President Thomas S. Monson: In the Footsteps of the Master

“President Thomas S. Monson: In the Footsteps of the Master,” Liahona, June 2008, 2–16

President Thomas S. Monson

In the Footsteps of the Master

President Thomas S. Monson

Over the course of his many callings in the Church, President Thomas S. Monson has moved from office to office, location to location. With every move he has carefully taken with him a particular painting. He has had it since he was a bishop in the 1950s. He took it with him when he presided over the Canadian Mission, headquartered in Toronto. It now hangs in the office he occupies as President of the Church. The painting is a striking image of the Lord Jesus Christ by famed artist Heinrich Hofmann.

The painting is more than a decoration for the office wall. It is more than a reminder of who is the “chief corner stone” (Ephesians 2:20) of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is more than a declaration that the man called to be President of the Church is expected to be chief among the living witnesses of the Savior. The painting represents an ideal—the Master after whom Thomas Monson has modeled his life. “I love that painting,” President Monson said as he gazed at it yet again. “I feel strength in having it near me. Look at the kindness in those eyes. Look at the warmth of expression. When facing difficult situations, I often look at it and ask myself, ‘What would He do?’ Then I have tried to respond accordingly.”

That loyalty to the Lord, that constant reference to the Master’s example, that determination to walk the path marked by the Savior—these are the principal characteristics of Thomas S. Monson’s life and leadership. Many of the stories about his discipleship are well-known. This is the lad who gave up a treasured toy because he thought another boy needed it more and gave away his two pet rabbits so that a friend’s family could have Christmas dinner. This is the young bishop who took great care to minister to 84 widows in his ward—and kept them in his heart for decades. This is the General Authority who was attentive enough to the whisperings of the Holy Ghost to know when a meeting schedule should be interrupted to minister to a child.

Those who know him well understand that he has not done these things simply because his parents expected him to do so or because the widows were the responsibility of a bishop or because it was his role as an Apostle. He has given this kind of selfless service because that is who he is. Thomas S. Monson does those things because they are what his Savior would have done.

In short, President Monson is a true disciple of that “Jesus of Nazareth … who went about doing good” (Acts 10:38), a scripture President Monson often quotes. His responsibilities include a volume of administrative decision making and paperwork that would be staggering to most men. But that volume has never made him lose his focus on those whom his Exemplar would serve. His life has been one extended sequence of reaching out to the one, of encouraging the disadvantaged, of remembering those whom it is easy to forget. Perhaps no one in the leadership of the Church in recent years has so honored the divine injunction to “succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees” (D&C 81:5).

The Beginning

To know the man Thomas Spencer Monson has become, it is important to know his roots and the environment that nurtured him.

He was born on August 21, 1927, the first son and second child of G. Spencer and Gladys Condie Monson. On his father’s side, he is of Swedish and English ancestry, and on his mother’s side, Scottish. His great-grandfather was Mons Okeson, and so, according to the pattern of Swedish surnames, his grandfather was Nels Monson. Beginning with his father, the family surname followed the common American pattern, remaining as Monson. President Monson bears the given names of his maternal grandfather, Thomas Sharp Condie, and his father, Spencer Monson.

President Monson grew up on the west side of Salt Lake City in an area not known for affluent or influential families, but he was surrounded there by charitable, hard-working men and women, particularly in his own home. His family lived not far from the railroad tracks, and their home was familiar to many of the transients who traveled the rails during the Great Depression of the 1930s. When these travelers—some only young men in their teens—knocked at the Monson back door, the family knew that Gladys Monson would invite them to sit at the kitchen table while she prepared a sandwich and poured a glass of milk to go with it. At other times it was young Tommy’s task to carry plates of hot food prepared by his mother to a lonely neighbor, “Old Bob,” who lived in a house provided for him by Tom’s grandfather. The Monson neighborhood was filled with such recipients of Christian charity.

Often on Sunday afternoons young Tom accompanied his father as he picked up Uncle Elias to take him for a ride around the city. President Monson remembers that his father would tenderly carry his frail uncle, crippled by arthritis, to the car and place the older man in the front seat, where he would be able to enjoy the best view. “The drive was brief and the conversation limited, but oh, what a legacy of love!” President Monson recalls. “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 and provided a living lesson I have always remembered.”

