'Age does bring an awareness of responsibility, so does experience'
By Gerry Avant
Church News editor
Having dedicated the Panama City Panama Temple on Aug. 10 and preparing to dedicate the Twin Falls Idaho Temple on Aug. 24 — and in between tending to numerous details required of his office as leader of the Church — President Thomas S. Monson is going strong at age 81.
President Thomas S. Monson, who observed his 81st birthday Aug. 21, keeps a busy schedule administering the affairs of the Office of the President of the Church.
He took some time out of his busy schedule to converse with the Church News a few days before his birthday, which was Aug. 21.
"I'm doing fine," he said when asked about his health. The calendar of his recent activities showed no indication that he has reached a "taking it easy" stage of life. The interview was the sixth meeting on that day's agenda.
He noted that he was born in 1927, the year Charles A. Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic Ocean, flying solo from New York City to Paris. No one, of course, knew that the baby born to G. Spencer and Gladys Condie Monson just three months after Lindbergh's history-making flight would some day cross that same ocean — as well as others — numerous times, not as a pilot setting records, but as a servant of the Lord fulfilling divine commissions.
President Monson was ordained and set apart as President of the Church on Feb. 3, 2008. In the Church News interview, he was asked about this landmark birthday, his first since he became President of the Church, and if he had any particular reflections upon the events of the past months, of his years on Earth and in the service of the Lord.
"Oh, yes," he said. "The responsibility increases manyfold. Advantageous to me has been the privilege of having served as a counselor to President Ezra Taft Benson, President Howard W. Hunter and President Gordon B. Hinckley. 'Whom the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies.' That's the phrase I believe in.
"You just plow in and go to work. I've done that all my life. I haven't had a period in my life that I can remember when I didn't have anything to do. My father (who was in the printing business) believed in young men learning to work, so I started out with a little job in the printing business after school when I was 13; I worked each night after school and on Saturday mornings. I have a good work ethic."
Still on the topic of birthdays, President Monson said, "You don't go through life alone. I think you learn from every person you know and every person you meet. And they've all been mighty good to me."
Of age and wisdom going hand in hand, President Monson declared, "I'd say age does bring an awareness of responsibility, but so does experience. It isn't just age; it's the experience. I've certainly had my load of that."
He started gaining experience in being on the Lord's errand when he was a young teenager, serving as president of his ward's teachers quorum. He was called as a bishop at age 22 and as counselor in a stake presidency at age 27. When, at age 31, he was called to preside over the Canadian Mission, President Monson and his wife, Frances Johnson Monson, and their two young children, Tom and Ann, embarked on another journey in fulfilling the Lord's errand, that of helping bring others to Christ and building the kingdom. (Their third child, Clark, was born while President and Sister Monson were living in Toronto.)
President Monson was 36 when he was called to the Quorum of the Twelve. By this coming October's general conference, he will have served as a General Authority for 45 years. No one living today has had that much exposure to and experience in the workings of the Church in its highest levels of administration.
As a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, he supervised the missions in western America, the South Pacific, Mexico and Central America, and supervised the work in Europe. After a number of years and following the policy of rotation, the European missions were transferred to another member of the Twelve; however, Elder Monson retained responsibility for several countries behind the Iron Curtain. He was instrumental in the construction of the Freiberg Germany Temple, served as chairman of the Scriptures Publication Committee and supervised the process which resulted in new editions of the Standard Works of the Church.
He was called as second counselor to President Benson in 1985, as second counselor to President Hunter in 1994 and as first counselor to President Hinckley in 1995.
Last year, at a reception in the Church Administration Building, President Hinckley said to President Monson, "What a proud day it was when you were born." Then, turning to the gathering of well wishers, President Hinckley added, "His mother had great expectations. They have all been fulfilled".
It wasn't just Thomas S. Monson's mother who had great expectations when he was born on Aug. 21, 1927. He has had expectations of his own all his life, expectations that motivated him to do his best and to always ask what the Lord would have him do.
Asked what, on his 81st birthday, he aspired to, President Monson paused for a moment and then said, "I look forward to lifting each person a little higher than he stands now, and to lead by example. I demand effort from myself, and that way I certainly can expect others to be aware of the individual after the pattern of the Lord."
Although the Church News article would go to press after his birthday, President Monson was asked to describe what he would consider the ideal gift that members worldwide could give him. Without a moment's hesitation he said, "Do something for someone else on that day to make his or her life better. Find someone who is having a hard time, or is ill, or lonely, and do something for them. That's all I would ask."
His reply was in keeping with the character of a man who has devoted his life to serving others.
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