If pressed to give a one-word description of President Thomas S. Monson, I think "humanitarian" is the word I would choose. Or perhaps "benevolent." Or maybe "kind," "compassionate," "loving," "gentle," "grateful."
I've observed President Monson and his wife, Frances, in many settings in their home, during travels throughout the world, with longtime friends, and among national and international dignitaries. Comfortable in any setting, he aptly could be described as "everybody's friend."
I have met few people who make such great effort to lift and bring comfort, consolation and cheer to others as has President Monson. One of the busiest people I know, he has made countless visits to hospital bedsides and sent innumerable letters expressing condolences to the bereaved or the heavy-hearted.
He has been deeply involved in helping the poor and needy, on a one-to-one basis and in a worldwide effort. For years, he shepherded the church's welfare program.
He has spoken at countless funerals. On one particular day, he spoke at three services.
Last August, I interviewed President Monson for an article to be published on the occasion of his 80th birthday. It was a sad and busy time for President Monson, since President James E. Faust, second counselor in the First Presidency, had recently passed away. President Monson spoke at President Faust's funeral on Aug. 14. One can only imagine the weight of responsibility that rested upon his shoulders in the following days.
As he started to leave his office on Aug. 16, President Monson commented to his secretary that he thought he might visit a boyhood friend. He had learned just that day that his friend had gone into a care center and, although nothing had been said about his friend's condition, he felt he ought not delay making the visit. His secretary, realizing how exhausted President Monson was, said perhaps he could make the visit on another day. President Monson agreed that it might be best if he went straight home since he was tired.
However, en route home, he felt a prompting to visit his friend. He went to the care center and, upon arriving, realized his friend's hours on earth were limited. He spoke words of comfort and gave a blessing. The next morning just a short while before I arrived for our interview President Monson received news that his friend had passed away.
"Never delay a prompting," President Monson told me. "When you honor a prompting and then stand back a pace, you realize that the Lord gave you the prompting. It makes me feel good that the Lord even knows who I am, and knows me well enough to know that if he has an errand to be run and he prompts me to run the errand, the errand will get done. That's the testimony of my life."
I have seen President Monson move with ease among people of all ages and stations of life. In 1995, for example, I photographed President and Sister Monson with Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia on the grounds of the Stockholm Sweden Temple. A few days later, my camera caught President Monson leaning down to speak to a petite elderly widow in Goerlitz, a city in the former German Democratic Republic. As he started to walk away, he saw that I had caught on film a charitable deed he had slipped a little money into the widow's hand. With a stern shake of his head and a dismissive wave toward the camera, he said, "You don't need to put any of that in the paper."