SALT LAKE CITY — LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson visited his wife, Frances Monson, in the hospital on Thursday night with their daughter, Ann Monson Dibb. Sister Monson had been hospitalized for several weeks.
“Frances,” President Monson said, "tomorrow is May 17. It’s my father’s birthday, and it’s your father’s birthday.”
Ann’s heart skipped a beat.
“I had forgotten that,” Dibb said Friday. “And as soon as he said that, I thought, ‘Who knows what’s going to happen tomorrow?’ … That was an indication to me. It’s been almost 60 years since my mother has been with her father. It was time that they welcomed her home.”
Frances Beverly Johnson Monson died Friday at 6:35 a.m., surrounded by family. She was 85. An LDS Church news release indicated she died of “causes incident to age.”
The Monsons had been married for more than 64 years. During a talk in the April 2008 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Monson — considered a prophet by more than 14 million Mormons who believe families sealed in LDS temples can live together forever — urged men in the church to treat their wives with dignity and respect because "they're our eternal companions." He added, “I thank my Father in Heaven for my sweet companion, Frances. … I could not have asked for a more loyal, loving and understanding companion.”
Sister Monson was born in Salt Lake City on Oct. 27, 1927, the daughter of Franz Emanuel Johnson and Hildur Augusta Booth Johnson. She attended Emerson Elementary School and East High School and was proficient in both piano and tennis by the time she was a teenager. Sister Monson described her childhood self as a tomboy who liked playing ball and taking long hikes.
She studied science and math at the University of Utah, financing her college education with jobs at the Deseret News and as a bookkeeper in a large department store. She also earned the church's Golden Gleaner award, part of a now-discontinued program for 18-to-30-year-old single church members, by meeting a rigorous set of requirements for church activity and self-improvement.
Choosing to be a full-time mother after concerns early in her marriage that she wouldn't be able to have children, Sister Monson raised three children — Thomas Lee Monson, Ann Frances Monson Dibb and Clark Spencer Monson. She encouraged her sons to become proficient at raising Birmingham Rolling Pigeons; taught her daughter how to stretch grocery dollars and shop for bargains; performed household repairs on things like electrical switches and broken plumbing; and was the go-to person in the Monson families for assembling children’s gifts ranging from doll houses to bicycles.
“She came along in a generation where being a wife and mother was sort of what was expected,” said Gerry Avant, editor of the LDS Church News, author of that 1975 profile. “But I can’t help but feel that if Frances Monson were a contemporary woman today in her 30s or 40s, I think she would choose to be what she was — because she was genuine.
“I don’t think she ever felt any need to apologize to anybody for what she was doing. She exemplified womanhood, not just motherhood. She was a woman of character, a woman of purpose.”
Her daughter, Dibb, once said, “My mother is unlike many of the women of today’s generation. Instead of looking for the recognition of the world, she has always received her acknowledgment of worth from such things as the happy smile of a son or the outstretched hand of a grandchild. President Wilford Woodruff once said that the mother has greater influence over her posterity than any other person can have, and her influence is felt through time and eternity. I am grateful to my mother, thankful for her influence and pray that I might always be worthy of her love. As I reflect upon the many blessings which I have received as the daughter of an apostle of the Lord, the one which means the most to me is the gift and blessing of the woman he married, my mother.”
Sister Monson dedicated herself to her own church service — she served in the Primary, Sunday School, Relief Society and Young Women organizations — and to her husband's, as well as helping others outside the church.
“Both my husband and I believe that service to others provides the blessings to the givers as well as the receiver,” Frances Monson said while accepting a humanitarian award in 1998. “I perhaps would have been content to perform my service in life by raising my children, participating in the women's service organizations of my church and helping others as my time and energy permitted.
“But because of the church callings my husband has had throughout our married life, I have with him witnessed more pain and suffering, more need among God's children than otherwise would have been the case. If I have been able to in some small way help alleviate such suffering, such need, I am most grateful.”
The Monsons married Oct. 7, 1948, in the Salt Lake Temple.
