Fifty-four years. Few of us do anything for 54 years. But Thomas S. Monson, the recently-deceased prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was a servant and apostle of the Mormon church for 54 years.
A private prophet and selfless shepherd, Monson was most known for his unwavering love for individuals. The president and prophet of a large institutional church, he was also just a man. Mormons do not believe that prophets are infallible. But as a man who lived his religion, Monson was pretty darn close.
Monson was the type of leader who would take time to say hello and wave at the janitor cleaning the parking garage as he drove himself home in his humble, blue Impala. He was the kind of man who would take the coat off his back and give it to a man on the street who looked like he needed one. Or his shoes. Or even just his infectious smile. Such respect, attention and love changed the lives of those he touched.
He mourned with those who mourned, and comforted those who needed comfort.
As The Tribune’s Peggy Fletcher Stack and David Noyce reported, Monson “was the same affable leader, folksy preacher and care-taking friend after becoming the LDS Church’s 16th president in 2008 as he was during his more than five decades as one of the faith’s 12 apostles.”
An avid sports fan, he was a frequent fixture at Utah Jazz games. And few University of Utah fans can forget the many times he claimed his alma mater by singing the Ute fight song with spirit and pride.
It was that likability and sense of humor that endeared him to Mormons and non-Mormons worldwide.
His tenure as president was limited by his health condition and included some controversial issues, such as Proposition 8 in California, which prohibited gay marriage, the rise of Ordain Women, a group seeking female ordination, and a policy change declaring gay couples “apostates” and forbidding children of gay parents to be baptized at age 8 absent special permission.
But Monson also presided over an increase in the number of Mormon missionaries, especially female missionaries, and the rise of Mitt Romney on the national stage, which brought the church under particular public scrutiny. The church increased its international welfare to help fight disease and natural disasters, and it embraced media and technology to share its Christian message.
Mostly, Monson refocused the mission of the church itself to include care for the poor and needy, the quintessential teaching of Christ throughout the New Testament.
But if one role could sum up Monson and his legacy, it would be his role as a bishop. Prior to his service as an apostle, Monson was a Mormon bishop, which is a volunteer position as the leader of a local congregation. He was 22 years old, which is a very young age to be saddled with the responsibility of the health and welfare of hundreds of people, including more than 80 widows in his west Salt Lake City ward. He loved this role, though, and never stopped administering to those in need.
Monson is alive in the well-known saying: preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.
He was a storyteller, a caretaker and a friend. He was a true man of God.