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Gerry Avant, Church News
President Thomas S. Monson greets a widow in Goerlitz, Germany, in 1995. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf is at back left.

I was associated with President Thomas S. Monson for about 45 years, ever since I joined the Deseret News staff as a young reporter in 1972. I 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. I once wrote of him, “Comfortable in any setting, he aptly could be described as ‘everybody’s friend.’”

Over the years, I noticed one telling characteristic: he treated everyone equally. Whether in a palace or on a public plaza, he took delight in meeting people and was genuinely interested in them.

I saw him move with ease among people of all ages and stations in 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 him 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 slipped a little money into the widow’s hand. With a shake of his head and a dismissive wave toward the camera, he said, “You don’t need to put that in the paper.”

I saw that day that President Monson did not show one more degree of kindness or respect to the king and queen of Sweden than he did for the little widow in Goerlitz.

A few hours after his death, a television reporter asked me what I thought President Monson’s legacy would be. I paused for a few seconds, then said that although he was instrumental in the construction of new temples and other tangible accomplishments, I feel that he will be remembered for his compassion.

2 comments on this story

His name will be linked forever to compassionate endeavors, service to others and a strong desire to help those who are helpless, nourish those who are weak and lift those who suffer various afflictions.

President Monson was my friend. He took time to note some of my accomplishments, offer correction when needed and consolation when bereaved. When my mother died, I returned to my family’s home in Georgia where I had the sad task of helping close out her house. One day, I answered the telephone to hear a kind, compassionate voice say, “Hello, Gerry. This is your friend Tom.”

Those are among the sweetest words I’ve ever heard on the telephone.