SALT LAKE CITY — Sheri Dew said her heart stopped when she heard Tuesday night that LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson had died.
Elaine Dalton cried.
President Monson's biographer, Heidi Swinton, called the 90-year-old prophet's passing "a painful experience for me."
They and others who worked with and knew President Monson spoke Wednesday about the ways he changed them, led them and, most of all, how he never stopped ministering person-to-person even as he led a church with 15.9 million members.
President Monson died Tuesday night of causes incident to age, surrounded by family. He was 90. Wednesday came the outpouring of love and support from religious, civic and political leaders, and from thousands across the globe who have been touched by the grace of the man revered as both powerful leader and humble servant as an apostle of Jesus Christ.
And as an era ends, they remembered the numerous, well-loved personal accounts he shared in general conference talks, in meetings and in personal interactions and the lessons those stories conveyed. They are lessons that will be retold in anticipation of funeral services, scheduled Friday, Jan. 12., at noon in Salt Lake City.
Swinton, speaking by phone from Hawaii, described a younger President Monson "as a flurry of activity all the time," unusual in his ministry because he had the capacity of a great administrator but continued giving his attention to each individual person he met even after he became the prophet-leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in February 2008.
"His legacy," she said, "lives on in the goodness in each one of us because of what he taught us from the pulpit and in his life. ... I saw him as a prophet and as a man we could learn from as we live our own lives."
President Monson called Dalton to be the church's Young Women general president soon after he became the church president. Dalton felt prompted to call his daughter, Ann Monson Dibb, as one of her counselors, but that made her so nervous that she wrote the proposal in a note rather than bring the suggestion to him personally, as he'd requested, but he agreed.
"President Monson gave everything to the church, including his precious daughter," she said. Dibb was constantly at her father's side over his final years as he dealt with health and memory problems.
"Her example will tutor me the rest of my life," Dalton said.
She spoke with Dibb on Wednesday morning.
"She is very sad," Dalton said, "but she also has an eternal perspective and mentioned how wonderful that reunion must have been as President Monson saw his beloved Frances again. She said, 'That is such a comfort to me.'"
Sister Frances Monson preceded her husband in death, passing away in May 2013.
Dalton believed hers was the first call President Monson extended as the church's new president in 2008. After he met with her and her husband, Steve, for two hours, he handed her a fresh, white rose.
Dalton had made the white rose her symbol when she was in the Young Women program as a girl.
"I thought, 'how did he know?'" Dalton said. "President Monson handing me that rose was a witness to me of the prophetic mantel he had. Since then, we've planted white roses all over our yard as a constant reminder we are led by a prophet of God. That happened time and time again. He would say and do things only I knew, that no one else knew, not even my husband."
Behind the scenes, President Monson treated Dalton like a best friend.
"He will be missed," said Dalton. "He had a large presence."
When President Monson couldn't help a person or a group on his own, he enlisted others. He regularly called Keith McMullin, an LDS Church general authority and member of the Presiding Bishopric from 1995 to 2012.
"This is Tom Monson," he'd say. "How would you like to paint a bright spot on your soul today?" Then he would ask McMullin to visit a sick person or ask if the church's Welfare Square could dispatch a truck with commodities to the Utah Food Bank.
"I came to understand his big heart, said McMullin, who today is the president and CEO of Deseret Management Corp. "If there was a suffering heart, a group of people in need, you would find him leading the charge in resolving the issue. He was a man of great compassion."
President Monson worked closely with then-church President Gordon B. Hinckley in 1985 during a landmark moment in church history. Leaders asked members to fast for one day and give the money saved by skipping two meals each to help famine victims in Ethiopia.
"In one 24-hour period, church members contributed over $6 million," McMullin said. A second fast later in the year raised another $5 million. ... The church has always been involved in reaching out to people not of our faith, but that marked a turning point."
It was the first time the church had collected large funds exclusively for humanitarian work and led to the creation of LDS Charities.
"President Monson was instrumental in this work as a member of the church's Welfare Committee and as a counselor in the First Presidency to President Ezra Taft Benson, President Howard W. Hunter and President Hinckley," McMullin said. "His wisdom manifested itself on every hand."
Since 1985, LDS Charities has provided $1.89 billion in assistance in 189 countries. In 2016 alone, LDS Charities served millions of people in 147 countries, working with more than 1,500 partners on 2,630 projects.
