“President Ezra Taft Benson Ordained Thirteenth President of the Church,” Ensign, Dec. 1985, 2
Quietly, while much of the world slept, the Lord released his earthly prophet, seer, and revelator November 5 and, with that release, called another of his chosen servants to that position. Upon President Spencer W. Kimball’s death, the mantle of leadership fell upon President Ezra Taft Benson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
With the dawn of November 6, the news of President Kimball’s death began to go out from Salt Lake City. By evening it had spread from South America to the Indian Ocean, and faithful Latter-day Saints across the globe were in mourning.
President Kimball died at 10:08 P.M. (Mountain Standard Time) November 5, in his downtown Salt Lake City apartment, of causes incident to his advanced age. He had turned 90 on March 28.
His wife, Camilla, was with him, along with his daughter, Olive Beth Mack; Winifred Eyring, a sister-in-law; D. Arthur Haycock, President Kimball’s longtime secretary; and a nurse. President Benson and President Gordon B. Hinckley, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, were immediately informed of President Kimball’s death.
For the next several days, tributes and messages of condolence poured in from Church officers and members, leaders of government and industry, and religious leaders around the world. The messages included a personal letter from United States President Ronald Reagan to Sister Kimball. In a public statement, President Reagan had referred to President Kimball as a “man whose love of God and country touched us all. … An inspiration.”
President Kimball’s body lay in state in the foyer of the Church Administration Building all day November 8. More than 40,000 people filed past the bier to pay their last respects, with the procession continuing until after 10:00 P.M.
A small sign on a shelf next to the receptionist’s desk in the foyer of the Church Administration Building was a reminder of the indomitable spirit and forward look of the man who had been President. Situated next to a wood etching of Spencer W. Kimball’s flowing signature, the sign read: “DOn’t quIT.”
“This pathfinder president … Spencer the beloved,” as Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Council of the Twelve called him in the opening prayer at the president’s funeral November 9, was not a man who could quit, despite advancing age and ill health.
President Benson, in his funeral eulogy of President Kimball, referred to some of the many advances for the Church during President Kimball’s administration: reconstitution of the First Quorum of the Seventy; receiving a revelation extending the priesthood to all worthy males; the addition of two more revelations to the Doctrine and Covenants; growth that included nearly two million people and an increase of 150 percent in the number of stakes; the spread of operating temples throughout the world; and a corresponding worldwide increase in missionary work.
“When I say I love Spencer Woolley Kimball, I do so with a full heart,” President Benson said. The two men served together in the Council of the Twelve from the day both were sustained to that quorum, 7 October 1943.
President Benson said President Kimball’s life had been characterized by “his humble dependence on the Lord,” “his great love for the sons and daughters of Lehi,” and “the quiet miracle of forgiveness that has come to many as a result of President Kimball’s counseling, interest in, caring for, and loving those souls who have been tainted by sin.”
Other speakers at President Kimball’s funeral included Elder Hinckley; Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Council of the Twelve; Barbara B. Smith, former general president of the Relief Society; Brother Haycock; and Andrew E. Kimball, a son. Their addresses are printed in this issue of the Ensign.
Elder Howard W. Hunter gave the closing prayer, and President Kimball’s son Edward dedicated the grave. Spencer L. Kimball, a son, offered the family prayer.
Mourners braved the mercurial weather on a blustery Saturday, standing through a brief snow shower at the Salt Lake City cemetery during the final services at the grave site. President Kimball’s grave is not far from the graves of President Harold B. Lee and President David O. McKay.
On Sunday, the Quorum of the Twelve met in the Salt Lake Temple to consider reorganization of the First Presidency. This sacred business was conducted within the confines of the House of the Lord. There President Ezra Taft Benson was ordained and set apart as President of the Church. Action also saw Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, who had served as Second Counselor to President Kimball, selected as First Counselor in the First Presidency and Elder Thomas S. Monson, of the Quorum of the Twelve, selected as Second Counselor. Elder Marion G. Romney, who had served as First Counselor to President Kimball, was named President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and Elder Howard W. Hunter of that quorum was called to serve as Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve due to President Romney’s illness incident to old age.
The new First Presidency was announced on Monday, November 11, in a press conference televised from the Church Administration Building. With his First Counselor, President Gordon B. Hinckley, seated to his right, and his Second Counselor, President Thomas S. Monson, seated to his left, the thirteenth President of the Church stood at a podium and read a prepared statement. His voice filled with emotion as President Benson spoke of President Kimball, and again as he spoke of his two counselors and of his own love for the work of our Heavenly Father.
