Chapter 13: Ezra Taft Benson: Thirteenth President of the Church

“Chapter 13: Ezra Taft Benson: Thirteenth President of the Church,” Presidents of the Church Student Manual (2004), 212–31

“Chapter 13,” Presidents of the Church Student Manual, 212–31

Chapter 13

Ezra Taft Benson

Thirteenth President of the Church

President Ezra Taft Benson

Highlights In The Life Of Ezra Taft Benson



He was born 4 August 1899 in Whitney, Franklin County, Idaho, to George T. and Sarah Dunkley Benson.


His father left to serve in the Northern States Mission (8 Apr. 1912).


He began attending Oneida Stake Academy, Preston, Idaho (1914).


He attended Utah State Agricultural College (fall, 1918).


He served in the British Mission (14 July 1921–23).


He graduated from BYU with a degree in animal husbandry and agronomy (spring, 1926).


He married Flora Smith Amussen (10 Sept. 1926); he graduated from Iowa State College with a master’s degree in agricultural economics (13 June 1927).


He became a University of Idaho Extension Service agent (4 Mar. 1929).


He received a fellowship award and moved to Berkeley, California, where he began graduate studies (1 Aug. 1936).


He was set apart by Elder Melvin J. Ballard as president of the Boise Stake (27 Nov. 1938); he began serving as executive secretary of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives in Washington, D.C. (15 Apr. 1939).


He was set apart as president of the Washington D.C. Stake (30 June 1940).


He was ordained an Apostle by President Heber J. Grant (7 Oct. 1943).


He reopened missionary work and supervised the distribution of welfare supplies in war torn Europe; he served as president of the European Mission (22 Dec. 1945–22 Dec. 1946).


He was elected a member of the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America, succeeding President George Albert Smith (23 May 1949).


He was sworn in as the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture (20 Jan. 1953).


He was called by President David O. McKay to serve as president of the European Mission (18 Oct. 1963).


He became President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (30 Dec. 1973).


He received the George Washington Medal Award from the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania (2 May 1978).


He became President of the Church (10 Nov. 1985).


Stake seventies quorums were discontinued (4 Oct. 1986).


He dedicated the Frankfurt Germany Temple (28 Aug. 1987).


The Second Quorum of the Seventy was organized (1 Apr. 1989); he received the Bronze Wolf, the highest award given by world Scouting (1 Apr. 1989).


He received the Presidential Citizens Medal from U.S. President George H. W. Bush, naming him “one of the most distinguished Americans of his time” (Aug. 1989); he participated in the dedication of the Portland Oregon Temple (19 Aug. 1989).


Twenty-nine missions were created (1990).


His beloved wife, Flora, died (14 Aug. 1992).


He died in Salt Lake City, Utah (30 May 1994).

“In the mid-fifties a young man working in Washington, D.C., became acquainted with Ezra Taft Benson, then secretary of Agriculture. After observing the Secretary function in his demanding, often controversial, post while trying to retain the dignity and deportment of an apostle, the man asked Elder Benson how he managed to handle everything. Elder Benson replied, in words to this effect, ‘I work as hard as I can and do everything within my power. And I try to keep the commandments. Then I let the Lord make up the difference.’ There, in a nutshell, lies the formula to President Benson’s life and to his success” (Sheri L. Dew, Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography [1987], vii–viii).

His Great-Grandfather Was an Apostle

Ezra Taft Benson was named after his great-grandfather, whom Brigham Young called during the exodus to the Salt Lake Valley to be an Apostle. He was the first Apostle called after the death of the prophet Joseph Smith. “It was on the trail that Ezra T. was called to the Quorum of the Twelve. … President Young instructed Ezra, in part, ‘If you accept this office, I want you to come immediately to Council Bluffs, to prepare to go to the Rocky Mountains.’ Ezra Benson, at age thirty-five, was ordained an apostle on July 16, 1846, by President Young and promised that he should yet have ‘the strength of Samson.’ Nearly a year later, he was in the first company of pioneers that entered the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847. He spoke in the first sacrament meeting held there, and then headed back across the trail to inform other companies en route that a place of settlement had been located.

“During subsequent years Ezra would serve a number of missions, Europe and Hawaii among them, travel in and out of Salt Lake City, and play a key role in colonizing the Great Basin, particularly Tooele, Utah, where he milled lumber, and later, Cache Valley [in Idaho]” (Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, 6–7).

