Memories of President Monson

President Monson has died.  I hope he and his dear wife, Frances Monson (d. 2013), are celebrating a joyful reunion this morning.


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Our dear prophet spent more than 60 years of his life devoted to the Church, serving as a Bishop in his 20s, a Mission President in his 30s, and then as an apostle since the age of 36.  He strived to follow Christ, preaching the gospel through his words and actions.  He proclaimed peace, cared for the widows, and loved the children.

My first childhood memory of General Conference is of President Monson. I was three years old.  My family was sitting in a back pew of the local chapel, watching General Conference by satellite.  I was bored — alternatively scribbling on paper and flipping through the hymnbook trying to read the complex music (my sister had just started teaching me piano lessons).

Then suddenly, someone was speaking who I could understand.  He told stories.  And his opening story was about the fall of the Berlin Wall — an event my mother had been obsessively following on CNN all year.   (I did not understand, at the time, that President Monson, as an Apostle, had been instrumental in opening Eastern Europe to missionaries, and in obtaining permission to build the Freiburg, Germany Temple behind the Iron Curtain).

For years afterwards, my parents had no trouble shepherding me to General Conference, so long as they promised more stories from President Monson.  My favorite was “The Way of the Master” (1996) when he recited the story of the Good Samaritan, then compared it to an old Reader’s Digest story of a little boy befriending “Information, Please” — a directory assistance telephone operator.

He never lost his knack for entertaining children with stories.  Just a few years ago, I watched as the youth of my ward chattered for months about President Monson admitting that he, as a naive and mischievous boy, once accidentally set an entire mountain on fire.  “Obedience Brings Blessings” (2013).

I have mourned with the Church as President Monson’s health has declined.  In January 2008, almost exactly 10 years ago, I attended a regional broadcast where President Monson spoke — and he seemed unable to string complete sentences together.  I was desperately worried about him, watching my hero stumble.  That night, I learned that as President Monson was speaking, President Hinckley was dying — he passed away just a few hours later.  President Monson had known his best friend was dying, and known that the mantle was about to fall upon his shoulders, but had chosen to minister to the saints anyway.

A week later, when the Church sustained him as our Prophet, he appeared reinvigorated.  I hoped for a lengthy tenure — and a decade certainly qualifies.  But in recent years, Frances’s death and old age slowly but clearly began to take their toll.

I hope today our dear Tommy Monson has found his settled rest and been welcomed like a child at home.

I imagine him echoing the words of Enos:

“And I soon go to the place of my rest, which is with my Redeemer; for I know that in him I shall rest.  And I rejoice in the day when my mortal shall put on immortality, and shall stand before him; then shall I see his face with pleasure, and he will say unto me: Come unto me, ye blessed, there is a place prepared for you in the mansions of my Father. Amen.”  (Enos 1:27)




  1. Kevin Barney says:

    I only actually saw him in person once, many years ago. It was some sort of a regional meeting in northern Illinois; I forget the context, and even the exact location (I’m thinking maybe Naperville). My first impresseion was what a big man he was; very tall, towering over most of the men there. My second was how gregarious he was, smiling and talking easily with anyone and everyone who approached him, and let’s face it a lot of people wanted to talk to him. I’m glad he has finally been released from the bonds of this mortality.

    As a small tribute here’s a post about a talk my wife gave that was an adaptation of one of his sermons:

  2. I had not heard the news. What a loss for us, what a blessing for him. I know he was quite ill these last few years and having diabetes myself, I know how tiring and debilitating that disease can be on the body. God truly blessed this wonderful man and we are lessened for his loss.

  3. My memories of President Monson are of his frequent visits to Toronto as a former mission president. On one such visit in 2000 he spent some time reminiscing. Then he spoke of his first assignment to visit the Saints in East Germany during the early years of the Cold War. (I have LDS family in the former East Germany so this interested me.)

    He said that at the time the church was told by the U.S. government that they could not guarantee his safety and that if anything went wrong that they would not be able to get him out. He asked his wife to accompany him and she only half-jokingly replied, “We have three children. Somebody has to raise them.”

    Of course he went ahead with his trip. He told us of the many war widows he met there. He always had compassion for the widows and the fatherless. He made many more trips to the DDR. President Monson is remembered for his compassion and deservedly so. But not many people know how brave he was.

  4. Kristin Wardle says:

    I remember thinking the same thoughts about President Monson, watching a regional broadcast while on vacation in Miami, January 2008. It truly was as if you could see that heavy mantle shifting to his shoulders.