“We have just come from a special meeting in the temple to complete formal arrangements incident to the reorganization of the First Presidency of the Church. We met there yesterday, and by the united action of the Council of the Twelve Apostles, Ezra Taft Benson was ordained and set apart as the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have named and set apart as my counselors Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, First Counselor in the First Presidency, and Elder Thomas S. Monson, Second Counselor in the First Presidency. Elder Marion G. Romney was named as the President of the Council of the Twelve Apostles. Because of Elder Romney’s illness, Elder Howard W. Hunter was called and set apart as Acting President of the Twelve.
“I would like to read a statement that expresses my feelings on this occasion.
“This is a day I have not anticipated. My wife, Flora, and I have prayed continually that President Kimball’s days would be prolonged on this earth and another miracle performed on his behalf. Now that the Lord has spoken, we will do our best, under his guiding direction, to move the work forward in the earth.
“We shall miss President Kimball so very much.
“He and I sat side by side in the Council of the Twelve Apostles for many years. I love him very much. His great love and teachings will never be forgotten.
“My heart has been filled with an overwhelming love and compassion for all members of the Church and our Heavenly Father’s children everywhere. I love all our Father’s children of every color, creed, and political persuasion. My only desire is to serve as the Lord would have me do.
“Some have expectantly inquired about the direction the Church will take in the future. May we suggest that the Lord, through President Kimball, has sharply focused on the threefold mission of the Church: to preach the gospel, to perfect the saints, and to redeem the dead. We shall continue every effort to carry out this mission.
“We shall continue to encourage all members to fulfill their missionary responsibilities. We shall do missionary work only in those nations that permit it. We urge our members everywhere to respect the laws of the lands in which we live.
“We shall continue to stress the importance of strong Christian homes and family life. We feel the increased necessity for parents to teach their children to live the principles of the gospel as revealed in the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and other sacred scripture.
“We shall continue to emphasize temple work. The Lord has given us a great commission to perform vital ordinances for the living and the dead.
“We should like to reaffirm to all the world that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is led by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We believe in Christ. We accept and affirm His teachings as revealed truths from God. We know Him to be the literal Son of God. We love Him as our resurrected Lord and Savior.
“We believe there is ‘none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.’ (Acts 4:12.)
“So we invite all men, as the Book of Mormon declares, to ‘Come unto Christ, and be [redeemed] in Him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness … and love God with all your [heart], mind and strength.’ (Moro. 10:32.)
“We call on members of the Church to be faithful and to keep the commandments of God.
“May I express my love and gratitude for the wonderful counselors who sit at my side.
“We extend our love to all members of the Church and to all our Father’s children in all nations.
“I love this work with all my soul.
“I will be most grateful for your faith and prayers for me, for my two counselors, and for this sacred work of the Almighty.
“Thank you. And God bless you.”
The press conference was short—less than fifteen minutes—as members of the new First Presidency returned immediately to their work. For each of them, it will be a work to which they have long been accustomed. In the forty-two years that President Benson has been a General Authority, Church membership has grown from less than one million members to nearly six million, now in ninety-six nations and eighteen territories or dependencies. The new Church President has won the respect of members throughout the world in the course of his decades of assignments that have taken him to six continents and scores of nations.
President Hinckley served more than four years as a counselor to President Kimball, often directing day-to-day administration of the affairs of the worldwide Church as the President’s health failed. He has been a General Authority for more than twenty-seven years.
President Monson has been a General Authority for twenty-two years, and his wide-ranging assignments have made him well-known to Church members around the globe, particularly in Europe.
President Benson was born 4 August 1899 in Whitney, Idaho. He married Flora Smith Amussen 10 September 1926 in the Salt Lake Temple, and they have two sons and four daughters.
A student of agriculture, he received a master’s degree from Iowa State University in 1927, then moved with his wife to a farm near Whitney. He became a county extension agent for the University of Idaho in 1929. Eventually his path led to Washington, D.C., as executive secretary of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives; then as a member of the National Farm Credit Committee and a member of the executive committee of the board of trustees of the American Institute of Cooperation, an organization of farm cooperatives and land grant colleges.
His call to the Council of the Twelve in July 1943 came after years of Church service that included periods as a stake president in both Boise, Idaho, and Washington, D.C. Not long after the close of World War II, he was called as president of the Church’s European Mission and spent a year in Europe reopening missions and helping to alleviate suffering among members of the Church.
