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Thursday 19 July 2018

Mormon church leader Thomas S Monson dies at 90

Thomas M Monson at the two-day Mormon church conference in Salt Lake City last April (AP)
Thomas M Monson at the two-day Mormon church conference in Salt Lake City last April (AP)

Thomas S Monson, the 16th president of the Mormon church, has died at the age of 90 after overseeing the religion for nine years.

He died on Tuesday night at his home in Salt Lake City, according to church spokesman Eric Hawkins.

Mr Monson spent more than five decades serving in top church leadership councils, 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 ever in 1963 at the age of 36.

He served as a counsellor for three church presidents before becoming leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in February 2008.

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

Mr 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.

His most public acts were appearances at church conferences and devotionals as well as dedications of church temples.

Mr 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 religion's push to be more transparent about its past, and lowering the minimum age for missionaries.

Mormons considered Mr 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 programmes around the world, said Armand Mauss, a retired professor of sociology and religious studies at Washington State University.

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

A Second World War veteran, Mr 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 joining the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, he worked for the church's secular businesses, primarily in advertising, printing and publishing including the Deseret Morning News.

He married Frances Beverly Johnson in 1948.

The couple had three children, eight grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

Frances died in 2013 at the age of 85.

Throughout his life, Mr Monson was an avid fisherman who also raised homing pigeons, specifically roller pigeons, which twirled as they flew.

He was known for his love of show tunes and the Utah Jazz basketball team.

His legacy will be tied to the religion's efforts to hold tight to its opposition to same-sex marriage while encouraging members to be more open and compassionate towards gays and lesbians as acceptance for LGBT people increased across the country.

One of the most memorable moments of his tenure came in October 2012, when he announced at a church conference that the minimum age to depart on missions was being lowered to 19 from 21 for women, and to 18 from 19 for men.

The change triggered a historic influx of missionaries, and proved a milestone change for women by allowing many more to serve.

Mr Nelson, who is 93, has been a church apostle since April 1970.

Out of respect for Mr Monson, his appointment will not be officially announced until after the funeral services.

The Mormon church was founded in 1830 in upstate New York by Joseph Smith, who claimed he had been visited by God and Jesus while praying in a grove of trees and was called to found the church.

Members are known as Mormons because of the religion's keystone scripture, the Book of Mormon.

AP

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