Thomas Spencer Monson is the beloved prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—sometimes inadvertently called the Mormon Church. He is known for stories—which, according to Heidi Swinton, his biographer, he likes to call “true accounts”—and love of poetry as well as his kind and compassionate heart. [1] Recently, President Monson said:

… I have [discovered] that countless experiences I have had were not necessarily those one would consider extraordinary. In fact, at the time they transpired, they often seemed unremarkable and even ordinary. And yet, in retrospect, they enriched and blessed lives—not the least of which was my own. [2]

Through his humorous and heartfelt reflections of these “unremarkable” events, we come to know the unconditional love, friendship and devotion to God that endear us to our prophet.

A Righteous Mother Teaches Compassion

A boat with a rudder and helm to get the right direction with Thomas S. MonsonPresident Monson was born on August 21, 1927, in Salt Lake City, Utah, to G. Spencer and Gladys Condie Monson. President Monson has fond memories of his mother.

I learned many lessons from my mother. I must have been a very active boy, for Mother was always telling me, “Slow down, Tommy, slow down. You’re on the verge of Saint Vitus’ dance!” You know, I never did know what Saint Vitus’ dance was. All I knew was that Mother said I was on the verge of it—and the way she spoke the words, I assumed it was a drastic ailment. [3]

Sister Swinton said:

He learned Christlike living at home, where charity—the pure love of Christ—compassion, and a desire to lift and bless the lives of others were the standard and where, though his parents did not read him the scriptures, they lived them. [1]

President Monson grew up during the Great Depression, “between the tracks” on the west side of Salt Lake City, and learned much of compassion for others from his mother. [1] He said:

Since we lived just a block or two from the railroad tracks, frequently men, unemployed, without funds for food, would leave the train and come to our house for something to eat. … Indelibly imprinted on my mind is the picture of a gaunt and hungry man standing at our kitchen door, hat in hand, pleading for food. Mother would welcome such a visitor and would direct him to the kitchen sink to wash up while she prepared food for him to eat. She never skimped on quality or quantity; the visitor ate exactly the same lunch as did my father. As he wolfed down the food, Mother took the opportunity to counsel him to return to his home and his family. When he left the table, he had been nourished physically and spiritually. These men never failed to say thank you. Tears in their eyes revealed ever so silently the gratitude of their hearts. [3]

A Christmas Lesson on Following Christ

In addition to teaching compassion through her example, President Monson’s mother allowed her son to learn by experience. One such occurred on Christmas Day when he was about 10 years old. The prophet recalls that he really wanted an electric train. “Not … the economical and everywhere-to-be-found wind-up model train, but rather one that operated through the miracle of electricity.” Although this was during the Depression, his parents—likely through some sacrifice— presented to him a beautiful electric train. His mother also purchased a less expensive, non-electric train set for the son of a widow who lived down the road. Young Tommy, as he was called then, noticed an oil tanker car that his set lacked, and begged his mother for it. She finally gave in, saying, “If you need it more than he does, then take it.” He took the oil tanker, and they brought the gift to Mark Hansen. President Monson concludes:

[Mark] had never anticipated such a gift and was thrilled beyond words. He wound the key in his engine, it not being electric like mine, and was overjoyed as the engine and two cars, plus a caboose, went around the track. Mother wisely asked, “What do you think of Mark’s train, Tommy?” I felt a keen sense of guilt and became very much aware of my selfishness. I said to Mother, “Wait just a moment—I’ll be right back.”

As swiftly as my legs could carry me, I ran to our home, picked up the oil tanker car plus an additional car of my own, ran back down the lane to the Hansen home, and said joyfully to Mark, “We forgot to bring two cars which belong to your train.” Mark coupled the two extra cars to his set. I watched the engine make its labored way around the track and felt a supreme joy difficult to describe and impossible to forget. [4]

Sometimes the simplest lessons are the most profound—and the most memorable.

The ‘Other Half of His Success Story’

It is often said that behind every good man is an even better woman. Certainly, behind President Monson is a righteous woman who stands by his side and takes care of their home so that he can serve the Lord. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (with the First Presidency, the governing body of The Church of Jesus Christ), said:

One of the sweetest chapters in a book of life filled with things of the heart and of the spirit begins with President Monson’s courtship of Frances Johnson. [5]

President Monson recounts the beginning of their courtship:

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.”

…Then he went into another room and brought out a picture of two missionaries with their top hats and their copies of the Book of Mormon. “Are you related to this Monson,” he said, “Elias Monson?”

I said, “Yes, he’s my grandfather’s brother. He too was a missionary in Sweden.”