A Prophet Is Born

“On October 19, 1898, Sarah [Sophia Dunkley] and George [Taft Benson Jr.] were married in the Logan Temple. The small home they had built and furnished themselves [a mile and a half northeast of Whitney, Idaho,] was ready for occupancy. While not elaborate, it was adequate for a young couple in love. …

“George thrived on working in the soil and living by the law of the harvest—that you can only reap what you sow. … He was a man of sterling character who felt that no one owed him a living and whose ambition was to help his children help themselves. His wife had qualities to match, particularly when it came to rearing children.

“When Sarah learned they were to be blessed with their first child, she and George were ecstatic. They prayed and planned together about their family, and eagerly awaited the baby’s arrival.

“On August 4, 1899, as Sarah’s labor began, George administered to her. Dr. Allen Cutler attended her in the bedroom of their farm home, with both grandmothers, Louisa Benson and Margaret Dunkley, there. The delivery was protracted. As the baby, a large boy, was delivered, the doctor couldn’t get him to breathe and quickly laid him on the bed and pronounced, ‘There’s no hope for the child, but I believe we can save the mother.’ While Dr. Cutler feverishly attended to Sarah, the grandmothers rushed to the kitchen, praying silently as they worked, and returned shortly with two pans of water—one cold, the other warm. Alternately, they dipped the baby first in cold and then in warm water, until finally they heard a cry. The 11 3/4 pound boy was alive! Later both grandmothers bore testimony that the Lord had spared the child. George and Sarah named him Ezra Taft Benson.

“From the time he could walk, ‘T.’, as young Ezra was nicknamed, was his father’s shadow—riding horses, working in the fields, hitching up the horse and buggy for meetings, playing ball and swimming in the creek. He had a rich sense of heritage, stemming from his birthright as Ezra T. Benson’s eldest great-grandson, but also because he idolized his father and, as a young boy, felt an unusual sense of security and deep pride in who he was. Years later, after George Benson died, his eldest son overheard one of the few non-Mormons in Whitney say, ‘Today we buried the greatest influence for good in Cache Valley.’ Without question, George Benson was a powerful influence in the life of his eldest son” (Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, 12–14).

He Was Raised in a Wonderful Family

The Benson home had a warm, enjoyable atmosphere. The children felt that their family was ideal, and their parents adored each other. The farm was a place of hard work and all the family shared the chores. Cultivating potatoes, herding cattle, expanding their home, fixing machinery, and planting sugar beets were some of the tasks that filled their days.

The children learned to work at an early age. Ezra Taft Benson “was only four years of age when he drove a wagon team for the first time, but as he grew up on the farm, his chores went to every phase of agricultural life. He learned the meaning of work and loved it. As one evidence of his industry, when only 16 years of age he single-handedly thinned an entire acre of sugar beets in only one day. He was paid $12 for the work.

“Even with his busy life at work and in school, he always found time to engage in sports, basketball and baseball being his favorites. He played basketball as a boy with President Harold B. Lee, who also grew up in Idaho. They were boyhood friends.

“He attended the Oneida Stake Academy at Preston, Idaho, and traveled from his home to school by horseback or buggy in warm weather and by sleigh in winter” (Mark E. Petersen, “Ezra Taft Benson: ‘A Habit of Integrity,’” Ensign, Oct. 1974, 23).

“George Benson was by nature a happy man. First thing in the morning he shouted, ‘Let a little sunshine in. Clear the darkened windows, open wide the door, let a little sunshine in.’ If the season was warm, he would open the front door, then call his children—‘Ezra, Joe, Margaret, time to get chores done’—and shake the stove vigorously. The boys’ room was directly upstairs, and that was the sign they had better get up. …

“Most Saturdays were half-holidays. Around one in the afternoon, the work stopped, and the family joined in everything from horse and foot races to baseball games and small rodeos, where the boys tried to ride calves. Swimming, hiking, and picnicking were favorite activities. It was said that Sarah could pack the finest picnic basket in the valley. The Bensons had the first phonograph in the area, and the boys had a basketball court with backboards at both ends and a dirt playing surface that George rolled until it was smooth and packed solid. The Benson farm was a gathering place for young people” (Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, 21–22).