Memorable too was the fatherly example of hard work. G. Spencer Monson was known to finish every task he started and to do the job right. He was manager of a printing company, and at an early age, young Tom began learning the business. Printing management would become his career. Following graduation (with honors) in 1948 from the University of Utah with a degree in business management, he became an advertising executive for the Church-owned Deseret News daily newspaper. (A firm believer in lifelong learning, he would later earn a master’s degree in business administration—while serving in the Quorum of the Twelve!) He worked in the newspaper and printing industry for 11 years, until he was called in 1959 to preside over the Canadian Mission. After his service as mission president, he returned to a position as general manager of the newspaper company’s Deseret Press. During his career he gave exactly the same care and attention to his printing tasks that he had seen his father demonstrate years before.

Boyhood in a Close Family

Pictures of young Tommy show a handsome lad with a lively, engaging expression and an occasional twinkle of impishness in his eye. He would be the first to admit that he was a typical boy. He relates this story about an experience in Primary:

“During my Trekker year [a class for 10-year-olds], I remember that our deportment in Primary was not always as it should be. I had a lot of energy and found it difficult to sit patiently in a class. Melissa Georgell was our ward Primary president. One day she asked me if I would visit with her. We sat on the front row of the benches in the chapel, and she began to cry. She then told me that she was sad because the boys in particular did not behave during Primary opening exercises. Innocently, I asked, ‘May I help, Sister Georgell?’

“With a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye, she responded, ‘Would you?’

“I told her I would. The Primary’s disciplinary problems ceased that moment,” he laughs.

At 500 South and 200 West in Salt Lake City, Thomas Condie had built four houses for his daughters and their families. In “Condie’s Terrace,” as the area became known, Tommy Monson was always surrounded by family, feeling free to visit in any of his cousins’ homes almost as though they were his own. He enjoyed visits to the Condie family farm out in Granger, an area of the Salt Lake Valley that was rural then but is now covered by subdivisions and shopping areas. Until his mid-teens, when summer jobs began to take priority, he dearly loved spending time at the family cabin in Provo Canyon’s Vivian Park, about 60 miles (95 km) from home. There he played with cousins in the outdoors, swam in the river (once saving the life of a young woman who was drowning), and it was there he learned to love fishing, a pastime he has enjoyed all his life.

He also learned to enjoy hunting ducks and other game birds, but over time nurturing and protecting birds would become much more the norm for him. As a boy he had been fascinated by pigeons and began to raise them at home. Eventually he would raise prize-winning birds. In fact, his pigeons were the key to some lasting lessons in leadership.

For example, when young Tom Monson was president of the teachers quorum in his ward, he was thrilled when the quorum adviser inquired about his interest in raising birds. The adviser then asked, “How would you like me to give you a pair of purebred Birmingham Roller pigeons?” The female of the pair was special, the adviser explained; she had only one eye, the other eye having been damaged by a cat. On his adviser’s instructions, he kept them in his own pigeon loft for about 10 days, then let them fly free to see if they would return. The male came back, but the female flew away—back to the adviser’s home. When Tom went to retrieve her, the adviser talked with him about a boy in the quorum who was not active. Tom replied, “I’ll have him at quorum meeting this week.” He took the pigeon home, but the next time he released the pair, she flew once again to the adviser’s home. When Tom retrieved the pigeon this time, the adviser talked about another boy who had not been coming to quorum meetings. Each time the pigeon was released, she returned to the adviser’s home, and each time Tom went to retrieve her, there would be a conversation about another boy.

“I was a grown man,” President Monson recalls, “before I fully realized that, indeed, Harold, my adviser, had given me a special pigeon, the only bird in his loft he knew would return every time she was released. It was his inspired way of having an ideal personal priesthood interview with the teachers quorum president every two weeks. Because of those interviews and that old one-eyed pigeon, every boy in that teachers quorum became active.”

