President Thomas S. Monson: On the Lord’s Errand

President Thomas S. Monson: On the Lord’s Errand

Additional Resource

On any given day at a handful of nursing homes in Salt Lake City a buoyant yet distinguished gentleman can be seen talking, laughing and listening to the residents. Despite his heavy load of religious assignments, Thomas S. Monson, the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is the self-appointed chaplain for these facilities.

Fellow Church leader President Boyd K. Packer said, “He visits them anytime his busy schedule permits, and sometimes even when it doesn’t permit.”

President Monson’s love for the elderly can be traced to his earliest positions in the Church.  He was assigned to be a bishop in Salt Lake City when he was just 22 years old.  His lay ministry included responsibilities for over 1,000 members — 85 of them widows — and the largest welfare load in the Church. 

President Monson remembers one particular year when a drought caused a severe shortage of food for the needy, especially fresh fruit. He offered a sacred prayer one night late at the meetinghouse asking the Lord for help. “I pleaded that these widows were the finest women I knew, that their needs were simple and conservative and that they had no resources on which they might rely.”

The next morning, President Monson said, he received a call from a man in the congregation who owned a large wholesale produce company. “Bishop,” he said, “I’d like to send a semi-trailer filled with oranges, grapefruits and bananas to the Church for those who would otherwise go without. Could you make arrangements?” 

President Monson not only provided physically for the needy in his congregation, but he also forged lasting friendships. He took a week of his personal vacation time each Christmas season to visit every single one of the widows in his congregation. For the first several years he took them a dressed chicken from his own poultry coops as a gift.

These visits continued decades after President Monson was given other Church assignments for as long as each of the 85 widows lived. Fellow Church leader Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “Perhaps no one in the present leadership of the Church has spoken at so many funerals — he once had three in one day — and always very personal remarks are given for the sometimes ordinary and otherwise unknown souls that he has met and loved during his ministry.”

President Monson also has a gift for reaching out to the youth in the Church and has served for nearly three decades on the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America. Former Chief Scout Executive Jere Ratcliffe said, “I don’t know any person about whom I could say more good things than I can say about Tom Monson. For me Tom personifies ‘enthusiasm’ in its original meaning, ‘God within’ or literally ‘inspired,’ He lights up every meeting he is in. The LDS Church is blessed to have such a leader of youth.”

Perhaps President Monson’s example of how to minister to others came from his childhood. He was born on 21 August1927 in Salt Lake City to G. Spencer and Gladys Condie Monson, who were of hardy Swedish, English and Scottish ancestry.

He describes his childhood as idyllic with hours spent fishing and exploring the surrounding valleys. “Ours was a close-knit family,” President Monson said. “We gained a sense of appreciation and love for our relatives, because all of us lived together on one corner on Salt Lake’s west side.”

President Monson vividly recalls riding in his family’s 1928 Oldsmobile many Sundays with his father to the home of his father’s Uncle Elias.“I would wait in the car while Dad went inside.  Soon he would emerge from the house, carrying his crippled uncle in his arms like a china doll. I would open the door and watch how tenderly my father would place Uncle Elias in the front seat and wrap a blanket around his legs. Then we would take him for a ride around the city. Dad never wanted any thanks for this service, but his lesson was not lost on me.”

In fact, this was a lesson that was soon replicated. During the Depression years, the Monson family lived frugally with few if any luxuries. When young Tom learned a family of one of his friends planned to eat cereal moistened with hot water for Christmas dinner, he invited his friend to his backyard. He then took his two pet rabbits out of their hutch and gave them to his friend for Christmas dinner for his family. 

After graduating from high school, President Monson enrolled as a freshman at the University of Utah but soon shipped out for basic training in San Diego as a member of the United States Navy Reserve.  When the war ended in 1946, he returned home, graduating two years later with honors from the University of Utah with a degree in business.

It was at a university dance that he first saw the young lady who would later become his wife — Frances Johnson. At the end of their courtship, President Monson said he had planned a special evening to propose to Frances, but his youngest brother, Scott, spoiled the surprise by blurting out, “Tommy has a ring for you, Frances!” the moment she entered the door.  Despite the unusual proposal, Tom and Frances were married in the Salt Lake Temple on 7 October 1948.

“From the first day of our marriage, Tom has served in leadership positions. Some have asked how a new bride adjusts to that, but it has never been a sacrifice to see my husband doing the Lord’s work,” Frances said. “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.”

Her shared commitment to serving in the Church is something President Monson values. “In 59 years of marriage I have never known Frances to complain once of my Church responsibilities. In those 59 years 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.”

This mutual commitment to Church service was tested again and again as President Monson was called to numerous lay leadership positions and asked to take a leave of absence from his executive position at the Deseret News to move his family to Toronto, Canada, where he served as the president of the Canadian Mission for three years.

Upon returning home, President Monson participated in a variety of Church committees but was unprepared when Church President David O. McKay asked him to be one of 12 modern-day apostles who help govern The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

After sharing the news with Frances, President Monson recalls, “that night neither of us slept very well. My feet were like ice.” In what he would later describe as one of the most dramatic days of his life, President Monson was ordained an apostle on 4 October 1963. He was 36 years old.

Twenty-two years later he would find himself serving in the First Presidency, the highest governing body of the Church. He served in the First Presidency for over two decades as a counselor to three Church presidents. 

Although President Monson had heavy responsibilities and demands on his time, Frances said he considered his highest priority to be that of husband and father. In fact, he often shared his spiritual experiences with his children. Daughter Ann said some of her fondest memories came from “hearing him tell of the special inspiration he had in calling a patriarch or of the faith-promoting experiences he had interviewing missionaries.”

His son Thomas said, “Every night before I went to bed, I would go upstairs to his office, and whatever he was doing, he would put aside, and he would play me a game of checkers. That is one of the sweetest memories I have of my father.”

Clark Monson also recalls teaching moments with his father. “Dad and I were out fishing on a boat, and he asked me to reel in my line for a moment. When our lines were in and the rods set aside, Dad said, ‘In about five minutes your brother Tom will be sitting down to take the bar exam. He’s worked hard through three years of law school for this and he’s probably a little apprehensive. Let’s just kneel here in the boat. I’ll offer a prayer for him, and then you offer one.’ That was one of the greatest experiences of my life.”

In the midst of visits with widows, playing checkers with his son or attending to worldwide needs of members of the Church, President Monson has always been “on the Lord’s errand” (Doctrine and Covenants 64:29).

Style Guide Note:When reporting about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please use the complete name of the Church in the first reference. For more information on the use of the name of the Church, go to our online Style Guide.