Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News
Thomas Spencer Monson was born Aug. 21, 1927, in Salt Lake City, the first son and second child of George Spencer Monson and Gladys Condie Monson.
His paternal grandfather, Nels Monson, joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Torham, Sweden, before emigrating to Utah. His paternal grandmother, Maria Mace, sailed for America with her parents from Bradford, England. Their families met at sea, and the two eventually were married in the Salt Lake LDS Temple. Three days later, Nels Monson left for Sweden to serve a three-year mission with headquarters in Stockholm.
President Monson's mother's parents, Thomas Sharp Condie and Margaret Ellen Watson, came from pioneer families in the old 6th Ward of the Salt Lake Pioneer Stake. Their ancestors were from Scotland and were among the early settlers of the Salt Lake Valley.
President Monson's boyhood home was at the corner of 500 South and 200 West, and he attended kindergarten at the old Grant School. Extended family was the cornerstone of his young life, which included exposure to the Bluefront Grocery store owned by his mother and her family.
He grew up with "a sense of appreciation and love for our relatives because all of us lived together," he wrote in a privately published memoir. His grandfather had purchased the property and erected his own home as well as a duplex where President Monson's Uncle John and Aunt Margaret lived, and where his own family occupied the east side of the building.
"On that corner lived my mother and her three sisters. I felt totally at ease in any of their homes, never feeling the need to knock at the door. Always I was welcome," he wrote.
He was baptized Sept. 21, 1935, in the baptistry on Temple Square, and religious activities centered around the old 7th Ward building west of West Temple on the north side of 500 South.
As a child, he remembered, "I would occasionally drag my feet going to Sunday School. I liked to watch the birds in the trees. ... Mother applied some psychology which at the time worked, but in retrospect, was a bit severe. She would point up to the top row of bricks on our duplex and say, 'Now Tommy, if you don't go to Sunday School, one of those bricks might fall off and hit you in the head. You don't want that, do you?'
"Not wanting that experience to occur, I would then make my way to Sunday School."
President Monson's fascination with birds continued to grow, and at age 10, he was named president of the junior Audobon Club at Grant School. He later joined the drum and bugle corps in his area for a short time, trying to play the bugle, but finding it difficult to master. He never learned to play and moved on to other pursuits.
He wrote of a childhood filled with evening games in the neighborhood, including "kick the can" and "run, sheepy, run." He loved books, and would walk three times a week to the Chapman branch library in west Salt Lake, where he found a world opened to him beyond his own neighborhood.
Summers were spent with extended family during long vacations at Vivian Park in Provo Canyon, where he slept on a screened porch and took in the sounds of the woods. He learned there a lifelong love of fishing, and with plenty of company to share the time, they hiked, went swimming, played softball, shot arrows and had mud fights. He wrote later that "those were happy years, dream-filled years and are remembered with nostalgia and a few tears."
At other times in the year, he remembered his parents were "busy in bridge clubs and social activities."
As a boy, his home was always cold in the winter, and he would retrieve the morning newspaper and read the headlines the first phase in a love of newspapering that would continue throughout his life.
During his final year at Grant School, he spent time in the library, looking out the window at the pigeons on the ledge, which started a lifelong interest in raising the birds and would blossom into a teenage hobby.
As a boy, President Monson sometimes spent weekends with extended family members on their farms in Granger. When his parents came on Sunday to retrieve him, they would enjoy a giant freezer of homemade ice cream. Other favorite visits included his aunt's home in Murray and other family members in Bountiful.
His family enjoyed vacations together in California, near Venice and Santa Monica. "We were really a close, though extended, family."
Many Latter-day Saints have heard President Monson tell a Christmas story about his own toy train, and giving a train car to a less-fortunate friend in the neighborhood. Another Christmas story he wrote about involved two rabbits that he gave to a friend who when asked what his family was having for Christmas dinner said he didn't know, and had never tasted chicken or turkey.
He later wrote that he shed tears as he put two of his own rabbits in a bag for his friend, "but there was a warm feeling in my heart (later) ... when he told me this was the best Christmas dinner he and his family had ever had."
At age 12, President Monson moved on to Horace Mann Junior High. At the time, his father was general manager of Western Hotel Register Co., a printer of hotel registers, menus and other types of printing. After school, his job was to go by each cafe and pick up a copy of changes for the next day's menu so the new one could be printed at the shop, located at 740 S. Main.
