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SALT LAKE CITY - If leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hold with tradition, the next president of the church will be a soft-spoken World War II veteran with a love for telling stories.
Succession to the presidency is historically based on seniority, and Thomas S. Monson, 80, is in line to succeed Gordon B. Hinckley,who died Sunday at 97. Monson was one of Hinckley's closest advisers.
Officially, the next leader of the 13-million-member Mormon Church won't be elevated until after Hinckley is laid to rest at 11 a.m. Saturday at the church conference center in Salt Lake City.
Church presidents serve for life. The title usually passes to the senior-most member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles when a president dies.
Like Hinckley, Monson was one of the youngest men ever called to the highest levels of church leadership when named a church apostle in 1963 at age 36. Before that he spent three years in Toronto, overseeing church missionary work.
Before serving as Hinckley's first counselor, Monson was second counselor to two previous presidents.
Author Grant Palmer described Monson as a down-to-earth person who differs from others who have ascended to the highest rungs of church leadership.
"He's not blood-related like many of the others," said Palmer, whose church membership was suspended in 2004 after writing a book that was critical of church history and its founder, Joseph Smith. "He's got more of a blue- collar background. He came from a blue-collar neighborhood and had no ties to church royalty."
Monson is known among Mormons for his folksy humor, delivered in speeches and parablelike stories during the twice-yearly church conferences in Salt Lake City that draw tens of thousands of people.
He's also known for his ministerial concern for widows and the infirm. Both church folklore and Monson's self-published autobiography - On the Lord's Errand- are filled with tales of his visits as a young church bishop to widows of his congregation.
"He's affable, open and approachable," Ed Firmage, a former Mormon and an emeritus professor of law at the University of Utah, said in an interview last year. "He's just a very good man. He's not pompous. He's very concerned with others and makes himself available."
Despite Monson's age, Firmage believes he will be a forward-thinking leader for the church.
A 1948 cum laude graduate of the University of Utah, Monson holds a master's degree in business administration from the church-owned Brigham Young University in Provo. His professional life has included stints in newspaper advertising for the church-owned Deseret Morning News and as general manager of the Deseret News Press, one of the West's largest commercial printing companies.
[Last modified January 30, 2008, 01:52:43]