Tall, powerful like the Prophet Joseph, zealous for the Lord as were his predecessor prophets, and inflexible for truth, President Thomas S. Monson was a giant in body and spirit. He was a champion of widows, a friend of the worker, and gold to his friends — he never forgot a friend. He was a teacher, a master storyteller, and a devoted Scout — always a good Scout because like an eager 12-year-old boy, he constantly tried to do his best.
He was a leader’s leader. His life and teachings pointed the way like a laser for Church members in these troubled times.
Sitting in the top councils of the Church for over half a century, he influenced countless decisions and policies regarding scriptures, welfare, education, communication and missionary work to name a few.
Yet he is remembered as much for seized moments to visit the otherwise forgotten — the widows, the ill, the lonely.
“Never postpone a prompting of the Spirit,” he reminded. Those quiet words of the Spirit, often whispering a seemingly impossible task, found a willing servant as he interrupted his work, slipped away from leaders, congregations or friends to comply.
His experiences were almost exclusively among the humble, the unknown or those otherwise forgotten. And experiences he shared touch those tender places in the heart as his visits relieved loneliness, poverty or illness.
Each time he was tutored by the Spirit to be obedient.
“The language of the Spirit had been spoken. It has been heard. It has been understood. Hearts were touched and souls saved,” he explained, in the hope that these responses would inspire others to do likewise, especially among the vast armies of poor, humble and unknown around us all.
“The wisdom of God ofttimes appears as foolishness to men. But the greatest single lesson we can learn in mortality is that when God speaks and a man obeys, that man will always be right.”
President Monson’s deep concern for the underprivileged came from personal experiences, a childhood in a low-income neighborhood during the Great Depression. Here, his mother’s generous tutelage influenced him deeply. She shared precious and few family resources with others who were hungry.
After serving in the U.S. Navy near the end of World War II, he returned home, married Frances Johnson and, at age 22, was called as a bishop, becoming a “father of the ward” to a thousand-plus members in a resource-lacking unit. His mother’s example shone brightly as he gave of himself to seek the poor and deprived.
“To ignore is to injure,” he taught, perhaps thinking of those dark and cold and seldom visited homes of the elderly.
When we are tempted to skip the opportunity to interrupt our plans and step into the unknown to perform service, he reminded, “we cannot estimate accurately our influence upon others,” for at times, “the touch of kindness will heal a lost soul or mend a broken life.”
At age 32 he was called to leave home and take his small family to Toronto, Ontario, as mission president. Just four years later, at age 36 in 1963, he was called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
To the myriad Church leaders he trained, President Monson emphasized a personal ministry, a seeking of the one, perhaps reflecting what he learned in his earlier life. Over sundry years and countless miles — across prairie, pampas and steppes, over Rockies, Andes and Alps, over Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans — he traveled, a backyard ministry turned global. His personal sacrifices and the sacrifices of his family were immense during these years.
At home and on distant continents he taught this truth to nervous men, novices to priesthood responsibilities: “Whom God calls, God qualifies.”
Many missionaries he encouraged, interviewed and admonished. His concern for their families meant reminding, “Write home weekly, elders and sisters.”
He joined local Church leaders intrepidly facing hostile governments during Iron Curtain days in Eastern Europe. “When the time for decision arrives, the time for preparation is past,” he counseled. Such a moment was the tearing down of the Iron Curtain, and the immediate advance of the well-prepared Church into those nations.
His day of foreordination arrived in 2008, following the death of President Gordon B. Hinckley, as he took the helm of a larger Church and boldly steered it into the vicissitudes of the newly broken 21st century. Again, the time for preparation had passed, a time of decision had arrived.
“How grateful I am that the day of faith and the age of miracles are not past history but continue with us even now,” he said.
As 16th president of the Church, now with seasoned international perspective, he confronted one of the planet’s deepest inadequacies, that of want. Where his mother’s scanty pantry once supplied unemployed and hungry men during the Great Depression, under his leadership ships carried food and clothing by the tons in containers to the weather- and famine- and war-ravaged refugees around the world. At home, he counseled bishops to err on the side of generosity. His has been charity at home and charity abroad, living palpably the scriptural admonition of not despising the poor and hungry, but reaching out to them with food and sustenance.
As president he continued making time to reach and quietly to bless those in need. He attended small funerals of the lesser-known faithful, wrote letters of consolation to the bereaved, offering words of comfort and promising spiritual hope. His tender words in shared letters over the pulpit lifted many a grieving family and congregation. Now, in his remembrance will be the unspoken love and deep appreciation of so many.
President Thomas Spencer Monson leaves a huge void at his passing; now ended is a life fulfilled by obedience, strength and courage; an exemplar that will remain undiminished by time.
Indeed, whom God called, God qualified.