Coming to Manhood

By his mid-teens, World War II was an inevitable part of the future for young men his age. Tom graduated from high school and enrolled at the University of Utah. As he approached his 18th birthday, it seemed certain he would be drafted into military service, so he chose to enlist in the United States Navy. A decision he made on enlistment had a profound effect on his future: he elected to sign up in the Navy Reserve. This meant that shortly after the end of the war, when military forces were being trimmed back, his active service ended. Thus he was able to return home and resume his college career—and also resume his courtship of Frances Beverly Johnson. (He confesses that at the time the latter of these two pursuits was far more important than the former!)

Tom and Frances had met during his first year at the university. His relationship with her family was cemented the first time he was introduced to them. As Tom came to call, Frances’s father produced a picture of two Latter-day Saint missionaries from earlier years, both dressed in top hats. He pointed to one of the men in the photo and asked if Tom were related to this Monson. Yes, Tom replied, that was his father’s uncle Elias. Tears came to the eyes of Frances’s father as he explained that Elder Elias Monson had been instrumental in his family’s conversion to the gospel. Tom smiled inwardly, knowing this courtship was off to a particularly good start.

Thomas Monson and Frances Johnson were married on October 7, 1948, in the Salt Lake Temple.

Sister Monson has never known a time when her husband was not busily serving in the Church. “Tom was serving as ward clerk, then as superintendent of the YMMIA when we were first married, and he has gone from one assignment to another since then,” she says with a smile. He has been involved in prominent Church leadership roles constantly since May of 1950, when he was called as bishop of his ward at the age of 22. “It has never been a sacrifice to see my husband doing the Lord’s work,” Sister Monson says. “It has blessed me, and it has blessed our children. He always knew that if it was for the Church, I expected him to do what he had to do.”

President Monson said his wife’s support has been essential in his ministry. “I have never known Frances to complain once of my Church responsibilities,” he says. “I have been gone many days and many nights, and I have rarely been able to sit with her in the congregation. But there is no one like her—absolutely no one. She is in every way supportive and is a woman of quiet and profoundly powerful faith.”

She was, he acknowledges, instrumental in maintaining a strong home environment for their three children: Thomas Lee, Ann Frances, and Clark Spencer Monson. Those three children and their spouses have brought President and Sister Monson eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Clark S. Monson, their son, says that even though his dad had to travel frequently for Church business and was gone many weekends, he “always made time for his children, and he continues to do so today. I never felt deprived of time with Dad. When he was home, he would play games with us and take us out to get ice cream. In the summer he would have more free time, and we would spend this time together in Provo Canyon at the family cabin. I spent a lot of time as a boy fishing with my father. I can’t think of a better way for a father to spend time with a son.”

President and Sister Monson’s daughter, Ann Monson Dibb, says she always understood that one of the best ways to serve and honor her father was to serve and honor her mother. Her father, she says, has always been loving and supportive of his children and now his grandchildren. “My boys have enjoyed helping Grandpa mow the lawn,” she says. “They loved working alongside him.” And she adds, “Everyone in the family enjoys sitting around a campfire at the family cabin, roasting marshmallows and listening to Grandpa tell stories.” Her father has always been generous in sharing what he has learned, she says.

What he has learned came through experience gained in hard work, beginning when he was very young. Any man, for example, might have been intimidated by receiving the mantle of bishop at such a young age. It was a large ward, with 1,080 members, 84 of those being widows who needed a bishop’s attention. But Bishop Monson wasted no time being preoccupied with the load; he prayed and he went to work. He served, he loved, he strengthened; it was his duty, but it was also the course his heart dictated. He was “on the Lord’s errand” (D&C 64:29).

Many Church members have heard him tell personal accounts of ministering to the needs of those widows. Few know the full story. At Christmastime, he would visit each one of the widows, taking a welcome gift of food; for many years it was a dressed hen from his own poultry flock. In the beginning it took a week of his personal vacation time to make all the visits. Long after he was no longer their bishop, those widows looked forward to his yearly visits, knowing he would come. He continued visiting them in their declining years and, somewhat miraculously, has been able to speak at each of their funerals—all 84 of them! He still makes regular visits to local rest homes and convalescent centers, visiting with folks he met when “his” widows and other friends were staying in those facilities.

