Family Members Share Memories of President Monson in Honor of His 90th Birthday

  • 17 August 2017

President Thomas S. Monson visits with his great-grandchildren in August 2017.

“Some may ask what has helped [President Monson] to live such a long, productive life, or what ‘secrets’ would he share. I believe a few would be his desire to do his duty, to serve others, and to be cheerful, or look on the ‘bright side of life.’” —Ann M. Dibb, daughter

In honor of President Thomas S. Monson’s 90th birthday, family members share personal experiences and recount important teachings from the prophet.

Tom Monson, son:

With my mother by his side, my father served as mission president of the Toronto Canada Mission from the time I was 7 through 10 years of age. After our family returned home to Salt Lake City, my father was away from home every weekend, visiting stake conferences in connection with his assignments as a member of various Church committees. Less than two years after returning from Canada, he was called to the office of Apostle by President David O. McKay. Then my father was away from home even more. He preferred to travel “light,” typically taking just one small suitcase for most trips, or a somewhat larger one for the three- and four-week journeys to tour multiple missions in the areas where he had been assigned stewardship, such as Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific.

However, after my father was assigned supervision of the Church in western Europe, he began traveling with a much larger suitcase. This was during the Iron Curtain era when Germany was divided by the infamous Berlin Wall. For each trip to Europe, my mother packed a large suitcase with far more of my father’s clothing than he could possibly require. The bag was heavy. Upon returning, it was always much lighter—because it was nearly empty.

Thomas S. Monson with his wife, Frances, and their children, Tom, Ann, and Clark.

Dad dearly loved and respected the Saints residing in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). He witnessed their hardships and poverty while living under communist rule. Because Sunday clothes were extremely difficult for them to come by, Dad always took with him extra suits, dress shirts, and shoes. These he left in the GDR for use by the priesthood brethren.

My father spent many years supervising the Church missions and stakes in that part of the world. He felt keenly that the Lord desired His Saints in the GDR to be able to receive the blessings of the temple. Only a few of the estimated 5,000 Church members in the GDR had received temple ordinances by traveling outside Germany, principally to the Swiss Temple after its dedication in 1955. Beginning in 1957, the GDR government forbade most travel outside the country. Through the efforts of my father and those assisting him, particularly Brother Henry J. Burkhardt of the GDR, a few local Church leaders were finally permitted to travel to general conference in Salt Lake City, one or two at a time.

When the time came to reassign supervision over the missions around the world, the First Presidency allowed my father to retain his European assignment, in order to pursue the Church’s ongoing efforts to obtain permission to construct an LDS temple in the GDR. Through the Lord’s intervention in response to the countless prayers of the faithful, these efforts finally bore fruit in 1985, with the dedication of the Freiberg Temple in Saxony, German Democratic Republic.

Ann M. Dibb, daughter

Turning 90 is a momentous occasion. Several of my father’s relatives achieved this distinction, and I believe my father would settle for nothing less. President Monson is one who clings to and loves life. Some may ask what has helped him to live such a long, productive life, or what “secrets” would he share.

President Thomas S. Monson visits with his great-grandchildren.

I believe a few would be his desire to do his duty, to serve others, and to be cheerful, or look on the “bright side of life.”

I remember riding in the car as my mother would drop my father off at the airport or she would pick him up. Dad would always return home brimming full of stories. They’d be stories of faith where he would know who needed a special blessing, who needed to be thanked or visited, who the Lord wanted to serve in a specific calling. All of these stories and examples blessed our family and strengthened my testimony. I’m grateful my father has always chosen to fulfill his priesthood duty.

In regard to service, President Monson has lived by several scriptures. One scripture would be King Benjamin’s admonition “that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17). Another, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto … the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40).

Once a woman shared with me her Thomas S. Monson experience. She had had several crippling disappointments and she was despondent. My father was on a fishing trip and met the husband of this woman. Upon hearing of his wife’s need, my father suggested that they go and visit her.

Several years later, this woman cheerfully shared with me, “Your father told me that I should: ‘First, take life an inch at a time. Second, trust in the Lord (see Proverbs 3:5–6). He sees the whole picture. Third, be patient.’

“Before leaving, he gave me a priesthood blessing. Afterwards, I put into action what he had told me. Because of this half-hour experience, I was given strength and hope. I was forever changed because I knew that what he shared with me was true and came from the Lord. I felt encircled in the love of the Savior because President Monson took the time to serve me and bless me in my time of great need.”

Finally, President Monson always chooses to look on the bright side and to “be of good cheer.” A good day is a bright sunny day, hopefully including yellow flowers. You know my father is happy by the happy tune he may be whistling. If there are trials to be faced, he is optimistic and positive that the Lord will bless those in need with an answer to their prayer or with the power to endure or overcome whatever trial may be theirs. I’ve always loved my father’s smile. When he smiles and shares a story or two, a humorous anecdote, you know that you can do anything.

I am grateful for the example of my parents. I include my mother because my mother was my father’s constant and enabling support. Throughout my father’s long life, he has chosen to do his duty, serve others, and be of good cheer. I’ve been blessed by being able to observe my father modeling these “secrets” throughout my life.

I am also thankful for the prayers of the membership of the Church. The power of their prayers have blessed my father throughout his 90 years. Thank you, and as my father would probably conclude, “God bless us, every one” (from A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens).

