President Thomas S. Monson's mother, Gladys Condie Monson, had an inkling of her son's future the day he was born, on Aug. 21, 1927, in Salt Lake City.

His father visited his mother in the hospital, sharing ward news.

"They appointed a new bishop in the ward today," his father said.

"Well," his mother replied, "I have a new 'bishop' for you, a little boy, your first son."

"My mother was really prophetic in that statement, made the first day at my birth," President Monson later told an interviewer. Just 22 years after the scene in the hospital room, President Monson was sustained as bishop in the Temple View 6th-7th Ward, the same meetinghouse where he had attended Sunday School and Primary and learned to tie square knots and wrap bandages as a Boy Scout.

As a youngster, President Monson was tall, gangly and not particularly athletic — always among the last chosen for the softball team.

However, when he was 14, he caught a fly ball hit by the local hero — a small success that boosted his confidence. He later excelled as a softball player, becoming the first chosen for every team. But instead of reveling in his newfound stardom, he tried to help another boy who was overlooked in neighborhood games.

President Monson first learned about compassion, caring and sensitivity from his parents. The family lived close to the railroad tracks on the west side of Salt Lake City, and during the Depression, several transients each week came to the Monson residence, asking for food or money. His mother never turned them away. "She would host them as though each had been an invited guest," President Monson remembered.

That kindness profoundly impressed the young man. Later, he felt privileged to show similar consideration to other people.

"He lived by the tracks," Charles Quilter, a boyhood friend once told The Associated Press. "It was the Depression years, and some hobos would come through the area looking for food. The Monsons never turned them away. There was always some hot soup or a sandwich for those who came to the door."

The Monsons resided in a duplex and "had cousins and family members living all around them. Their house was always full of people. It was a fun group," Quilter said.

"He has always been a special friend of the underdog," the late Wendell Ashton, former publisher of the church-owned Deseret News, once said. "He always went out of his way for the down-and-outers, for those who had some type of tragedy touch their lives."

President Boyd K. Packer, now president of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, said in a November 2006 regional conference for Davis County church members that President Monson honored widows with his special service to them. He thus fulfilled Paul's admonition that "pure religion" was to visit widows in their affliction (James 1:27), according to President Packer.

The Deseret News figures prominently in President Monson's life. It was New Year's Eve 1944. He had a long-awaited date with Frances Beverly Johnson. After their date, they returned to the home of a mutual friend for midnight refreshments.

"I was shocked to learn that Frances had to be home by about 2 a.m. because she had to go to work on New Year's Day," President Monson later remembered. "I wondered what company would require people to work on New Year's Day. It turned out to be the Deseret News, where she worked in the copy room or, as we called it, the dispatch desk."

President Monson said he first saw his bride-to-be at a "Hello Day" dance at the University of Utah, which they both attended.

"I was impressed when I saw this lovely girl," he once said in a Church News interview. "It was not until some time later that I had the good fortune to be introduced to her. There was still time for us to enjoy many happy college experiences together. After graduation, we were married Oct. 7, 1948, in the Salt Lake Temple, four years after we met."

The company that cut short President Monson's date with his future wife later was to occupy much of his career in the printing and publishing industries. He had been a manager in the advertising department of the Deseret News, and then was general manager of Deseret Press between serving as a mission president and his call to be an apostle. From 1977 until 1996, he was president and chairman of the board of the Deseret News Publishing Co., which oversaw the Deseret News and Deseret Press.

President Monson rose rapidly through the hierarchy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, bringing a youthful vitality to church leadership.

A bishop at 22, a counselor in a stake presidency at 27, a mission president at 32 and an apostle at 36, President Monson became at 58 the youngest man to be called to the First Presidency in more than a century, on Nov. 10, 1985.

Age has a maturing effect on youth, President Monson once said. He recalled with fondness one of his first church callings, as assistant superintendent of the Young Men's Mutual Improvement Association.

"I was 17 at the time," President Monson said. "I smiled when I looked at the superintendent and the other assistant. They were 64 and 59 years old, respectively."

John R. Burt was President Monson's former bishop. When Bishop Burt was called to the stake presidency, he was asked who should replace him as bishop.

"I was silent for several minutes, and the stake president finally said, 'If you can't think of someone to succeed you, you must not have been a very good bishop.' I finally told him I was taking my time because I was trying to figure out how to explain to him why I thought a 22-year-old kid should replace me as bishop," Burt once said in an Associated Press story.

Colleagues often praise President Monson's intelligence, vigorous optimism and seemingly photographic memory.

Years ago, he memorized much of the church's General Handbook of Instructions, then traveled to the closed East German nation and started to type it. Most outside literature was not allowed into the communist country. Partway through his typing he saw on the office shelf a copy of the book someone already hadsmuggled in.

"I have a memory like an elephant," President Monson once said.

However, despite widespread admiration of his memory, President Monson maintained that he does not have photographic recall.

"I make no concerted effort to retain a particular thought, but, for reasons I can't explain, I can retain rather freely thoughts that have impressed me," he said.

President Monson loves to quote at length from favorite poets such as Ella Wheeler Wilcox, William Wordsworth, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, William Cullen Bryant, Alfred Lord Tennyson and William Shakespeare. He also enjoyed plays and musicals and concentrated on gleaning something of eternal significance from the works of art and entertainment.

His love for learning impelled him to seek higher education even while he was serving as an apostle. He earned his bachelor's degree in marketing from the University of Utah in 1948, graduating cum laude. More than 20 years later, he yearned for still more knowledge.

"One of my idiosyncrasies is that I want to finish whatever I start," President Monson said. "When I was called to the Council of the Twelve, the only thing I could remember that I had begun and not completed was work for a master's degree. So, working evenings when I had them free and occasional Saturday mornings before I went to conferences, I enrolled at BYU on an extension basis and qualified for my master of business administration degree."

In 1981, Brigham Young University also awarded President Monson an honorary doctor of laws degree.

The same pertinacity and quest for excellence that characterized his educational pursuits also distinguished President Monson's career. Because his father owned a printing office, President Monson worked as a printer's helper during high school and college and continued his involvement with printing and publishing throughout his life.

"His life has been one of serving and helping others," Jon Huntsman Sr. said at a dinner in 2004 that honored President Monson. He also said President Monson has most of the physical characteristics of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

President Monson feels that nothing is better than reaching down and lifting another person up.

"He's a spiritual giant," Lynne Cannegeiter, his longtime secretary, said. "He's a doer of the word. ... He forfeits his personal time to visit the sick."

"His motto is: 'sign your work with excellence,"' she said.

The Monsons have three children, eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

His daughter, Ann Dibb, said her father loves studying about World War II. He would watch Perry Mason reruns late at night, sometimes falling asleep, and then be disappointed he missed the ending.

She said he loves raising pigeons and chickens. His Birmingham roller pigeons won second place in a national pigeon contest during the 1950s. He also likes fishing the Provo River and spending time at the family cabin in Vivian Park.

"Fishing refuels my father," she said. "He's very good doing many things at once. ... Dad is larger than life. ... Dad lifts others. He is also complementary."

She also said he usually wakes up happy and whistles all the time.

The late President James E. Faust, second counselor in the First Presidency, once said of President Monson: "No one in our time has been called so young to do so much. ... He is also blessed with so much energy. ... He's a big man with a big heart."

Complied by Lynn Arave, Thomas Hatch and Rosemary Reeve