Her father wept. He wept easily. He said, “He and his companion were the missionaries who taught the gospel to my mother and my father and all of my brothers and sisters and to me.” 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.” [6]

Their daughter, Ann Monson Dibb, said:

 Mom is the other half of Dad’s success story, the half no one really knows. He gave a conference address once entitled “Anonymous” about people who serve so faithfully and give so much, yet never seek recognition. That talk applies beautifully to my mother; maybe he even wrote it about her. He couldn’t have done what he has done without her. [5]

Thomas S. Monson and Frances Johnson were married October 7, 1948, in the Salt Lake Temple. They were blessed with 3 children, 8 grandchildren and 8 great-grandchildren. Frances passed away in 2013, and her funeral was broadcast to members of the Church. [7]

A Loyal and Devoted Friend to the Widows

President Monson is well-known for his love of others. Elder Holland said:

Loyalty is a word which often comes to the lips of those who best know Tom (or in his youth, “Tommy”) Monson. His is a deep-seated, undying loyalty to friends of many years, friends he might not be expected to remember in the rush of his now very busy life—but remember them he does.

His lifelong friend John Burt says, “Tom’s care of the widows who lived in his ward—eighty-seven of them—is an example of his loyalty and devotion to people. When the rest of us were released as bishops, we just kind of moved on to the next task and left the widows to our successors. Not Tom. He somehow found time to keep visiting them. He is the most loyal man I know. He never forgets where he came from, and he never forgets the people who knew him before he was ‘somebody.’” [5]

A bishop is the priesthood leader of the ward—or congregation. The priesthood is the authority that God gives to worthy males to act in all things for the salvation of His children. When President Monson was the bishop, there were over a thousand people in the ward, and a bishop is the presiding priesthood leader of each one. One experience taught him to listen to the whisperings of the Holy Ghost—no matter what. At 23, he was the bishop of his ward. He was in a stake leadership meeting (a stake is comprised of a group of wards) when the prompting came to go to the hospital. He had been asked to give an elderly member of his ward a blessing, and had planned to go right after the meeting. During the meeting, the prompting was very strong but he didn’t want to disrupt everyone there. He hurried out after the last speaker—even before the closing prayer. Elder Holland said:

Running the full length of the corridor on the fourth floor of the hospital, the young bishop saw some extra activity outside the designated room. A nurse stopped him and said, “Are you Bishop Monson?” “Yes,” was the anxious reply.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “The patient was calling your name just before he died.”

Fighting back the tears, Thomas S. Monson turned and walked back into the night. He vowed then and there that he would never again fail to act upon a prompting from the Lord. He would acknowledge the impressions of the Spirit when they came, and he would follow wherever they led him, ever to be “on the Lord’s errand.” [8]

President Monson never forgot that experience. As he served as the bishop and in other callings, President Monson faithfully visited his 87 widows the rest of their lives. Elder Holland said:

Nearly all of those eighty-seven widows are gone now, but their “bishop” kept visiting them to the end. One night during the Christmas holidays some years ago, President Monson was making his customary rounds to “his” widows, leaving gifts purchased from his own pocket, including plump dressed chickens that were, in the early years, raised in his own coops. In one of the many Salt Lake City rest homes he has come to know so intimately, he found one of his ward members, alone and silent in the darkened room of a world made even darker by the onset of blindness. As President Monson made his way to this sweet sister’s side, she reached out awkwardly, groping for the hand of the only visitor she had received in the whole of the Christmas season. “Bishop, is that you?” she inquired. “Yes, dear Hattie, it is I.” “Oh, Bishop,” she wept through sightless eyes, “I knew you would come.” They all knew he would come, and he always did. [5]

A Window to the Love of the Savior

President Monson’s love for others shows his true devotion and love for our Savior, Jesus Christ. An experience recounted by Elder Holland illustrates the tenderness of President Monson’s love for people.

A well-meaning person once told President Monson that it was useless for him to visit these elderly people, talking at length with them when they seldom answered a word. “You might as well save your time and breath, Elder Monson. They don’t know who you are.”

“Whether they know me or not is beside the point,” the determined Thomas Monson replied. “I don’t talk to them because they know me; I talk to them because I know them.” [8]

After serving as bishop, President Monson served in the stake presidency and then as a mission president. He was ordained an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ in October 1963 at the age of 36. He has served as a counselor in the Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ since 1985. President Monson had a distinguished career in publishing and printing. [7] Regardless of the success he attains, President Monson never forgets those he has met along the way. The late Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, then an Apostle of Jesus Christ, said:

I have known President Monson for a long time. He is a mighty man of Israel who was foreordained to preside over this Church. He is well-known for his captivating stories and parables, but we who know him best understand that his life is a practical and exemplary model of the application of those stories. While it is a compliment to him that many of the great and mighty of this world know and honor him, perhaps it is an even greater tribute that many of the lowly call him friend. To his core, President Monson is kind and compassionate. His words and deeds exemplify his concern for the one. [9]

About Lisa M.
I am a wife and mother of 4 beautiful children in a small town in the mountains of Idaho. We ski as a family in the winter and camp, fish, and go to the beach in the summer. I’m a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I am grateful for the Savior and the blessings of the gospel in my life.

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