He remembered his first talk in church, a 2 1/2-minute speech about the story commemorated by the Seagull Monument on Temple Square. As a young deacon, he remembered speaking on the Word of Wisdom. One church leader told him it was a fine talk, and added, "you have the ability to deliver one without reading it." The boy took his advice seriously, and from that point forward, never read a talk.
One day, his father told him they would attend priesthood meeting together to hear Elder LeGrand Richards, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, speak. "This was one of the only times in our lives when we went to such a meeting together," he wrote, adding his father's influence on him came in other ways.
Each Sunday, his father would pick up his uncle, who was disabled, and drive him around the city. "Dad never wanted any thanks or commendation for this type of gesture, but his lesson was not lost on me," President Monson later wrote.
"Mother also taught me lessons relative to the Golden Rule, rather than by preachment." He remembered a man named Robert whose home was demolished in the name of city progress, leaving him with no place to go. His grandfather Condie gave Robert a key to a house he owned, and never charged him rent to stay there.
"From that day forward, Robert became almost a member of our family." On Sundays, President Monson's mother would fix a large dinner and send a plate of food with her son to Robert's home. "Mother would also insure that no person who ever knocked at her door in search of food would go away hungry."
The family home was near the railroad tracks during the Depression, and she would invite transients who came in on the train and were looking for something to eat to sit at the kitchen table while she made them a sandwich and served it with a glass of milk.
By the time young President Monson turned 16, duck hunting, canyon camping and fishing had become hobbies that would remain favorites pastimes. He worried about the future as World War II played out during his years at West High School, where "each young man knew that if (the war) continued, he would be in the military," and go off to distant battles from which some would not return.
Shortly after he turned 17, he enrolled as a student at the University of Utah, working part-time in his father's print shop. His father paid the tuition, which he remembered at that time was "$40 or less," and he enjoyed the fact that "there were about eight girls to every boy on the campus."
He met his future wife, Frances Johnson, at "Hello Day" there, catching the first glimpse of her as she danced with another boy. Watching from a distance, he determined to find a way to meet her. A month later, he saw her waiting for a streetcar with some friends, and caught the car with them to ride. He called her later that night and arranged their first date.
After growing up in a home he remembered was, "rather noisy and gregarious, I was not prepared for the dignity and quiet which prevailed" at the Johnson home. Her father, Franz Johnson, first asked about his ancestry, then brought out a picture of two missionaries in top hats and asked, "Are you related to this Monson," pointing at the picture. "Yes, that's Elias Monson, my father's uncle," he replied.
Tears formed in his future father-in-law's eyes. "He was one of the missionaries who helped bring my family into the gospel" in Sweden, his future father-in-law said, hugging the boy.
The couple's first date was a dance at the Pioneer Stake building, and they double-dated with friends. All of them enjoyed bands with live music as a popular pastime at dances.
He wrote of his date with Frances on New Year's Eve 1944, remembering she had to be home by 2 a.m. because she had to go to work on New Year's Day. He learned she worked in the copy room at the Deseret News. "Little did I know at that time I would have a career working at the same company."
In 1945, he joined the U.S. Naval Reserve, serving for a year before returning home in August 1946. He and Frances exchanged letters regularly during his absence.
"I had a little romantic streak in me," he later told the LDS Church News. "I'd go to the commodore's garden in San Diego, pick off the head of a snapdragon and put that bloom in my letter to her. The bloom would be dried by the time she got it; nonetheless, she'd find a flower from me in the envelope."
When he returned, they resumed their courtship, and on Oct. 7, 1948, they were married in the Salt Lake Temple. Benjamin L. Bowring, who had been president of the Hawaii and Los Angeles temples, performed the sealing. He counseled the young couple on how to avoid long-term misunderstandings.
"Kneel down by the side of your bed every night and one night, Brother Monson, you offer the prayer, aloud on bended knee; and the next night, Sister Monson, you offer the prayer, aloud on bended knee. If you do this, you'll never retire angry one with another. No misunderstanding that terminates at the end of one day will ever get out of line," President Monson said of his advice.
He told the Church News, "I've shared that same formula with all the couples whose sealings I have performed since I became a General Authority."
