SALT LAKE CITY — Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rarely heard directly from Frances Monson, wife of church President Thomas S. Monson, but they came to know and love her through her husband's stories.
“There’s something different about the way President Monson talks about her," Layton's Janelle Ayala said. "I always tell my husband I want to be like that when we get older.”
Sister Monson was a shy, sweet woman who never sought a spotlight for herself, said Donna Johnson, who lives in Holladay and is a member of the same LDS stake as the Monsons. But she was deeply devoted to her faith and her family, and supported her husband through his decades of service to the church. Some weeks, she attended local priesthood meetings with her husband.
The image most church members will recall is of President and Sister Monson greeting members worldwide at general conferences, hand in hand.
"You could see the love and the respect," said Greg Nelson, a resident of Stansbury Park. "He was in the church leadership for such a long time, and she was always by his side."
Tears formed in the eyes of West Jordan's Steven VanBibber as he spoke of her influence. He said Sister Monson's support always seemed to bolster her husband.
“It amazes me how great men always have great women at their sides," he said. "She was a big part of President Monson’s strength.”
For the women of the church, Sister Monson's quiet strength was an inspiration.
"She's someone I've always looked up to," Cheryl VanBibber said. "I can't imagine being a bishop's wife at such a young age."
Sister Monson was 20 when the couple married in 1948, and President Monson was 21. The following year, he became an LDS bishop.
Local officials expressed their condolences for the Monson family and joined LDS members in mourning.
Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams remembered Sister Monson for the example she set for her church and her community.
"While I did not know her personally, she and President Monson have long been examples to me of a loving, compassionate, hard-working couple who gave back to their community and to their church," McAdams said in a statement.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, recalled how Sister Monson's service and humanitarian efforts had a worldwide impact.
"Frances was a sincerely delightful and Christ-like woman who has been a true partner to President Thomas S. Monson for many years while raising a family and performing church and humanitarian service worldwide," Hatch said in a statement. "She had a great capacity to love and show compassion to all with whom she came into contact, and had a quiet strength you could feel in her presence."
Gov. Gary Herbert also spoke of Sister Monson's humanitarian work in a statement.
"She was unfailingly kind, a devoted humanitarian, an equal in service and dedication to her husband, and an exceptional example to all who knew her," Herbert said. "The world is a better place for her having been here."
Sister Monson was remembered particularly for her devotion to her family, and Salt Lake City resident Joanne Milner said President Monson's love for his wife had recently inspired her own family to begin praying not just for church leadership, but for their families as well.
“They’ve become part of us," Milner said. "We love them dearly, and we appreciate the sacrifice she made to share the love of her beloved with all of us.”
Through her constant presence at President Monson's side, Sister Monson became an inspiration and an example to LDS members worldwide.
"She was definitely a woman who symbolized everything the church stood for," said Quint Hughes, of Lovelock, Nev. "She will be remembered.”
Other officials who shared their feelings included:
• Congressman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah:
“My deepest sympathies are with President Thomas S. Monson today with the passing of his beloved companion Sister Frances Monson. Julie and I join with LDS Church members and others around the world in mourning her passing and remembering her quiet devotion and lifelong faithfulness.”
• NAACP Salt Lake area president Jeanetta Williams:
"I first met Mrs. Monson many years ago and she was always very soft spoken and kind."