“My father lives three scriptures from James,” says Sister Dibb. “First, James 1:22: ‘Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only.’ Second, James 1:25: ‘A doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.’ And third, James 1:27: ‘Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.’ ” She says President Monson emulates the Savior in his manner of offering help to others. “No matter what their trial or sorrow may be, he extends his hand. He lifts them, steadies them, and supports them as they apply their own faith and trust in their Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Loyalty to Friends and to the Lord

His faithful attention to such dear friends underscores one of the qualities that stands out conspicuously for those who know him best: his loyalty. With those who are his friends—and almost everyone he meets becomes a friend—a bond of loyalty develops that is never broken. Companions of his youth are still good friends. Given the opportunity, for example, to enjoy one of the executive boxes at a Utah Jazz basketball game, he might invite civic and business leaders or other influential acquaintances to join him. But as often as not he will choose to invite some of those much less prominent friends of yesteryear and follow the basketball action with them enthusiastically. Even those who do not know these associates can enjoy listening as President Monson reminisces about past times with them, always conveying even in the tone of his voice the loyalty he still has for them.

This reminds us of another kind of loyalty so characteristic of Thomas S. Monson—loyalty to the voice of the Spirit. As a young bishop, he received a call one evening informing him that an older member of his ward had been taken to the veterans’ hospital in Salt Lake City for treatment. Could he come to give the man a blessing? he was asked. Bishop Monson explained that he was just on his way to a stake meeting, but he would stop by the hospital as soon as the meeting was over. At that leadership meeting, he felt unsettled, ill at ease. A prompting came strongly: leave the meeting at once, and go directly to the hospital. But surely it would be discourteous to walk out while the stake president was speaking, wouldn’t it? He waited until the end of the stake president’s address and then made his way to the door even before the closing prayer. At the hospital he found himself running down the corridor. There seemed to be a flurry of activity outside the man’s room, and a nurse stopped the new arrival. “Are you Bishop Monson?” she asked. “Yes,” was his anxious reply. “I’m sorry,” the nurse replied. “The patient was calling your name just before he passed away.”

As the young bishop walked out of the hospital that night, he vowed he would never again fail to act on an impression from the Lord. No man could have been more true to that vow. Indeed, his life has been one miracle after another in response to his faithful adherence to promptings of the Spirit.

Perhaps that experience at the hospital was in the back of his mind years later as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles when his visit to a stake conference became something out of the ordinary. He had originally been assigned to visit another stake that weekend, but there was a need to change the assignment. Elder Monson knew of no special significance to the place when President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994), then President of the Quorum of the Twelve, said, “Brother Monson, I feel impressed to have you visit the Shreveport Louisiana Stake.”

Arriving in Shreveport, Elder Monson learned of 10-year-old Christal Methvin, suffering from terminal cancer, who had a desire to receive a blessing from one General Authority in particular—him. He studied the schedule of conference meetings and found there was no time for the 80-mile (130-km) trip to Christal’s home. He asked the stake president to have Christal remembered in the public prayers during the stake conference. The Methvin family understood the travel problem but prayed, nevertheless, that their daughter’s desire might be realized. Elder Monson was preparing to speak in the Saturday evening leadership meeting when, as he recalls, “I heard a voice speak to my spirit. The message was brief, the words familiar: ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God’ (Mark 10:14).” With the help of the stake president, a visit to the Methvin home was quickly arranged for the following morning. It was a solemn and sacred experience for those involved. Only four days after receiving the desired blessing, Christal returned home to her Heavenly Father.

Frequently, events such as this one created spiritual ripple effects in the lives of others. Speaking in general conference in October 1975, Elder Monson shared Christal’s story. Seeing a little blonde girl of about Christal’s age in the balcony of the Tabernacle, he felt moved to address his remarks to her. After relating the story of Christal’s heartfelt desire that Heavenly Father lovingly honored, Elder Monson said in conclusion, “To you, my little friend in the upper balcony, and to believers everywhere, I bear witness that Jesus of Nazareth does love little children, that He listens to your prayers and responds to them.”

