SALT LAKE CITY — Heidi Swinton, author of "To the Rescue: The Biography of Thomas S. Monson," spoke about what it was like to tell the remarkable story of the church president during a BYU Emeritus Night event at the BYU Salt Lake Center on May 13.
"To the Rescue" reached bookshelves Sept. 27, 2010.
Swinton spent nearly 90 minutes chronicling critical events in President Monson's life, including an engaging description of his travels to East Germany as an apostle to instruct the German Saints before the collapse of the Berlin Wall changed the political structure of the nation.
She also shared her own experiences about writing the biography. Her journey began while she was on another assignment as the wife of a mission president in England. Two years into a three-year assignment, Swinton was busy baking cookies when the phone rang. Most calls during the mission experience were for her husband, but this one was a bit different.
President Monson had been provided several suggestions for potential authors, but Swinton, a graduate of the Northwestern School of Journalism, was chosen.
When the call came, President Monson spent several moments asking Swinton about her mission experience, working with the British Saints in fellowshipping new converts, and a variety of other topics before arriving at the request — one which Swinton said came after President Monson spent much time in prayer and pondering over the project, including a discussion with his wife, Frances.
“Here he was, across the Atlantic Ocean, making time for me,” Swinton said.
Swinton focused much of her presentation on how such an approach is a hallmark of President Monson’s life.
“It’s like he invites you to just sit down and chat,” said Swinton, who now collaborates with LDS Church magazines and “Music and the Spoken Word” outside of her role as wife, mother and grandmother. “He treats everyone that way.”
Those in attendance Friday agreed.
“I think the lesson you go home with is that it goes back to the Savior’s teaching about concern for the one,” said Debra Goodson, a longtime friend of Swinton’s. “You’re always right there on the radar, first and foremost. He doesn’t have another agenda when he’s talking to you. He’s a prophet of God with the entire church and all of his responsibilities, but it always comes down to the one. That is a message we need to be reminded of time and time again.”
Goodson’s husband, Ray, has come to befriend President Monson through his work for the church in the Philippines, including service as a mission president. But he still learned a lot from Swinton about the prophet's service in East Germany.
“I didn’t realize to the extent of which he traveled into East Germany when the wall was still up,” he said. “I loved that part of the story, the fact that he would continue to go over there, giving of his own suit, his own ties. That was very touching.”
Swinton said her testimony of President Monson as a true servant of the Lord has been strengthened as she researched and wrote about him, and as she has shared experiences about writing the story with audiences — much like she did Friday.
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“It’s easy to talk to a crowd that is enjoying everything you have to say because they love and respect President Monson and have such strong feelings about him,” said Swinton, who has spoken to youth groups, alumni groups, wards and a variety of other congregations — some as large as 4,000 in number — about the biography. “My goal is to have a way of lifting people’s spirits and giving them insights that only add to their testimony.”
The project has been a labor of love for Swinton.
“It’s a great story,” she said. “He’s just a great man with a great message for us. Our lives will change and will all be better if we listen and act on it. The Lord has his hand on this man’s shoulder and he’s responding. We can do the same.”