Clark Monson, son:

Some 45 years ago I developed an interest in birds of prey. I read everything I could about them. At that time, Dad coincidentally met a BYU faculty member, Dr. Clayton White, whose career was devoted to researching raptors—particularly peregrine falcons. Dad informed Dr. White of my interest, and Dr. White said he would like to meet me.

On one of the very few Saturdays a year that Dad wasn’t away from home on Church business, he took the time to drive me to Provo from Salt Lake City to meet Dr. White. After an hour-long conversation, Dr. White showed us a live pair of peregrine falcons in an aviary atop the BYU science building.

This experience initiated a friendship with Dr. White that continues to this day. Today I am a BYU faculty member in the Department of Geography where I pursue my interest in raptors, including peregrine falcons.

I should add that Dad loved raising pigeons—a favored food of hawks and falcons! Despite my love for the mortal enemies of his pigeons, Dad always supported my interest in raptors, and he regularly spent what little personal time he had to help me enjoy my interests.

Patty Monson, daughter-in-law:

My father-in-law, President Monson, and I both share a love of musicals. I remember when the Broadway touring company of Cats first came to Salt Lake City, he took all of us—his kids and spouses—to the show at the Capitol Theater. It was a magical experience for me.

President Monson has always been generous and thoughtful. He reminds me of what Eliza Doolittle says of Colonel Pickering in the musical My Fair Lady: “I know that I shall always be a lady to Colonel Pickering because he always treats me like a lady, and always will.” President Monson has always treated me (and others) with respect and kindness.

From Mark S. Dibb, grandson:

Many are surprised to hear that despite his busy schedule, my grandpa was immensely involved with our childhood. He is the quintessential grandpa. I grew up helping him edge his lawn while he drove his riding lawnmower, he took me and my siblings on all the rides at Disneyland, and we’ve watched many basketball and football games together. But at the same time, I know he is a prophet of God. At any moment, when needed, Tom Monson becomes President Monson. Because of our close relationship, I have had the great blessing to palpably see this metaphorical transformation taking place.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to go on a fishing trip with my grandpa. Our days were spent fishing, and the evenings were spent listening to my grandpa’s stories and losing to him in checkers (he is surprising good at checkers). He was, by definition, in grandpa mode. On one of our last nights of our trip, our fishing guide and host requested a blessing for his wife, who was in the midst of cancer treatments. My grandpa was, of course, happy to oblige. Being a Melchizedek Priesthood holder, I was invited to participate in the blessing. As we placed our hands on this sweet sister’s head and my grandpa began to pronounce the blessing, Tom Monson became President Monson. The words he spoke were not his own. The Spirit enveloped the room in a way I had never felt before. I quite literally opened my eyes during the blessing to look over and make sure it was still my grandpa standing by my side. It was a wonderful testimony to me of the validity of my grandpa’s calling as the prophet of God.

Sally Monson, granddaughter:

When I was in elementary school, I was given the assignment to read a biography and then make some kind of doll or puppet of the person the biography was about. For my book report, I chose to read my grandpa’s autobiography (my grandpa wrote an autobiography for the family called On the Lord’s Errand). I stitched clothes for a wooden artist’s mannequin to create a miniature of my grandpa.

After I presented my book report in school, I took the mannequin up to show my grandpa. He loved it so much that I gave it to him. He called it “his little man” and put it in his office. After a while, he took it back home and now it sits in a prominent place above his television. To this day, it is still there. Every once in a while, my grandpa will turn to me when we are sitting in his family room and say, “Do you see my little man up there?” and then chuckle in delight. Even though it is just a silly doll I made for an elementary school project, it means the world to me that he’s kept it all these years and that it still provides him with genuine enjoyment.

Paul Monson, grandson:

I’m grateful that my grandpa managed to make time to attend some of my soccer and tennis matches over the years. When I was very young he even came to one of my swimming lessons. He would also take time to come down to Provo when my sister and I were performing in ward Primary programs. Also, when his health was poor, he still attended my mission farewell. I know that wasn’t easy for him to do, but I will never forget that he was there for me.

Alan Dibb, grandson:

I’ve been able to see President Monson “in action” many times. As grandkids, we have been able to spend quite a bit of time with him. He loved taking us places to have fun or just spend time together. In reflecting on all those wonderful memories, the thing that sticks out the most is his caring for each individual, each child of God. I’ve witnessed him cheerfully greet everyone he meets, from the attendees of a small fireside in Alaska to the people that approach him at the rodeo or while we’re out to breakfast. He cares about everyone. I can say that because I have felt that same care my entire life. The most recent example was a couple weeks ago when I was in Salt Lake City for a visit. I stopped by his home to say hi. I was intending it to be a short visit, but ended up staying and having dinner with him. I had a wonderful time and he asked about my kids, my job, and the heat in Phoenix where I live. He cared about how I was doing.

I am grateful for President Monson’s example of Christlike love. I wish such attributes were hereditary. There have been many times I have watched my grandpa and wondered, “How does that love come so naturally? How can I do that?” It is usually about that same time that I recognize what he is doing is not because of a personality trait, but because of his prophetic calling. The man I know as Grandpa is who he is because of what the Lord has made of him. I know that he has been called of God and that I can have that same divine help in my callings and in my family.