When Elder Monson returned to his office after that session of conference, he found the young blonde girl from the balcony waiting for him with her grandmother. The little girl had been trying to decide whether to be baptized; someone close to her had advised her to wait until she was 18. She had asked her grandmother to take her to conference, with faith that Jesus would help her find an answer. Taking Elder Monson’s hand, she said, “You helped Him answer my prayer. Thank you.” She was baptized soon afterward.

Throughout Thomas Monson’s ministry, there have been regular, recurring, dramatic experiences in answering the whispered beckonings of the Spirit—a visit at just the right moment to give a desired blessing, a response to someone’s unspoken need, a marshaling of help from leaders and members at the time when someone needed it most. President Monson would point out that these experiences have come through the workings of the Holy Ghost and not through any special talent or ability of his own. “The sweetest feeling you can have in this world is to feel the hand of the Lord upon your shoulder,” he says with emotion. “In my patriarchal blessing as a boy, I was promised that I would have the gift of discernment. I have to acknowledge that such a declaration has been abundantly fulfilled in my life.” Those lessons he began learning as a young man have been strengthened and amplified through the years.

A Call to Lifetime Service

We have already noted how young Thomas was when called to positions of leadership. At 22 years of age he was called as bishop of the Sixth-Seventh Ward in Salt Lake City’s Temple View Stake. At age 27 he was called as a counselor in the presidency of that stake. He was serving in that position when, at age 31, he was called as president of the Canadian Mission. After he returned from presiding over the mission, he was called to serve on the high council and on general Church committees. It would be only little more than a year until he would, at age 36, receive a call to the holy apostleship.

When Thomas S. Monson was called to fill a vacancy in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1963, members who knew nothing of his background may have thought he had come out of nowhere. He was the youngest man called to that office since 1910, when Joseph Fielding Smith was called at age 33. But those who were acquainted with Elder Monson knew that he had been prepared for the office.

His association with Church leaders began early in his life. President Harold B. Lee (1899–1973) was once president of his stake, and in 1950 Tom Monson turned to his friend, then-Elder Lee of the Quorum of the Twelve, for help with a crucial decision. Serving as a yeoman in the active Navy Reserve after World War II, Tom had been offered a commission as an ensign—an officer. Should he accept it, knowing that if his unit were activated he would be called away from home? When Elder Lee advised that he decline the commission and resign from the navy, Tom struggled with the decision because the commission as an officer was an advancement he had eagerly sought. Nevertheless, he followed the counsel. When Tom was called as bishop a short time later, Elder Lee, who set him apart, pointed out that had Tom been committed to naval service, the call as bishop likely would not have come. Neither, we assume, would the string of significant callings that followed it.

It was from Elder Lee that Thomas Monson’s oldest son, Tom, received his middle name. The Monsons’ second son, Clark, was named for another family friend: President J. Reuben Clark (1871–1961), a counselor in the First Presidency. In his role as a printer, Tom Monson worked with President Clark on the Church leader’s many books, including the landmark Our Lord of the Gospels. The relationship between the two men resembled that of father and son.

In his work Tom Monson also learned to know and admire Elder LeGrand Richards (1886–1983) of the Quorum of the Twelve. While presiding over the mission in Toronto, President Monson came to know Canadian business and government leader Nathan Eldon Tanner (1898–1982). Indeed, the vacancy that Thomas Monson would fill in the Quorum of the Twelve in 1963 was occasioned by the calling of President Tanner from that quorum to a position in the First Presidency, as a counselor to President David O. McKay (1873–1970).

Back in Salt Lake City after his service as mission president, Brother Monson was called to the Church’s Priesthood Missionary Committee, directed by then-Elder Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) of the Quorum of the Twelve. Thomas Monson served on the Priesthood Genealogical Committee under Elder Tanner. He later served on the Adult Correlation Committee and the Priesthood Home Teaching Committee under Elder Marion G. Romney (1897–1988), who was then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve and later a counselor in the First Presidency. Brother Monson was so involved in work on Church committees that on the day he received his call to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, he thought he was being invited to President McKay’s office to discuss one of his committee assignments.

