First impressions really do count. President Thomas S. Monson and his wife, Frances, can - and do - attest to that.
As President Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, and Sister Monson observed their golden wedding anniversary Oct. 7, they reminisced with the Church News about events that brought them together. In the living room of the home where they have resided for 42 of their 50 years of marriage, each mentioned those first impressions that helped open the door to their future together.President Monson recalled minute details about the "Hello Day" dance at the University of Utah where he first saw Frances Johnson. He had taken another girl to the social and was dancing with her to the music of a popular song, "Kentucky," when Frances and a young man danced by. President Monson said that he caught only a brief glimpse of Frances and knew immediately that he wanted to meet her.
After "Kentucky" finished, he began looking around the dance floor and the room, but didn't see the lovely coed for whom he was searching. "I didn't know if I would ever see that pretty girl again," President Monson said. "I didn't even know her name."
About a month later, he spied her standing at a stop waiting for a streetcar running from the campus to downtown Salt Lake City. She, another girl and a young man were talking. Knowing when swift action was called for, freshman-student Tom Monson boldly walked up to the young man at the streetcar stop, put a hand on his shoulder and exclaimed, "Hello, old friend! How are you?" The "old friend" seemed somewhat surprised at the fervor with which this casual acquaintance had greeted him; nevertheless, he followed social dictates and introduced Tom to the young ladies.
He learned that the one for whom he had been searching was Frances Johnson, a graduate of Salt Lake's East High School. He had graduated from her school's arch rival on the gridiron, West High. Suddenly deciding that he, too, must go downtown, he hopped on the streetcar when it arrived and rode with her to the end of the line. They talked along the way.
It didn't take long for Frances to glean her first impression of her new acquaintance. "It's really strange," Sister Monson reflected. "I just looked at him and thought, `This fellow looks like he is going to go places.' That was the first time I had met him yet, there on the streetcar, I knew that he was going to make something of his life. And, of course, he has."
Tom Monson wasn't about to let Frances Johnson wander out of his life again. As soon as he said goodbye after they got off the streetcar downtown, he whipped out a university pocket directory to underline her name. "The first thing I noticed was that her middle named was spelled wrong," he said. "It was spelled Bervely when it should have been Beverly," he said. His keen eye had been developed while working part-time in the evenings at a print shop. The money he earned financed his social life, which suddenly began to revolve around his beautiful new acquaintance.
Despite the bravado displayed in his ploy to meet Frances, he had some apprehensions as he approached her home to meet her parents and take her out on their first date. His family was what he described as "casual," and somewhat noisy and gregarious. Her family was reserved and "dignified." When he arrived, he found everyone in Sunday best attire, waiting to meet him.
"When we were introduced, Frances' father [Franz Johnson], asked me if my family name was Swedish. When I said it was, he said, `Good!'
"He then went to the bureau and brought out a picture of two missionaries in their top hats, and asked, `Are you related to this Monson?' I recognized the man as my father's brother, Uncle Elias Monson."
Frances' father then embraced Tom and, with tears in his eyes, said, "Elias Monson was one of the missionaries who helped bring the gospel to my mother and father and my entire family in Sweden."
Frances' mother then embraced her daughter's new boyfriend. President Monson said, "When I turned expectantly toward Frances, she said, `Wait a moment. I'll go get my coat.' "
On their golden wedding anniversary, Sister Monson laughed and said, "We decided that our grandparents up in heaven had arranged for us to meet."
President Monson added, "Somebody was pulling for us to be together. I knew from the first moment I laid eyes on her that I wanted to meet her, but then she was gone and I couldn't find her until that day at the streetcar stop."
Their first date was to a dance in the gymnasium of the Pioneer Stake meetinghouse. More glamorous dances ensued. "That was in the days of the big bands," President Monson said. "We never missed any of the big bands."
They danced to tunes made popular by such vocalists as Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Jo Stafford, Dick Haymes, Helen O'Connell and Margaret Whiting.
It wasn't long, however, before they were temporarily separated. In spring, 1945, as World War II was still raging, young Tom Monson enlisted in the U.S. Navy Reserve. Later, he received orders to report for duty in San Diego, Calif. Miles separated them, but letters - written every other day - kept them in close contact.
