Gordon Monson: Adios, Robert Kirby, thanks for the insights and the laughs

The longtime Tribune columnist is retiring, but he helped us all understand our place in the world, while chuckling at the same time

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Robert Kirby.

Talked with Robert Kirby on the phone Monday morning for about an hour, covering a list of subjects about 500 miles long, everything from injuries suffered by way of our own clumsiness — you know, falling off ladders, crashing while riding bikes, pulling a hammy while running from people wielding pitchforks, intent on doing us bodily harm — to how cool grandkids are.

(We did not discuss flushing dead rats down the toilet in the women’s restroom at the local church building when we were kids and having to confess to the bishop about it or whether Led Zeppelin should be in the LDS hymnbook or that our “little factories” were included in human anatomy for proper production, per writings of his past.)

Either way, I couldn’t help wishing that all Tribune readers — and everyone, everywhere — had the opportunity to chat with Kirby like that. The dude’s a treasure. I’ve always thought I was pretty funny. The difference between Robert and me is that he actually is funny. I laughed for the better part of 45 minutes. But I was reminded of stuff, too.

Good stuff.

Stuff like what’s most important in life, what’s worth holding onto and what’s best left to let drift away.

En route, the realization arrived that Tribune readers have, in fact, had chats like that with Kirby — for nearly three decades, as they’ve absorbed his written words, laughing along with or at every other sentence, and then melding with and reflecting on their own experiences in regard to the topic at hand.

Mixed in with the grins and giggles has been a big bagful of insights — on current events, on religion, on politics, on religion, on culture, on religion, on blowing things up, on religion.

I told him he was the rarest of newspaper writers in that everyone has a favorite Kirby column, and maybe two fistfuls of them, columns that did one or all of the following: entertained them, confirmed their own views, made them look at things a little differently.

Asked if he ever changed anybody’s mind, he humbly said that maybe he had, based on the feedback that came his way.

Here’s what readers likely have been able to figure out for themselves about the Kirbster: He is a man of unique faith, wonderfully imperfect though it might be, and anybody who wants to argue with him about the particulars of that faith can go … um … can go … twist and shout.

His faith and his view of his faith is … his.

Vast in some areas, narrow in others.

Kirby, too, has his limits when it comes to what he’s willing to believe. When the Tribune once made a mistake in a headline, pronouncing something along the lines that, “LDS Church president Gordon Monson would speak at General Conference,” Kirby sent me a text that read: “Any church that has you as its leader, I want out of — immediately.”

Thank the Good Lord Above that Kirby was willing to share his view of faith on the reg with so many people, people eager to relate to and find good humor in and sometimes weep at whatever was on the table that day. One of the beauties of what he wrote is that it existed not in the black and white of fanaticism or extremism — the man was nobody’s zealot — but in the real world, a place where most Earthlings, even Mormons — Can we use that term anymore? — live.

His routine theme was: Lighten up, Francis.

I’m using the past tense here, as though Kirby has died.

He has not.

He’s only retired from writing his Tribune column, the last one having appeared on Sunday, hitting the throttle now toward whatever’s next, the rest of his life.

Readers, with any luck, will remember some of his messages and, if they see fit, adopt some of his attitudes, not the ones that might lead to physical harm — falling off mountains or unintentionally burning down a shed or breaking a friend’s nose with a shovel — but the ones that instead lead to a better understanding of our place in the world, stuck as we are somewhere between hell and heaven, always reaching a little more for the latter.

And laughing as we do.

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.