He saw it
Swinton had a desk in President Monson's office as she wrote his biography for Deseret Book.
"I learned firsthand how important every individual is that we pass by," she said.
He teased her as she followed him to meetings and read his journals — "He called it 'stalking him,'" she said — and then he lifted her, too. As she neared her deadline, she said she lost confidence that she had brought his story to the page the way she wanted.
"He saw it in my eyes and in my face," said Swinton, who will complete a church assignment next week with her husband, the director of the Hawaii Temple visitor's center. "He sat me down and ministered to me and talked me through it."
She went home to choose a name for the book, but none of the possibilities she'd written on pages and pages of ideas was right. All of a sudden, "To the Rescue" came to mind.
"It was a great name," she said. "I was jubilant. I went in the next day and told him, 'I've got it' and told him what it was. He smiled and said, 'You're right.' That's a connection that I will always treasure. It was what people have been feeling about him since before he was a prophet, before he was an apostle and before he was president of the church."
President Monson was a renowned storyteller. Dalton remembered how she loved President Monson's energetic, memorized general conference talks as a girl because he told stories from his life.
But he disliked that term. He did not tell stories, he told Swinton and Dew, who published his biography at Deseret Book. Instead, he said, he shared "true accounts."
"I'll never forget his ability to take a story and teach a sermon," said Dew, executive vice president of Deseret Management Corp. "He had a gift for that type of teaching. He taught, truly, as the Savior taught. He was a teacher every day of his life, and he taught by extracting principles from stories."
He told stories on himself, too, with a great sense of humor and laugh, she said.
His predecessor, President Gordon B. Hinckley, could do more in 15 minutes than anyone Dew has ever met, she said. President Monson regularly held 90-minute meetings full of his true accounts.
"I'd often leave thinking, 'What was he trying to tell me?' Dew said. "And I'd spend a lot of time on those stories."
President Monson's love for stories extended to books and newspapers. He spent years as an executive with the Deseret News and loved publishing deeply. Dew remembered bringing a proposal from Doubleday to the First Presidency. Doubleday wanted to print a commercial copy of the Book of Mormon. As the First Presidency considered how to ensure the scripture's sacred text was protected, President Monson was rubbing the proposed paper stock between his fingers.
"Well, President Hinckley," he said, "I don't know if I care for the paper they're recommending."
"Tom," President Hinckley replied, "you're probably the only one who cares about that."
"President Monson loved — all caps, underscored, put in bold — loved the Deseret News," said Dew, who oversees the paper in her role at DMC. "He was intimately connected to its history, its inception, its mission. He loved everything it stood for and accomplished. If you trace its history, there are an enormous number of times President Monson was a crucial figure in a decision about the paper's future. He felt it was crucial for the church to own a major newspaper in its home city. I've seen him celebrate it and protect it. He left no doubt it was singular and we better not tamper with it. It's almost as though he's been the Deseret News' guardian angel."
McMullin said President Monson reminded him of that in the final DMC board meeting he attended.
"He felt the Deseret News is a vital organ in the community as a vehicle by which people can raise their voices and be heard and voices of clarity and truth can be shared with the people, both in digital and print form," McMulllin said.
A changed church
McMullin knew President Monson for more than four decades and believed he heard every one of President Monson's stories more than once. He recently felt a prompting to consider whether he'd learned the lessons of those stories.
"I was being told, 'here is a great man, a great leader, a representative of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is teaching you.' The feeling was not, can I repeat them, but am I doing them? Am I about the business those stories impart?"
Dew's favorite true account was a commitment President Monson made and declared to the church.
"I wanted the Lord to know," he said, "that if he wanted something done, he could count on Tom Monson."
Dalton said President Monson emulated Christ in a way that tutored the entire church by example.
"His example changed me," she said, "and I know it changed the church."
That sentiment resonated with Swinton.8 comments on this story
"It's the changes in people's lives because they were touched by Thomas Monson that he will be remembered for," she said. "Everywhere I've gone in the world to talk about him, without fail, someone comes up to me with a personal story about how President Monson made a difference for them individually.
"We can learn from that. I did. I learned I can make a difference one person at a time."
The public may attend funeral services Friday, Jan. 12, at noon. The funeral will be open to the public ages 8 and older. A public viewing open to all ages will take place Thursday, Jan. 11, from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. in the Conference Center.