He made headlines delivering carefully crafted sermons in huge halls, but he touched hearts through humanitarian visits at hospitals and nursing homes and from chance encounters at restaurants and sports arenas.
Here, readers recount their unexpected meetings with LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson:
Sheldon Gilbert • My little brother was diagnosed with leukemia while serving as missionary in Ghana. While at the University of Utah hospital, Monson surprised him with a visit — and a lot of laughs as Monson complained about buttermilk, pizza and olives.
Madeline Thatcher • My parents met him at a Nordstrom in Salt Lake City one afternoon. President Monson was getting his shoes shined, and when they asked his bodyguard if they could say hello, President Monson was happy to talk. He told them he disliked cats, which convinced my mom he was a prophet.
Jeff Schrade • In the early 1980s, I was working for a company in Utah that invited Thomas Monson to speak at a business gathering. During his comments, he mentioned that, as an LDS general authority, he often stayed with various church leaders while traveling around the world. At one stay, a stake president was horrified to come home with Elder Monson, only to find his son watching a football game on TV. The stake president firmly told his son to turn the TV off immediately. Elder Monson then said something like this, “I immediately told the president that he shouldn’t be so hard on the boy, and we enjoyed the rest of the game.” Those of us in the room broke out into laughter — appreciative of a church leader who had the courage to be honest, kind and human. That sense of humor and kindheartedness is something that can be found in nearly every talk he ever gave.
Taylor on Twitter • I had the chance to go sit in the Huntsman suite at a Jazz game once. Some guy behind me started yelling at the Jazz to “throw some elbows!” I turned around to see who the zealous fan was. There sat President Monson, nursing a Diet Coke.
Joseph Stuart • I was a missionary in Portland [Ore.] teaching Tom, an investigator [potential convert] who decided to get baptized after President Monson’s talk where he wiggled his ears. Tom had been struggling with whether he could be a good Mormon and take on the covenant of baptism. After the prophet wiggled his ears, he told us he knew he’d be a good Mormon, that God didn’t expect us to be anyone other than ourselves. Tom and his wife were sealed in the temple. They’ve served a mission. It’s the little things.
Michael Stanger • I worked at Henries Dry Cleaners on 300 South [in Salt Lake City]. President Monson was a regular customer. We spent hours on Saturday afternoons talking about his beloved German Latter-day Saints (I had served there as a missionary and had brothers serving in the former East Germany at the time). He only wore Seidensticker brand shirts.
Darius Gray, of Genesis, a support group for black Mormons • I remember a graduation day many years ago at BYU when, in the fines art building, I heard my name being called from across the large lobby by President Monson. I had seen him come in, surrounded rightly by friends and admirers. ... Then came the voice. “Hi, Darius, how are you?” “Fine, president,” I replied as I walked toward the crowd. President Monson said, “I’ve been reading your book,” to which I inquired, “Which one?” He generously (graciously) said, “All of them. I read everything you write.” Such was the personal touch, the giving touch, that was Thomas S. Monson.
Orrin Andersen • In August 1974, I was a 13 year-old boy and had the chance to meet President Monson in Jerusalem, where he reorganized the Jerusalem branch with my father as a counselor in the new presidency. As my dad and I were driving him to the Tel Aviv airport, he turned to me and said, “Orrin, what is one thing in Jerusalem you don’t think I would ever see that I might enjoy?” Since we had left ample time, I told my dad to drive to the Israeli Knesset, the national seat of government. The apostle seemed a bit surprised, but he told my father to stay inside the car. Instead of taking him inside the Knesset, I directed him across the street to the Hebrew Chief Rabbinate building (Jewish church headquarters). We crossed, then entered the beautiful building. He said to me, “Orrin, you are correct, I have never been here.”He followed me in. As he looked around briefly, I strode directly to the elevator, which took us to an upper floor. The doors opened and we stepped into a large white room. Surrounding the room was what at first looked like a gallery of paintings but were glass windows peering into incredibly detailed dioramas of moments from Jewish history. They were so real as to make you feel you were viewing actual scenes and witnessing the moment. In that moment, I witnessed the boy in a grown apostle of the Lord. He was speechless and fascinated. I was rather tickled with myself as well. He later said to me and my dad with sincere gratitude, “I will never forget this, Orrin, thank you.” And I will never forget an apostle giving me, a young teen, such a personal and selfless experience that he likely knew I would never forget.