Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
President Thomas S. Monson and his wife, Frances, in August 2007. The couple was married in the Salt Lake Temple in October 1948.

As a counselor to the last three presidents of the LDS Church, President Thomas S. Monson's intimate working knowledge of how the faith's First Presidency functions puts him in a unique position at a time when the church has a higher public profile than ever before.

With the death of 97-year-old President Gordon B. Hinckley on Sunday, President Monson returns to his place as president of the Quorum of the Twelve, which is now functioning as the church's governing body and will do so until a successor is named. That isn't expected to occur until next week at the earliest, following tributes and funeral services for President Hinckley.

Yet Latter-day Saints don't remain silent about the future when leadership changes are pending, and if the church follows historical precedent, President Monson — as senior apostle — would be named and sustained by fellow apostles as president of the church.

President Hinckley served nearly 14 years in the First Presidency before becoming president of the church. President Monson has served in that capacity for more than 22 years, first as second counselor to President Ezra Taft Benson in 1985 and to President Howard W. Hunter beginning in June 1994, and then as first counselor to President Hinckley since 1995.

President Monson has served more than 44 years in a position that Latter-day Saints believe is on par with that of Christ's apostles during his earthly ministry. When he was first called to the Quorum of the Twelve on Oct. 10, 1963, at age 36, he became one of the youngest men sustained to that governing council in the last century.

Known among church members for his large stature, broad shoulders and personal stories, President Monson seems relatively young at age 80, considering three of the four of the most recent church presidents — President Hunter, President Benson and President Hinckley — were older than 80 when they took office. Former President Spencer W. Kimball was 78.

Yet when asked by journalists, including Mike Wallace on CBS' "60 Minutes" several years ago about whether and why the church was run by "old men," President Hinckley smiled and replied, "Isn't it wonderful?" outlining the depth of experience that top church leaders have.

President Monson has watched the Internet develop during President Hinckley's administration as a primary medium for information about the church and its mission, along with unprecedented media coverage of the church during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and Mitt Romney's current bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

Intensive experience as a young bishop dealing with a huge inner-city LDS ward that included dozens of widows and what he said was the "largest welfare load in the church," served as a foundation for understanding and developing the church's current outreach efforts to the poor locally and humanitarian aid globally.

Born Aug. 21, 1927, in Salt Lake City, the first son and second child of George Spencer and Gladys Condie Monson, he came into the world seemingly born for church leadership. When his father came to visit at the hospital shortly after his birth, George Monson told his wife about a new bishop for the Sixth-Seventh LDS Ward in the Salt Lake Pioneer Stake.

Her reply: "I have a new bishop for you!" referring to tiny Thomas, who less than 23 years later was called as bishop of that same LDS ward in May 1950. He grew up on Salt Lake City's west side and returned there to serve in local church leadership following a stint in the Naval Reserves, watching firsthand as world wars and the Great Depression took their toll.

He also served in the presidency of the Temple View Stake before being called as president of the Canadian Mission in 1959.

Even so, he enjoyed a childhood filled with extended family activities, some of which became lifelong hobbies — fishing, duck hunting — as well as summers in Provo Canyon and early exposure to the printing business, which would become his profession before full-time church service.

With a bachelor's degree in marketing from the University of Utah, he worked as an advertising executive for the Deseret News before moving on to management positions at Deseret Press. He later earned an MBA from Brigham Young University.

Even after his call to the Quorum of the Twelve, he maintained his affinity for the publishing business, and served as chairman of the Deseret News board of directors for 19 years.

President Monson met his wife, Frances Johnson, when both were students at the U. They were married in October 1948 in the Salt Lake Temple, and are the parents of three children.

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