The young couple set up housekeeping at their first apartment, 508 S. 200 West, where he had grown up.
A few months before their marriage, he graduated with honors from the U., where he majored in marketing and minored in economics. At the time, he worked his way up in classified advertising at the Deseret News, becoming manager of the department.
As early newlyweds, he and his wife joined a bridge club. When club members came to their home, some of them smoked and he was concerned about it. He asked his bishop at that time what he should do and was told everything would work itself out.
A short time later, when he was set apart as a counselor in the ward bishopric, he went to see Elder Harold B. Lee, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve. "He didn't ask me the usual questions concerning worthiness," President Monson later wrote. "He simply, and in and off-hand manner, said, 'Brother Monson, you don't have to play cards for entertainment, do you?' I said, 'No.' That was the end of the bridge club."
At age 22, he was called as bishop of the Temple View Sixth-Seventh Ward, which had "1,060 members, 85 widows and the largest welfare load in the church." Latter-day Saints who recall President Monson's sermons in general conference over the years remember many stories he has told from his years of service as a young bishop, struggling to help those who had little material wealth.
In 1952, his career in print media took a turn, as he accepted a position at the Deseret Press. During that time, he remembered working with Elder LeGrand Richards, whose book, "A Marvelous Work and A Wonder," was printed by the press and became a best-seller among Latter-day Saints.
Elder Richards would never accept any royalty payment for the book, turning down "literally hundreds of thousands of dollars." He said the church leader "never regretted the decision and kept that book underpriced on the market as long as he lived."
After serving as a bishop for five years, President Monson was called as second counselor in the Temple View stake presidency, where he served until his call in 1959 as president of the Canadian Mission with headquarters in Toronto.
When called as a mission president, he and his wife had two young children, Thomas Lee and Ann Frances, and they were expecting a third, Clark Spencer. It was one time in their married life when his church assignments allowed them to spend more time together than they had been accustomed to, he would say later.
When their children were young, Sister Monson usually stayed home while her husband was away, often for weeks at a time. "People used to ask me what I did when he was so busy as a General Authority," she later told the Church News.
"I'd tell them that I hadn't known much else, since from the earliest days of our marriage, Tom was busy with church service." She kept herself busy serving church auxiliaries and rearing their three children. "I learned quite early to stand on my own feet."
Upon release as a mission president in 1962, President Monson was named manager of the Deseret News Press and worked on committee assignments with the church in addition to serving on the Valley View Stake high council.
He was sustained a member of the Quorum of the Twelve on Oct. 4, 1963, at age 36, replacing Elder N. Eldon Tanner, who was called as a counselor in the First Presidency.
Among his many earlier assignments with the Twelve, he served as chairman of the missionary executive committee; a member of the correlation executive committee; and as area adviser of Europe and Europe West mission areas.
Before 1996, some general authorities were also active in business, serving on various corporate boards. President Monson served on the board of the Deseret News Publishing Co. for 31 years, 19 of those as president, and as vice president of the Newspaper Agency Corp.
He also served for many years as a board member for several other businesses, as a member of the Utah Board of Regents, a trustee of the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge and the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America.
He currently serves as a trustee of Brigham Young University, where he earlier received an MBA and was honored in April 1981 with an honorary Doctor of Laws. He received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Salt Lake Community College in June 1996, and an honorary Doctor of Business from the U.
In December 1981, President Monson was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to serve on the President's Task Force for Private Sector Initiatives, completing his assignment a year later.
Other honors include the University of Utah's Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1966; the Boy Scouts of America's Silver Beaver, Silver Buffalo and Bronze Wolf awards; the Minuteman Award from the Utah National Guard in 1997; and BYU's Exemplary Manhood Award.
On Nov. 10, 1985, he became a member of the First Presidency, as second counselor to President Ezra Taft Benson, and again as second counselor to President Howard W. Hunter beginning June 5, 1994.He joined President Gordon B. Hinckley in the First Presidency on March 12, 1995, serving as first counselor until President Hinckley's death on Jan. 27, 2008.
Editor's note: The details in this story about President Monson's early life and memories are drawn from his personal memoirs, which he published privately in 1985 under the title, "On the Lord's Errand Memoirs of Thomas S. Monson."
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