a young woman might serve. Today I am pleased to announce that able, worthy young women who have the desire to serve may be recommended for missionary service beginning at age 19, instead of age 21.”

Later that day, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles, addressed the changes during a news conference.

“In the vernacular of the day, this announcement, I say to these young people, isn’t about you. It is about the sweet and pure message you are being asked to bear and the ever greater numbers God needs to bear it.”

Elder Holland said the change in age also meant a need for greater preparation on behalf of the missionaries, saying the church wanted missionaries ready to teach the day they begin.

“We ask parents to take a strong hand in this preparation and not expect that it is somehow the responsibility of local church leaders or the missionary department of the church or MTCs to provide.”

The announcement sent a rush of new, younger missionaries into the field by the thousands.

“To have it just change all of the sudden, changed everything. Like the initial shock was like really powerful, but I knew like right away that I was going to do it. It’s just so crazy, like just an amazing change.”

Applications for missionary service doubled. The church announced plans to expand the MTC in Provo, new missions were added, and the numbers of missionaries swelled.

As membership in the church grew, missionaries and others moved into new methods to spread its message – including social media and websites. During President Monson’s time as President, the church was not without controversy, facing criticism and protest for its support of California’s Prop 8 and Utah’s Amendment 3 – and the church’s stand on marriage and family.

In May 2013, Frances Monson, President Monson’s wife died, at age 85. She had been in the hospital for several weeks. At her funeral, she was remembered for her service and her love and devotion to the church and to President Monson.

“My mother’s motivation to be good, and perform good works stemmed from her deep and abiding love for others. We will miss her for her personality of love and compassion that lifted others and brought sunshine to the cloudiest of days. We will miss her friendship, her gorgeous smile, and her kind spirit.”

Months later, during the conference that marked President Monson’s 50th year since becoming an apostle, he spoke of his wife, Frances.

“Her loss has been profound. She and I were married in the Salt Lake Temple on October 7, 1948. Tomorrow would have been our 65th wedding anniversary. She was the love of my life, my trusted confidant, and my closest friend. To say that I miss her does not begin to convey the depth of my feelings. This conference marks 50 years since I was called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles by President David O. McKay. Through all these years I have felt nothing but the full and complete support of my sweet companion. Countless are the sacrifices she made so that I could fulfill my calling. Never did I hear a word of complaint from her as I was often required to spend days and sometimes weeks away from her and from our children. She was an angel, indeed.”

He went on to speak of an anticipated reunion.

“Of utmost comfort to me during this tender time of parting have been my testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the knowledge I have that my dear Frances lives still. I know that our separation is temporary. We were sealed in the house of God by one having authority to bind on earth and in heaven. I know that we will be reunited one day and will never again be separated. This is the knowledge that sustains me.”

President Monson told the conference, whether in the best of times or the worst of times, God is with them.

“This should be our purpose – to persevere and endure, yes, but also to become more spiritually refined as we make our way through sunshine and sorrow. Were it not for challenges to overcome and problems to solve, we would remain much as we are, with little or no progress toward our goal of eternal life. The poet expressed much the same thought in these words: Good timber does not grow with ease, The stronger wind, the stronger trees. The further sky, the greater length. The more the storm, the more the strength. By sun and cold, by rain and snow, In trees and men good timbers grow.”

It was a message he carried to large and small congregations, to families and to individuals, throughout his life.