Church president was familiar face to generations of Mormons

FILE - In this April 4, 2015, file photo, President Thomas S. Monson, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, waves to the audience during the opening session of the Mormon church conference in Salt Lake City. Monson, the 16th president of the Mormon church, died after nine years in office. He was 90. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

In this June 23, 1985 photo, President Thomas S. Monson shows off a couple of his pigeons. Monson, the 16th president of the Mormon church, died Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, after overseeing the religion for nearly a decade. He was 90. (Ravell Call/The Deseret News via AP)

In this April 2, 2008 photo, President Thomas S. Monson in his Salt Lake City, Utah, office. Monson, the 16th president of the Mormon church, died Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, after overseeing the religion for nearly a decade. He was 90. (Tom Smart/The Deseret News via AP)

In this Sept. 9, 1982 photo, President Ronald Reagan visits the Ogden, Utah, cannery, accompanied by Presidents Gordon B. Hinckley and Thomas S. Monson. Monson, the 16th president of the Mormon church, died Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, after overseeing the religion for nearly a decade. He was 90. (O. Wallace Kasteler/The Deseret News via AP)

FILE - In this July 10, 2015, file photo, shows President Thomas S. Monson, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, attends the memorial service for Mormon leader Boyd K. Packer at the Tabernacle, on Temple Square, in Salt Lake City. Monson, the 16th president of the Mormon church, died Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, after nine years in office. He was 90. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

Editor’s note: In a story Jan. 3 about the death of Mormon church President Thomas S. Monson, The Associated Press reported erroneously that Monson became the youngest apostle ever when he was named to the post in 1963 at the age of 36. He was the youngest apostle since 1910.

SALT LAKE CITY — For more than 50 years, Thomas S. Monson served in top leadership councils for the Mormon church — making him a well-known face and personality to multiple generations of Mormons.

A church bishop at the age of 22, the Salt Lake City native became the youngest church apostle in a half century when he was named to the post in 1963 at the age of 36. He served as a counselor for three church presidents before assuming the role of the top leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in February 2008.

Tuesday night, 90-year-old Monson died at his home in Salt Lake City, according to church spokesman Eric Hawkins.

As president of the nearly 16-million-member faith, Monson was considered a prophet who led the church through revelation from God in collaboration with two top counselors and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

The next president was not immediately named, but the job is expected to go to the next longest-tenured member of the church’s governing Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Russell M. Nelson, per church protocol.

Monson’s presidency was marked by his noticeably low profile during a time of intense publicity for the church, including the 2008 and 2012 campaigns of Mormon Mitt Romney for president. Monson’s most public acts were appearances at church conferences and devotionals as well as dedications of church temples.

Monson will also be remembered for his emphasis on humanitarian work; leading the faith’s involvement in the passage of a gay marriage ban in California in 2008; continuing the church’s push to be more transparent about its past; and lowering the minimum age for missionaries.

Mormons considered Monson a warm, caring, endearing and approachable leader, said Patrick Mason, associate professor of religion at Claremont Graduate University in California. He was known for dropping everything to make hospital visits to people in need. His speeches at the faith’s twice-yearly conferences often focused on parables of human struggles resolved through faith.

He put an emphasis on the humanitarian ethic of Mormons, evidenced by his expansion of the church’s disaster relief programs around the world, said Armand Mauss, a retired professor of sociology and religious studies at Washington State University.

Monson often credited his mother, Gladys Condie Monson, for fostering his compassion. He said that during his childhood in the Depression of the 1930s, their house in Salt Lake City was known to hobos riding the railroads as a place to get a meal and a kind word.

“President Monson always seemed more interested in what we do with our religion rather than in what we believe,” Mauss said.

A World War II veteran, Monson served in the Navy and spent a year overseas before returning to get a business degree at the University of Utah and a master’s degree in business administration from the church-owned Brigham Young University.

Before being tabbed to join the church’s governing Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Monson worked for the church’s secular businesses, primarily in advertising, printing and publishing, including the Deseret Morning News.

Throughout his life, Monson was an avid fisherman who also raised homing pigeons, specifically, roller pigeons that twirled as they flew. He was known for his love of show tunes, Boy Scouts and the Utah Jazz.

Monson’s legacy will be tied to the church’s efforts to hold tight to its opposition of same-sex marriage while encouraging members to be more open and compassionate toward gays and lesbians as acceptance for LGBT people increased across the county.

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