"I had a little romantic streak in me," President Monson said. "I'd go to the commodore's garden in San Diego, pick off the head of a snapdragon and put that bloom in my letter to her. The bloom would be dried by the time she got it; nonetheless, she'd find a flower from me in the envelope."
The war ended. He was processed for discharge and returned home in August 1946. He again enrolled at the University of Utah and resumed his courtship with Frances, much of which was on dance floors.
During this time in college, he worked part-time at the Deseret News, launching a career where he would become manager of classified advertising, general manager of the Deseret Press and ultimately, for many years, chairman of the board of the Deseret News Publishing Co.
Tom Monson graduated cum laude from the University of Utah in May 1948. He decided it was time to propose marriage to Frances.
"I had bought a diamond ring for her," he said. "I liked the idea of the big surprise. I planned just how to present the ring. Then, one evening when she came to our home, my younger brother, who was just a little fellow, said, `Frances, Tommy has a ring for you.' I could have nailed him! Asking Frances to marry me was something I would do only once in a lifetime, and then my little brother spoiled the surprise!"
Nevertheless, the ring was presented and accepted, and the wedding date was set for Oct. 7, 1948, in the Salt Lake Temple.
"Benjamin L. Bowring, who had been president of the Hawaii Temple and the Los Angeles Temple, performed our sealing," President Monson said. "He told us:
I'd like to give you a formula, which, if followed, will ensure that no misunderstanding will last longer than one day.' He noticed that we were holding hands. He said,Now, I know you think you'll never have a misunderstanding, but I'm married, and you aren't yet. Kneel down by the side of your bed every night and one night, Brother Monson, you offer the prayer, aloud on bended knee; and the next night, Sister Monson, you offer the prayer, aloud on bended knee. If you do this, you'll never retire angry one with another. No misunderstanding that terminates at the end of one day will ever get out of line.' "
President Monson said, "I've shared that same formula with all the couples whose sealings I have performed since I became a General Authority 35 years ago this month."
Although united in purpose, President and Sister Monson have found that much of their life together has been spent apart. From the earliest weeks of their marriage, he has been heavily involved with Church callings, first as ward clerk, then Young Men's Mutual superintendent, and later as a counselor in a bishopric. In 1950, at age 22, he was called to serve as bishop of a ward of 1,060 members, among whom were 88 widows and a large Church welfare load. In 1955, he was called to the presidency of the Temple View Stake.
On Feb. 21, 1959, when he was 31 years old, Tom Monson received a call that enabled them to spend more time together. He was called as president of the Canadian Mission. They had two children and were expecting their third. They left for Toronto within three weeks of the call and served there until early 1962. On Oct. 4, 1963, he was sustained to the Quorum of the Twelve. On Oct. 10 - three days past their 15th wedding anniversary - he was ordained an apostle.
When their children were young, Sister Monson usually stayed home while Elder Monson went away on assignments as a General Authority, sometimes being gone for weeks at a time. "People used to ask me what I did when he was so busy as a General Authority. I'd tell them that I hadn't known much else, since from the earliest days of our marriage, Tom was busy with Church service," said Sister Monson who, herself, was busy serving in the auxiliaries of the Church and rearing their three children. "I learned quite early to stand on my own feet."
President and Sister Monson are parents of two sons and a daughter. They have seven grandchildren.
Through the years, President Monson's responsibilities as a member of the Twelve and First Presidency have taken him throughout the world, over untold miles. "People ask,
Where's the best place you've ever traveled to?' " he said. "I tell them,Home.' "
Asked to what he attributes the success of their marriage, President Monson smiled, turned toward his wife and gave her a look of tenderness and affection that's built over many years. He then said, "Frances is the kind of person who doesn't get on your nerves. She wears well."
Asked the same question, Sister Monson said, "He's been very understanding. One time, I wrecked his car and thought, `Oh, no! He's going to be really upset.' But he wasn't. He took it so well."
"Why shouldn't I? She's more important to me than any car," he added.
"I can honestly say that I don't know of any serious arguments that we've ever had. She has her opinions and I have mine, but we're looking down the road in the same direction, hand in hand."