A Learner, a Teacher

In his early associations with Church leaders, Elder Monson was an eager and quick learner. Both his ability and his capacity for service came to be well-known to his Brethren of the quorum. President Kimball referred to him as “truly a ‘do it’ man”—one “who acts promptly and resolutely.” Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Twelve once called him “a genius in Church government.” Speaking of his great loyalty to others, then-Elder James E. Faust (1920–2007), later to serve with him in the First Presidency, commented, “That mind of his doesn’t forget anything, but neither does his heart—especially people.” Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve said of Thomas Monson that his administrative and executive abilities came from “something inherent and innate. He doesn’t need twenty years with an issue to grasp its significance and retain its meaning. He has devoured the contents of most matters while everybody else is still trying to get the wrapper off.” President Boyd K. Packer, who sat at President Monson’s side for all their years together in the Quorum of the Twelve, has said, “If I needed someone to steer a sensitive matter carefully through the councils of the Church, Thomas S. Monson is the man I would pick for the task.”

While serving in the Quorum of the Twelve, President Monson chaired the Adult Correlation Committee, Missionary Executive Committee, and Church Welfare Executive Committee. His concern for welfare matters is well-known; he has been a moving force in the Church’s involvement in meeting community needs in both the Salt Lake Valley and for the worldwide Church. His concern is not abstract. He has been known to literally give the clothes off his back to members in need who had no opportunity to buy new clothing. His service is often given out of the public eye. “So much has taken place privately,” says his daughter, Ann. Frequently, individuals will share those experiences with his sons or daughter. “Not even we children know all he has done,” she says.

As a member of the Twelve, Elder Monson also chaired the Leadership Committee, responsible for training General Authorities on Church programs so they in turn could pass on this training at stake conferences. Just as he was an eager and apt pupil of those great leaders who went before him in the ranks of special witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ, he has been a willing and able teacher for those of us who have followed him. As one of the junior members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, I (along with all of my Brethren) have been profoundly affected by President Monson. His enthusiasm, his attention to detail, his personal lessons from a lifetime of experience—these and so many other influences have had a great impact, especially because they have come over a period of so many years from one who was called to the apostleship at such a young age. We have felt his loyalty to us in such matters, just as much as did those first friends on the west side of Salt Lake City.

President Monson has been involved in serving and strengthening youth of the Church since his early 20s. His concern for the spiritual welfare of youth has been manifest in personal action. He has, for example, served on the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America since 1969, and because of his service, he has received Scouting’s highest national and international awards.

Through his service in his Church callings, he has become known to leaders in government, business, and civic affairs throughout the world. The respect he has earned from them has allowed him to be an influential voice for the Church. One of his singular accomplishments was in obtaining permission for a temple to be built in the former German Democratic Republic, when it was still behind the Iron Curtain. He had similar success in getting that government to allow Latter-day Saint missionaries to move freely into and out of the country before the Berlin Wall came down.

President Monson’s ministry is a matter of record—a record that delights faithful Latter-day Saints young and old alike. Uplifting stories from his discourses and writings endure because they have the quality of modern-day parables. Many of those stories were collected in a book published in 1994, Inspiring Experiences That Build Faith: From the Life and Ministry of Thomas S. Monson. On the page following the table of contents is printed this heading: “Service to Others.” Beneath this heading is the familiar scripture from Mosiah 2:17: “When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.” It is a fitting bit of scriptural counsel to associate with the life of Thomas S. Monson, for he has taken it deeply to heart. He lives it.

Pledge of a Lifetime

Through his many years of service, President Monson has kept the pledge he made on October 4, 1963, the day he was sustained as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Speaking in the Tabernacle for the first time as a General Authority, he said:

“My sincere prayer today, President McKay, is that I might always obey you and these, my brethren. I pledge my life, all that I may have. I will strive to the utmost of my ability to be what you would want me to be. I am grateful for the words of Jesus Christ, our Savior, when he said:

“ ‘I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him. …’ (Rev. 3:20.)

“I earnestly pray, my brothers and sisters, that my life might merit this promise from our Savior.”

