SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – The wife of the Mormon church’s president shied away from the spotlight, but her lifelong work behind the scenes left a lasting impression on those who knew her.
Frances B. Monson, 85, died early Friday at a hospital in Salt Lake City surrounded by her family, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said. Her daughter, Ann Dibb, said her mom was a supportive wife, a proud mother and one heck of a fixer-upper around the house.
“My mother was just a woman who went about doing good without needing attention or fanfare,” Dibb said. “She just recognized what needed to be done and did it.”
Church President Thomas S. Monson said his wife was the family’s beacon of love, compassion and encouragement.
Publicly, very little was known about her, despite being the matriarch of one the church’s most important families. She made occasional appearances at the church’s biannual general conferences but opted not to give any speeches of her own, said Matthew Bowman, assistant professor of religion at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia. Her husband has been church president since February 2008.
“She was fairly quiet,” said Bowman, who wrote a book about the Mormon church in 2012. “She didn’t want to be viewed as figurehead or public figure.”
The cause of death was not immediately disclosed. The church said she had been hospitalized for several weeks. Funeral arrangements were pending.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Sen. Orrin Hatch, both Mormons, expressed their condolences. Both called her a remarkable woman, with Hatch saying in a statement that she “had a quiet strength you could feel in her presence.”
Frances Monson grew up in Salt Lake City during the Great Depression. She was the youngest of five children and her parents’ only daughter. She was named after her father, Franz E. Johnson.
She graduated from East High School in Salt Lake City and studied math and science at the University of Utah. She played the piano, and often played tennis at Liberty Park as a teenager.
During college, she worked in the accounting department at a department store to help pay for school. It was during her university days that she met her husband, who, like her, was of Swedish descent.
The couple was married in the Salt Lake Temple in 1948. They had three children: Thomas Lee, Ann Frances and Clark Spencer.
Frances Monson taught her boys to raise Birmingham Roller pigeons. She was a bargain hunter, reading both Salt Lake City newspapers daily searching for coupons and deals, her daughter said.
The couple’s three children said their mother had a knack for budgeting, bookkeeping and finding deals. She excelled at math and science and was the one in the house who fixed electrical switches or plumbing leaks. As the family’s handywoman, she spent Christmas morning assembling bikes, toys and dollhouses.
She once left a note reading, “Dear children, do not let Daddy touch the microwave, or the stove, or the dishwasher or the dryer.”
Dibb said her mother had many opinions, and they were always taken into consideration by her father. But she also provided quiet, sustained support for her husband in all of his varied church duties.
“My father would never have been able to accomplish the mighty work that he has done without the knowledge that my mother was absolutely supportive,” Dibb said.
In an often-repeated story, Frances Monson once stood next to a window to hear her husband give a speech even after ushers told her women were not allowed to stand in the doorway to listen.
“She pressed gender roles of the church in very subtle, but interesting ways,” Bowman said.
Dibb said her final memory of her mother will be from a drive home together after Dibb spoke at the church’s general young women conference. Though Frances Monson could no longer have full conversations due to numerous falls, she let her daughter know how proud she was.
“Just her expression of pride and love for me _ that will be my remembrance,” Dibb said.
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