In 1952, with the approval of President David O. McKay, Elder Benson accepted an invitation to serve as United States Secretary of Agriculture under President Dwight D. Eisenhower. He served through the full eight years of President Eisenhower’s two terms. At the invitation of President Eisenhower, it was Ezra Taft Benson who inaugurated the practice of beginning cabinet meetings with prayer.
He has been honored many times for his civic and professional service. President Benson has been awarded four George Washington Honor Medals by the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge. In 1957, he was awarded the High Cross of the Order of Merit, the highest decoration the government of Italy could give, for his assistance in helping that nation solve its food problems, with U.S. food surpluses. In 1978, he received the award for Distinguished and Meritorious Service in the interest of organized agriculture from the American Farm Bureau Federation. He has been awarded eleven honorary doctorate degrees and a number of other awards, in addition to his own degrees earned through undergraduate and postgraduate work at four universities.
In addition to his service to the Church and accomplishments in government, President Benson is also known for his dedication to Scouting. His service as an adult leader in the program stretches back several decades. He has served on the National Advisory Board and the Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America. President Benson holds the organization’s three highest honors: the Silver Antelope, Silver Buffalo, and Silver Beaver.
President Hinckley has been a General Authority since 6 April 1958, when he was sustained as an Assistant to the Twelve. He was called to the Council of the Twelve 5 October 1961. On 23 July 1981, he was called as a counselor to President Kimball and on 2 December 1982 he became Second Counselor in the First Presidency.
In the mid-1930s, at the request of President Heber J. Grant, young Gordon Hinckley was asked to organize and serve as secretary of the Church’s Radio, Publicity, and Literature Committee, which evolved into today’s public communications program in the Church. He pioneered efforts in adapting electronic media to Church uses. He was serving as executive secretary of the Missionary Committee at the time of his call as a General Authority.
His assignments as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve have included supervision of Church work in Asia, Europe, and South America. His committee assignments have been in such areas as temples, missionary work, correlation, welfare services, priesthood, and members in the military forces. He was also chairman of the executive committee for observance of the Church’s sesquicentennial in 1980. He is a member of the Executive Committee of the Church Board of Education and the Board of Trustees of the higher education units of the Church Education System.
President Hinckley has been a director of a number of business firms and has served in several civic organizations.
President Monson was called to the Council of the Twelve 4 October 1963, at age 36. He is a member of the Church Board of Education and the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees for Brigham Young University, vice-chairman of the Priesthood Executive Committee, and chairman of the Scripture Publication Committee. He has also served as a member of the Utah State Board of Regents and a member of a committee for U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s Task Force on Private Sector Initiatives.
Prior to his call as a General Authority, President Monson’s business career was in publishing and printing; he was manager of Deseret Press and has since served as president and chairman of the board of the Deseret News Publishing Company. He has been a member of the Utah Association of Sales Executives and the Salt Lake Advertising Club. He has also been a member of the Salt Lake Exchange Club and has served on the advisory board of the Pioneer State Theatre Foundation. He is a past president of the Printing Industry of Utah and past director of the printing industry of America.
President Monson is a member of the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America and has received the Silver Buffalo award.
President Romney was sustained as the first Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve on 6 April 1941, and as a member of the Council of the Twelve on 11 October 1951. He became Second Counselor to President Harold B. Lee on 7 July 1972. He was asked to serve as Second Counselor by President Spencer W. Kimball and was named as First Counselor on 2 December 1982. He has been one of the key figures in guiding the Church’s welfare program almost since its beginning in 1936.
Much of President Romney’s youth was spent on a farm in Mexico, but his family was forced to leave there in 1912 during the Mexican Revolution. After graduating from Ricks College, where his father was president, Marion Romney went on to earn a law degree and later served as an assistant county, assistant district, and assistant city attorney in Salt Lake City before his call as a General Authority.
President Hunter was born 14 November 1907 in Boise, Idaho, but moved to California as a young man. He was a successful businessman and corporate attorney in Southern California before being called to the Council of the Twelve on 10 October 1959.
He has served as president of the Church’s Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii and as president of the Genealogical Society. He now serves on the correlation committee and as vice-chairman of the Temples and Genealogy Council.
President Hunter is a director of several industrial and land-holding corporations, and also of the New World Archaeological Foundation.