In leading the Church now, perhaps President Monson might say to all of us what he said to the sisters at the September 2007 general Relief Society meeting: “Do not pray for tasks equal to your abilities, but pray for abilities equal to your tasks. Then the performance of your tasks will be no miracle, but you will be the miracle.” For those who might protest their lack of qualification or their inadequacy, he might add what he taught in the April 1996 general conference: “Remember that this work is not yours and mine alone. It is the Lord’s work, and when we are on the Lord’s errand, we are entitled to the Lord’s help. Remember that whom the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies.” It is obvious to all who know him that the Lord has qualified President Thomas S. Monson for his present call.

In 1985, the year he was called to the First Presidency, he gave to family members his personal memoirs. In that volume he wrote: “Looking back on my life, I acknowledge readily the guiding influence of a loving Heavenly Father. I testify that His watchful care and promised blessings have been welcome gifts to me. His words have lived in my life: ‘I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.’ (D&C 84:88).”

After expressing gratitude for his beloved Frances and their children and grandchildren, he closed, “May I always be found ‘on the Lord’s errand.’ ”

That prayerful hope, expressed 23 years ago, has become a certainty now. Thomas Spencer Monson, by divine call, will spend the rest of his life “going about doing good,” as the Savior he loves so much did before him. He will walk in His footsteps, and he will do so with the inspiration of a favorite painting that will guide every day of that sacred ministry.

Photographs courtesy of the Monson family, except as noted; photograph of President and Sister Monson by Craig Dimond; background © PhotoSpin

Top: A teenage Thomas Monson (second from left) with members of his family, including his mother and father (seated in front). Above and left: As a boy, President Monson was known as “Tommy.” Opposite page: President Thomas S. Monson with his wife, Frances, at the Nauvoo Illinois Temple.

Above: Carrying a plate of hot food to a lonely neighbor was just one of many ways young Tommy Monson learned to serve. Opposite page: President Monson (pictured with his son Clark) learned to love fishing as a boy and later carried on the tradition with his children.

Top left: photo illustration by Christina Smith

Photograph of pigeon by Tamra H. Ratieta; left: photograph by Ravell Call/Deseret News, may not be copied

Opposite page: President Monson has enjoyed raising Birmingham Roller pigeons. Above: Demanding Church service came early to President Monson, who was called as a bishop at age 22 and as an Apostle at age 36. Above left: Frances and Thomas Monson with their three children, Thomas, Clark, and Ann.

Above: President Monson visited the Tongan Mission in 1965. Opposite page, from top: President Monson has a long record of service in Scouting. He helped the Church obtain permission to build the Freiberg Germany Temple (shown here during the open house in 1985). He was appointed in 1981 by U.S. president Ronald Reagan to the President’s Task Force for Private Sector Initiatives.

Photograph of Silver Beaver Award by Matthew Reier; photograph at Freiberg Germany Temple by Tim Brosnahan

Left: photograph by Gerry Avant/Church News, may not be copied; right top: photograph courtesy of Church News, may not be copied

Opposite page, from left: Before being sustained as President of the Church, President Monson served in the First Presidency under President Ezra Taft Benson, President Howard W. Hunter, and President Gordon B. Hinckley (above and right).

Left: photographs by John Luke; right top: photograph by Annette Lein/Church News, may not be copied; right: photograph by Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News, may not be copied

President Hinckley and President Monson received help from a young member at the Palmyra New York Temple groundbreaking ceremony on May 25, 1999.

Left: photograph by Laura Seitz; right: photographs by Jeffrey D. Allred and Tom Smart; photographs courtesy of Deseret Morning News, may not be copied

Top: President Monson speaks at a BYU devotional address. Above: President Monson and his wife, Frances, wave to crowds lining the streets during the annual Pioneer Day parade in Salt Lake City. Left: President and Sister Monson pose together during a celebration of his 80th birthday last year.

At a press conference in the Church Office Building on February 4, 2008, President Monson was introduced as President of the Church, with President Henry B. Eyring (left) as First Counselor and President Dieter F. Uchtdorf (right) as Second Counselor.

Top: photograph by Craig Dimond; bottom: photograph by John Luke