Thomas S. Monson sat over on the end of the small bleachers, watching his grandson play tennis. I wasn’t surprised to see him at a sporting event since he quite publicly had attended a lot of football and basketball games in the past — Jazz games, Utah games, BYU games, games of other teams, games of all sorts.
He was a big sports fan.
And I thought that was kind of cool. A man of God, a man who had spent the entirety of his life in the service of people, from the ordinary to the extraordinary, who also could divert his time long enough to dial in on and fire up over happenings on the court or field, on winners and losers, the results about which the Great God In Heaven couldn’t have cared less.
But Tom Monson did care.
A friend of mine was President Monson’s longtime home teacher, a role in the LDS Church that calls for one congregational member to look after the needs of another. My friend just happened to be a neighbor of the church’s leader, and was assigned to visit with him at least once a month.
He talked more than religion with the Mormon prophet. He talked sports, too, hearing candid opinions from Tom the fan about certain teams, players and coaches. Yep, even a spiritual oracle has strong views on who should play, who should win, what plays a coach should call.
I would’ve loved to have sat next to the man in his TV den during a football game, scarfing a plate of ham sandwiches and throwing back a few ice-cold non-alcoholic beverages. Now that would have been a Saturday afternoon.
President Monson was carrying on, telling stories, laughing, having a good time from his seat in the bleachers, as his grandson whacked the tennis ball across the net. I was there to watch one of my daughters play in the same tournament.
The ecclesiastical leader had a large frame and was hard to miss. He was with his wife and son. And I didn’t want to bother him, so I sat down at the other end of the bleachers, content to watch the action from there.
About 10 minutes passed before I saw President Monson standing right in front of me, blocking my view just as my daughter was hitting an ace. He may have been all tight with the Man Upstairs, but he still made a better door than window.
He looked at me sternly, extended out his big paw, and said as we shook hands: “I guess one Monson ought to be courteous enough to come introduce himself to the other.”
He grinned and then guffawed as he said it.
I stood and talked with him off to the side for a while, and then we walked a bit.
Yeah, he loved sports.
This was years ago, but the warmth spilling out from Thomas Monson that day has stayed with me. It was sincere and it was memorable. Having interviewed thousands of people of prominence over the past 40 years, for me, the essence of the guy was absolutely unique.
On account of our shared last names, I’ve been asked for a good portion of my life if I was related to President Monson. I’ve been told of accounts of people praying in Sacrament Meetings, unintentionally asking Deity to bless the prophet Gordon Monson. Somebody at The Tribune once mistakenly wrote a headline over a story that said something like, “President Gordon Monson will address General Conference …” And I got a subsequent message from columnist Robert Kirby, who wrote: “Any church that has you as a prophet, I want out of.”
No. I am not directly related to Thomas Monson, only through the family of man, connected by name, by way of different Swedish ancestries.
But he was a sports fan. And a pretty cool one, at that.
May he rest in peace.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.