SALT LAKE CITY – Deceased Mormon President Thomas S. Monson will be remembered for helping church membership grow exponentially over a half-century and for his devotion to the poor and needy, faith leaders said at a funeral Friday.
About 11,000 people attended the service that rounded out two days of mourning and memorials for Monson, who died Jan. 2 at age 90 after nearly a decade leading The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. About 31,500 Mormons came to a public viewing a day earlier.
"We are all better because of him," said Russell M. Nelson, a member of the church's governing Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who is expected to become the next president. "And the church is better because of him."
Monson was a well-known figure to multiple generations of Mormons after more than five decades in top leadership councils. He served as a counselor to three church presidents before assuming the role in 2008.
Monson's presidency was marked by his noticeably low profile during a time of intense publicity for the church, including the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns of Mormon Mitt Romney. Monson's most public acts were appearances at church conferences and dedications of church temples.
"President Monson never sought the limelight. In a world saturated with 'selfies,' he modeled selflessness," Nelson said.
Romney and U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch were among the well-known Mormons at the funeral, held in the massive auditorium of the church's Salt Lake City conference center.
He noted that church membership exploded from 2.1 million in 1963 when Monson joined the Quorum to nearly 16 million today. During that same period, the number of missionaries increased from 5,700 to 70,000 and temples went from 12 to 159, Nelson said.
Like all church presidents, Monson was considered a prophet who led through revelation from God.
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 to gay people.
The focus of speeches delivered by three high-ranking leaders and one of Monson's daughters steered away from controversy and focused on what they called a legacy of love and service.
Daughter Ann Dibb urged members to carry on Monson's efforts to help others.
"We do not need to be the president of the church to notice another's need and 'paint a bright spot on our souls,'" said Dibb, using a favorite expression of her father's.
Dieter Uchtdorf called him "a spiritual giant" and told the story of Monson insisting on visiting an ailing church member in Germany. Despite recent foot surgery, Monson climbed five flights of stairs to give the man a blessing and cheer him up, said Uchtdorf, one of Monson's two top counselors and a member of the Quorum.
"He abounded in knowledge, faith, love, vision, testimony, courage, and compassion — leading and serving never from a pedestal, but always eye to eye," he said.