“I was soon to learn,” President Monson once said, “Frances was an ideal bishop’s wife. Within a year of our marriage, I was called to the bishopric, later bishop, and subsequently stake and mission responsibilities. In each calling I have constantly discovered new abilities and talents in my wife. She is at my side to help in every way.”
President Monson was an LDS bishop at age 22, a counselor in a stake presidency at 27 and president of the Canadian Mission at age 31, precipitating a family move to Toronto for a pregnant Frances Monson. At age 36, he was ordained an apostle.
"Sister Monson is quiet and unassuming, but without Frances Monson we surely would not have the Thomas Monson the Church knows and admires," wrote Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the church's Quorum of the Twelve in 1994. "Because of President Monson’s callings, beginning very early in their marriage — from that first ward clerk’s position to his present calling in the First Presidency — Sister Monson has almost never been seated next to her husband in 45 years of church meetings."
The number of those years had expand to 64.
“But never once has she complained,” President Monson told Elder Holland, who also described Sister Monson as a "modern contemporary heroine in the church." “Never once. Not in our entire married life has she done anything to keep me from any aspect of my service. I have never received anything but support and encouragement from Frances.”
President Monson caught his first glimpse of Sister Monson as she danced with another boy at a University of Utah “Hello Day” dance. Watching from a distance, he determined to find a way to meet her. A month later, he saw her waiting for a streetcar with some friends, and caught the car with them to ride. He called her later that night and arranged their first date.
Sister and President Monson’s first date was a dance at the Pioneer Stake building, when they double-dated with friends.
As he picked up Frances Johnson for that first date, Tom Monson also learned, from Frances' father, who cried when he made the connection, that his father's uncle, Elias Monson, had helped bring the Johnson family into the church in Sweden while serving a mission there.
President Monson wrote of his date with Frances on New Year’s Eve 1944, remembering she had to be home early because she had to go to work on New Year’s Day. When he wondered what kind of job required work on New Year's, he learned she worked in the copy room at the Deseret News. “Little did I know at that time I would have a career working at the same company,” he noted.
Tom found in Frances a young woman with a sense of humor, wrote Heidi S. Swinton, President Monson's biographer. “She laughed readily,” she had a host of friends, she was “charitable and kind” and she exhibited “a great deal of empathy”
Although their entire married life revolved around church leadership, Sister Monson once recalled her surprise upon learning that her husband had been called to be an apostle.
“He came home one evening and said, ‘I want you to go for a drive with me.’” she told the Church News.
“I couldn’t imagine why, all of a sudden, he would want to go out for a drive,” she said. “We took our youngest son, who was 3. We drove to the This Is the Place Monument, where he parked the car. We got out and walked around the monument, reading the inscriptions dedicated to the pioneers.
“He then told me that President David O. McKay had called him that day to be a member of the Quorum of the Twelve.”
“I was surprised and humbled,” Sister Monson said. “That was a most significant call and an overwhelming responsibility, but it has been very rewarding. Our lives have been enriched.”
The Monsons have eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, according to President Monson's bio at lds.org.
She and President Monson were both awarded honorary doctorate degrees from Utah Valley University in 2009 for their years of service to the church and the community.
Sister Monson had a history of falling. In April 2008 general conference President Monson recalled “a terrible fall a few years ago" that left his wife in a coma that lasted 18 days, during which time he had wept at her side. Friday, Dibb revealed that her mother’s first serious fall occurred decades ago and left a lasting impact.
“With my mother and these various falls, her first severe fall was 30 years ago,” Dibb said. “My father had returned home from a trip, and she had fallen as she was replacing a light bulb on the outside patio. The result of that fall was that she lost her sense of smell and taste, and so she hasn’t been able to do so for 30 years.
“The recovery was difficult. But she knew that my father needed her, and that was a sure knowledge that she had. With that knowledge she would go forth with physical therapy. … (I’m) grateful to see how my mother has struggled and fought with all of her strength to stay and provide and love us. That will always be a tribute to my mother (and) what she gave that I will always be appreciative of.”
Funeral services are pending.
Contributing: Tom Hatch