When I was managing editor of the Deseret News, working with Publisher Jim Mortimer, Pres. Monson was our board chairman. He was a very engaged board chair and, as a former printing executive, very much enjoyed being associated with the newspaper.
Along with Mortimer, I attended two meetings every month, a board meeting and an executive committee meeting, with Pres. Monson and other board members held in the ornate Church Administration Building on South Temple.
That was in the days when LDS Church general authorities commonly served on boards of church-owned businesses, so we had a number of top church officials, along with community leaders, serving on the board. Pres. Monson was a member of the First Presidency at the time.
I was just a kid, in my mid-30s, so everyone on the board was more than twice my age. I felt rather inadequate and intimidated, and tried to keep my mouth shut. However, I was in charge of the entire news side of the paper, so I was asked a lot of questions and a standing agenda item was me reporting on news coverage and personnel needs and changes.
Pres. Monson was always very gracious and warm, and acted like my opinion was valued.
However, in this business setting, he was also very businesslike. I was amazed at his elephant-like memory and grasp of financial statements and business details. He could be demanding and intense and he expected excellent performance. I often thought that had his career not been channeled into church service, he could have been a superstar CEO of a Fortune 500 corporation.
He was also an engaging storyteller and he delighted in regaling the group with off-the-cuff stories and anecdotes on all sorts of topics.
Two Monson stories that I will always remember:
He told us, with a straight face and a big smile at the end, that he was flying somewhere first class and before the flight lifted off the attendant asked him and his seatmate (who he didn’t know) if they’d like something to drink. He asked for an orange juice and the fellow next to him asked for a screwdriver (orange juice/vodka mix).
You know what’s coming next. Pres. Monson said he was thirsty and he downed his drink in a couple of gulps. He thought it had an unusual taste. The fellow next to him took a sip of his drink and said, “This is just orange juice!”
Pres. Monson chuckled: “I don’t know if I drank the screwdriver or not, but it was a very mellow flight!”
Another story I remember vividly is one that personified Pres. Monson’s life and teachings. He said a recent day in his office was very busy with myriad meetings, important decisions and interruptions. Through all the busyness, he kept having a nagging feeling that he should visit an old friend from his neighborhood who was ill and in the hospital. He kept pushing the feeling back because he had a full schedule of urgent activities.
Finally, about mid-afternoon, he just felt strongly he should visit his friend. So he cancelled some meetings and drove to the hospital. He comforted his friend, talked about old times, gave him a blessing, and returned to his office. Nothing miraculous occurred. It was a fairly routine visit to a friend.
But, said Pres. Monson: “That evening, when I drove home from the office and reflected back on all the activities of a busy day, I thought, visiting my old friend was the best thing I did all day.”
I have reflected on that statement a thousand times, and often felt guilty, as I have too often been too busy to take time for simple acts of service. If the incredibly busy member of the First Presidency of a worldwide church could take time to visit an old friend – and recognize it as the best thing he did all day – then I was left without excuse.
It certainly behooves all of us to provide service as he did. And when we think back on our day’s activities, we will agree: That bit of service was the best thing we did all day.