SALT LAKE CITY — The phone rang at 11:40 p.m. Tuesday.
"I just want to inform you that President Thomas S. Monson passed away," said the church official. And with that stop-the-presses moment, a transition that has only happened 15 times in 187 years was beginning.
During the past week, President Monson's legacy and impact on the world has been well documented. He was one of the longest-serving apostles in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, contributing to the growth of the church from 2.1 million members to 15.9 million during his years in the ministry. The number of temples grew from 12 to 159. His committment to education expanded the opportunities for higher education, most recently with BYU-Pathway Worldwide. His humanitarian outreach blesses the lives of millions with the basic necessities of life throughout the world.
He was a true disciple of Jesus Christ. He also was a Deseret News alum and no stranger to its presses.
As Trent Toone wrote this week:
"President Monson first worked at age 12 at a print shop where his father was employed and in time became an apprentice.
When President Monson was dating his future wife during his college years, he was introduced to the Deseret News in an interesting way. On New Year's Eve 1944, Tom and Frances were celebrating together when Tom learned his date had to work the next morning and needed to be home by 2 a.m., (Heidi S.) Swinton wrote in his biography.
'What kind of a company would expect you to work on New Year’s Day?' Tom asked.
'The Deseret News,' she replied."
He would join the Deseret News as an advertising manager and have several positions, ultimately serving as chairman of the board of Deseret Publishing Company and maintaining his interest as president of the church up until his death.
"President Monson valued the printed word. If there was a typo in the Church News, he noticed it. If a name was spelled wrong, he called the Church News offices. He cared about commas and other forms of punctuation," said Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News editor.
"For years I wondered why he focused on so many little things — especially while serving in the First Presidency of a church of millions. Then I realized his life was a collection of thousands of little things. He had the ability to recognize the look of someone who was lonely and the ability to recall an obscure directive in the Church Handbook of Instruction. To him everything — large or small — that represented Jesus Christ and his church mattered."
So he would have appreciated us pulling back Page 1 of the print edition on Tuesday night to include the announcement of his death and an extensive obituary in Wednesday's print edition. Phone calls awakened many Deseret News staffers as stories — many prewritten to document his life — began to be updated and posted on deseretnews.com.
In our combined Deseret News/KSL newsroom, longtime KSL anchor Deanie Wimmer broadcast the news well into the early morning. Our KSL partners would broadcast for nine straight hours beginning early Wednesday morning, reflecting on the life of this most influential man.
Our online metrics allow us to note where people are from as they learned about the news of the prophet's passing. And as the sun came up around the globe, eyes turned to deseretnews.com to learn of his life and pay tribute.
From Jamaica and West Africa, Europe and other points, they read, then they left a message of condolence on the website.
We followed the Wednesday coverage with a 12-page commemorative section, and the Church News this weekend also provided extensive perspective. His ministry to both the world and to the one was cherished.
Sarah, of the Church News, recalled an interview she did in 2010 with President Monson about humanitarian efforts. Twenty-five years earlier a church-wide fast facilitated aid being sent to Ethiopia and set in motion the church's emergency response program. She said she came prepared with the following information to discuss: Since the fast for Ethiopia, the church had provided $1.9 billion in assistance in 189 countries. At the time of the interview, that relief has equated to 61,308 tons of food, 12,829 tons of medical supplies and 84,681 tons of clothing.2 comments on this story
"But President Monson didn't answer my questions the way I thought he would," she said. "He was very aware of every aspect of church aid distributed during the past 25 years and where it had gone. But he wasn't concerned with the statistics. He wanted to talk about the people — specific tsunami victims in Southeast Asia, a little boy victimized by flooding in the Philippines, children blessed by measles and polio vaccination efforts and women helped by clean water projects."
Then he told her something that would help identify this great leader: "I think we should not put an artificial border around need," he said. "The Lord didn't and we shouldn't."
A lesson to us all.