President Thomas S. Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, had extra responsibilities placed on his shoulders after President James E. Faust, his long-time friend and colleague in the First Presidency, passed away.
On Tuesday, Aug. 14, President Monson joined President Gordon B. Hinckley in speaking at President Faust's funeral. The next couple of days were filled with many duties for the remaining counselor in the First Presidency. Yet, as he prepared to go home on Thursday evening, Aug. 16, President Monson commented to his secretary that he felt prompted to visit a friend who had been in his ward's teachers quorum when young Tom Monson was the quorum's president. 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.
At the care center, President Monson realized that his friend's hours on earth were limited. He spoke words of comfort and, with one of the man's sons assisting, gave a blessing. The next morning, Aug. 17, President Monson received news that his friend had passed away.
"Never delay a prompting," said President Monson during a Church News interview just an hour or so after he learned of his friend's death. "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."
And what a powerful testimony President Monson bears, and what an example he sets in putting the needs of others ahead of his own. Even a noon-time celebration of his 80th birthday, which was Aug. 21, was deferred because he wanted to honor the request of another friend's family to speak at a funeral on that day.
He and his wife, Frances J. Monson, spent the evening of his birthday with family members. On Aug. 22, his birthday was more formally celebrated at a reception in the Church Administration Building, with President Gordon B. Hinckley, several members of the Quorum of the Twelve, other General Authorities, family members and the First Presidency office staff among those extending birthday wishes.
President Hinckley said to President Monson, "What a proud day it was when you were born." Then, to the gathering of well wishers, President Hinckley said, "His mother had great expectations. They have all been fulfilled."
In his response, President Monson thanked those who had gathered to celebrate his birthday. He spoke of his admiration for President Hinckley, calling him "a tutor and a model to follow."
Also, he expressed gratitude for the privilege to be of service. "There is nothing quite like being in the service of the Lord Jesus Christ, and all of us have that privilege," he said.
In his interview with the Church News, President Monson said, "I've never spent time worrying about birthdays, but they creep up on you. It seems like I just get settled into one year, and then I'm in another."
President Monson said that birthdays were always important in his family, and each one was celebrated. He spoke of his family and extended family, of the closeness they felt to one another and of many shared experiences. He reminisced about visits to the homes of grandparents, aunts and uncles, and of gatherings at the family cabin in Provo Canyon in Utah County. "I remember that we placed three beds on the sleeping porch and nine people lay across them," he said. As the designated fisherman, he brought from the Provo River fish for family meals.
He still values family and time together, although the demands of his office are great. He was just 36 years old when he was called to the Quorum of the Twelve in 1963; he was called as a bishop at age 22 and as a mission president at age 31.
"Some years ago I was interviewed for an article which was to appear on my birthday. I was asked by the interviewer what I wished I might have done differently in the past. I mentioned that I would like to have spent more time with my children. When the article appeared in print, my daughter read it. She promptly came over to the house and said she needed to speak with me. With a tremor in her voice and a tear in her eye, she said, 'Dad, you have never neglected your family. Don't ever again suggest otherwise!' How pleased I was that she felt that way."
He has such a relationship with his grandchildren that President Faust once quipped, "If I could live my life over, I would want to be born as one of President Monson's grandchildren."
Whether it's a school play, a tennis match or other event, he has made extra efforts to be in the cheering section for his grandchildren.
Christmas holds a special place in the Monson family. Every year, the family gathers and President Monson reads the second chapter of Luke, which relates the account of the Savior's birth. Then he reads from "A Christmas Carol," by Charles Dickens, and concludes with a reading from Henry Van Dyke's "The Mansion."
"My children and grandchildren know that I will quote the lines of Jacob Marley's ghost to the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge: "Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness. Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life's opportunity misused! Yet such was I! Oh! such was I!"
The Van Dyke story tells of John Weightman, a man of means, a dispenser of political power, a successful citizen, whose philosophy toward giving was summed up in a statement to his son who wanted to give his annual allowance to people who were needy: "Of course you have to be careful how you give, in order to secure the best results no indiscriminate giving no pennies in beggars' hats!...Try to put your gifts where they can be identified and do good all around."
In a dream, he learns that building a hospital wing, a library and a church for earthly recognition hasn't earned him a glorious mansion in the Heavenly City. He is instructed on what really counts: "Only that which is truly given. Only that good which is done for the love of doing it. Only those plans in which the welfare of others is the master thought. Only those labors in which the sacrifice is greater than the reward. Only those gifts in which the giver forgets himself."
Awakened by a clock chiming 7 a.m., John Weightman discovers he has yet a life to live, love to share and gifts to give.
That story by Van Dyke, said President Monson, is a reminder to everyone about what is important in life and how to treat others.
Asked if he had a birthday wish regarding his future, President Monson said, "I want to live the best I can and do the most for others as long as I can."
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