Sister Frances J. Monson Was “the Ideal Wife and Mother”
By Gerry Avant, Church News editor
Surrounded by her family, Sister Frances Beverly Johnson Monson, wife of President Thomas S. Monson, died early Friday morning, May 17, in a Salt Lake City hospital. President Monson was constantly by her side during the six and a half weeks she was hospitalized.
At a news conference Friday afternoon, their daughter, Ann M. Dibb, described a tender scene that was prelude to President and Sister Monson’s earthly farewell: “He was with her last evening (Thursday, May 16), and I was able to witness them as my father took her hand, and he stroked her arm and he gave her words of encouragement.”
She said that at one point that evening, President Monson was reviewing his date book with her and commented, “Frances, tomorrow is May 17. It’s my father’s birthday and it’s your father’s birthday.”
Sister Dibb said, “I had forgotten that. As soon as he said that, I thought, ‘Oh! What’s going to happen tomorrow?’
“It’s been almost 60 years since my mother has been with her father. It’s time that they welcomed her home.”
Sister Dibb said, “My mother had gifts that were hers that she was blessed from heaven with. I also know she has gone through refinement, that she’s had difficulties, that she’s overcome those challenges and has done so with great faith.”
Sister Monson had many physical ailments, most of which stemmed from falls, the first of which was about 30 years ago, when she lost her balance while changing a patio light bulb. During the April 2008 general conference, President Monson spoke of a fall a few years earlier that left Sister Monson in a coma for 18 days.
In a devotional address at BYU–Idaho that year, Sister Dibb gave a powerful example of President Monson’s faith. “My father was very concerned and prayed continually,” Sister Dibb said. “He was given a small room at the hospital, called a comfort room, and had all of his work sent to him. He visited my mother every hour and spoke to her. His faith and prayers were answered. She awoke from the coma. Not long afterwards, her doctor started explaining to my father and me what we could expect in terms of recovery. He was not very optimistic. My father interrupted the doctor in midsentence and asked, ‘Doctor, do you have faith? Do you believe in miracles?’ The doctor stammered and did not know how to respond. Then my father continued, ‘Well, I do. We’re going to continue in our faith. We are going to pray. Frances will be in the Lord’s hands, and along with all of the capable medical help, we believe the Lord will help her recover.”
Sister Ann Dibb poses with her parents, President Thomas S. Monson and Sister Frances J. Monson, at a mission presidents seminar in June of 2010. Photo courtesy of the Monson family.
At the news conference May 17, Sister Dibb said, “I know that my mother’s life has been extended multiple times, and because of that knowledge she was able to endure extreme challenges, … doing so in quiet acceptance. I don’t know how she did it.”
President and Sister Monson would have observed their 65th wedding anniversary this coming October.
He first saw her dancing with another young man at a “hello day” dance at the University of Utah, where they were both freshmen.
In 2008, just prior to their 60th anniversary, President Monson told the Church News that he has never described it as “love at first sight,” but he knew from the moment he saw her that he wanted to meet her. It took about a month before he managed to be introduced to her.
“She was—and still is—beautiful,” President Monson said.
Of the things that impressed him about her, he said, “She had a lovely smile. She seemed to enjoy life and laughed readily.” He was impressed with her intelligence, noting that she studied and excelled in math and science, and had a deep understanding of the gospel.
They were married in the Salt Lake Temple on October 7, 1948. He was 21; she turned 21 less than a month later, on October 27.
They were 22 when he was called as bishop of a ward with some 1,080 members, 84 of whom were widows. As a young bishop’s wife, she embraced the opportunity to not only support her husband but also to serve others in a ward where the Church welfare program was a significant part of his administration.
They were still in their young adult years when, at age 27, he was called as a counselor in a stake presidency. They were 31 when he was called to preside over the Canadian Mission from 1959 to 1962. In the terminology of that day, she was quite young to be the “mission mother,” yet she ably fulfilled her calling. She had only a few weeks to prepare for their mission assignment. They arrived at mission headquarters in Toronto with two young children, Tom and Ann. Another son, Clark, was born in Toronto.
President Monson was 36 when he was called to serve in the Quorum of the Twelve. For a few weeks—until her birthday on October 27—the newest Apostle’s wife was just 35.
As the “junior Apostle,” Elder Monson was sent on assignments that took him away from home up to five weeks at a time. He commented to the Church News that during the first year he served in the Quorum of the Twelve he was home only about half the time. Sister Monson was left to manage things at home—in the days when telephone calls were limited mostly to emergencies and no one had heard of the Internet, emails, or Skype.
Sister Dibb said Sister Monson was a resourceful wife, mother, and homemaker who knew how to shop for bargains, maintain a budget, and carry out household repairs.
Sister Monson’s brother, Arnold Johnson of the Lindon 17th Ward, Lindon Utah Stake, called his sister “level headed and nonconfrontational.”
“I knew and observed the way she ran her home and the way she insulated President Monson from the household world,” he said. “She handled their home and allowed him to spend time with the Church, from the time he was bishop to the time he was President. … She simply took care of things, and he didn’t have to worry about the household.”
With her mother staying in their home to watch over the children, Sister Monson accompanied Elder Monson on a few of his assignments in the early years of his apostleship and traveled more frequently with him after their children were grown. However, she preferred to be home.
President Monson once commented, “In each calling I have constantly discovered new abilities and talents in my wife. She is at my side to help in every way.”
In an interview with the Church News in 2008, President Monson described their meeting as “providential” and added, “She has been supportive from the day we married. She has never complained. She has been the ideal wife and mother.”