  5. My first memory to do with Pres Monson was in either August or September of 2013. Sister Sill, a senior missionary assigned to work with young people in my particular area, was explaining about Apostles and Seventies, pointing to a big A3 sheet of all their mugshots. She pointed to Thomas S Monson and said that this is the prophet today, like Joseph Smith Jr who I’d already learned a bit about. I just smiled and nodded but I was thinking, “Well, he doesn’t look like a prophet.”

  6. He will be missed. There is a Myers-Briggs-like test that sorts out how one reflexively frames leadership challenges (Boleman and Deal). Of course agile leaders can function in many frames, but usually people have a reflexive “style” that speaks to their strengths. The four leadership frames are: 1. symbolic leaders 2. socializers, 3. politicians/strategists, and 4. engineers/functionalists. Most people fall into the socializer or engineer/functionalist category, and only a tiny proportion of leaders are naturally symbolic leaders. These people lead through art, storytelling, and symbolic gestures. Nelson Mandela’s soccer game is an example of symbolic leadership. Abraham Lincoln and Ancient King David were also strong symbolic leaders. I always felt that President Monson was one of the few naturally symbolic leaders. When people talk about how President Monson affected them, they almost always cite his beautiful stories, his poetry, and his example working with either widows or scouts. He was a story-teller Prophet. I point out that while President Hinckley also had a knack for his unique type of haiku-like poetry, he thrived as an engineer leader, a builder, the organizer of the temple building phase and many years of practical administrative work. President Monson was also a capable administrator, but I always felt his true power came through his style if inspired poetry and language. People sometimes joke that he used passive voice in telling stories,”presents were brought, tears were spent…” but unlike most other GA’s homilies, his stories taught us with an artistic flare.

  7. Twenty-some years ago I saw a different side of President Monson and learned a lesson about leaders and leadership. I attended a regional priesthood leadership meeting at the Provo Tabernacle, where President Monson was the concluding speaker. He spoke for a long time, at least as long as the other speakers combined. I don’t think there were any heartwarming stories. In fact, I don’t remember any stories at all. What I do remember is how different his manner was from his style in general conference. He spoke without a script. There were no cameras. The tempo of his speech was faster and more focused, like a person in an intense conversation. He was more fluent and, in a sober way, more expressive than I had ever heard him before. It was clear that this was not an aberration; this was Thomas Monson in all-business mode. He spoke about what it means to be committed to our callings and to fulfill our responsibilities. He spoke about being organized. He was deadly serious about all of it.

    We are unwise to set general authorities on a pedestal. They are fallible people, just like the rest of us. However, most of them are also unusually accomplished. They have many abilities that we seldom glimpse. I am glad that I got to see this other side of President Monson. Even in a private room full of driven and competitive personalities, he must have been a commanding presence.

  8. My only experience of being in the same place as President Monson was about 30 years ago when I was with a group of friends at Lagoon and he was there with some children and grandchildren. I had no idea what a large man he was. My group was standing in line for one of the rides, and he and his family was standing in another line, which had snaked around at least once. A young child, almost certainly a grandchild. came up to the outside of the line, and President Monson reached across the people in the line next to him and picked up the kid, lifting the kid over the heads of those people. What impressed me most was probably that he did it nearly effortlessly, in a single, smooth motion. I didn’t imagine that this man would be so physically strong.

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    Here’s another post some of you may enjoy:

  10. Kevin Barney says:

    There was just a story about this on the national NBC Evening News.

  11. I have no personal experiences with him, but my oldest is 9 so for all three of my kids, he is the only prophet they have known.
    Prayer time last night was it’s usual chaos. Getting my kids to stop being silly and kneel up is like herding cats and it doesn’t help that the 4 year old yells and runs around the whole time. I said the prayer and stuck to my super short standard of 1 thanks and 1 blessing and moving on to bedtime. This time, the one thing I prayed for was that President Monson would have comfort in his old age. It was out of the ordinary, even surprising me, and the kids noticed so we chatted for a minute about how President Monson was getting old.
    We never imagined he would actually pass away shortly after that prayer. It has been neat to be able to talk to my kids about him dying peacefully and with the power of the millions of prayers for comfort and strength that other saints around the world have also been praying.
    In life, and now death, he really had a way of making me feel like we were all neighbors and all connected.

  12. “Information, please” was the first talk of his that I remember. I got such a kick out of it!

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