His Father Was Called on a Mission

“In this childhood setting—one he later called ‘ideal’—Ezra Taft Benson learned how to sacrifice to reap a spiritual harvest. He was just twelve when his father, George Benson, was called to serve an eighteen-month mission in the midwestern United States. There were seven children in the Benson home when their father left for the mission field, with the eighth soon to be born. And Ezra, as the oldest son, had to carry much of the responsibility for the farm. One of President Benson’s most vivid memories of his father’s absence was of gathering around the kitchen table to hear his mother read her husband’s weekly letters. ‘There came into that home a spirit of missionary work that never left,’ recalled President Benson. All eleven Benson children later served missions” (“President Ezra Taft Benson: A Sure Voice of Faith,” Ensign, July 1994, 10).

He Learned Much from His Early School Experiences

Ezra Taft Benson attended the Oneida Stake Academy in Preston, Idaho. It was a Church-sponsored school where morning devotional and prayer began each day’s activities. It was there he first met Harold B. Lee, who was a year ahead of him in school. They became good friends and both sang in the school’s first choir. Ezra’s interests were mainly in the areas of agriculture and vocational training. He believed that a man should be able to fix anything.

He shared the following experience he had in high school:

“I rode horseback three miles each way to get to high school and in bad weather it was a problem sometimes to make my eight o’clock class on time. Like others, I often missed school to help on the farm, especially in the fall, until after harvest, and in the spring, during planting season.

“The one man other than my father who made the most lasting impression was an uncle, Serge B. Benson. He taught me in three different classes—but above all, he taught me lessons in moral, physical, and intellectual courage that I have tried to apply in later life. He reinforced my parents’ emphasis on honesty, on standing by the truth at all costs.

“Sometimes the cost came high.

“One day in the middle of an important examination in high school, the point of my lead pencil broke. In those days, we used pocket knives to sharpen our pencils. I had forgotten my penknife, and turned to ask a neighbor for his. The teacher saw this; he accused me of cheating. When I tried to explain, he gave me a tongue-lashing for lying; worse, he forbade me to play on the basketball team in the upcoming big game.

“I could see that the more I protested the angrier he seemed to become. But, again and again, I stubbornly told what had happened. Even when the coach pleaded my cause, the teacher refused to budge. The disgrace was almost more than I could bear. Then, just minutes before the game, he had a change of heart, and I was permitted to play. But there was no joy in it. We lost the game; and though that hurt, by far the deeper pain was being branded a cheat and a liar.

“Looking back, I know that lesson was God-sent. Character is shaped in just such crucibles.

“My parents believed me; they were understanding and encouraging. Supported by them, Uncle Serge’s lessons in courage, and a clear conscience, I began to realize that when you are at peace with your Maker you can, if not ignore human criticism, at least rise above it.

“And I learned something else—the importance of avoiding even the appearance of evil. Though I was innocent, circumstance made me look guilty. Since this could so easily be true in many of life’s situations, I made a resolution to keep even the appearance of my actions above question, as far as possible. And it struck me, too, that if this injustice happened to me, it could happen to others, and I must not judge their actions simply on appearances” (Cross Fire: The Eight Years with Eisenhower [1962], 17).

He Enjoyed Playing Basketball

Ezra Taft Benson enjoyed sports, especially basketball. His father loved the game and supported his sons whenever they competed. George Benson encouraged all seven of his sons to play basketball. He issued a challenge through the Franklin County Citizen that his family would take on any other family in basketball. Ezra felt that they were probably fortunate that they did not have any other family take up the challenge. (See Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, 38.)

Scouting Became a Lifelong Love

Ezra Taft Benson was a lifelong supporter of Scouting. He received the three highest national awards in Scouting—the Silver Beaver, the Silver Antelope, and the Silver Buffalo—as well as world Scouting’s international award, the Bronze Wolf.

“Ezra had a desire to be ‘a leader of boys,’ and in 1918 he got his first formal opportunity when Bishop Benson called his grandson, Ezra, as assistant Scoutmaster to twenty-four lively, mischievous Scouts. (He later became Scoutmaster.) Ezra took to the assignment like a veteran. In those days the YMMIA sponsored choruses for the teenage boys, and the Scoutmaster was expected to get them to practice. The choirs sang not only for pleasure and entertainment but also in competitions. After weeks of practice and pushing and prodding on Ezra’s part, his choir won first place in the Franklin Stake competition, which qualified them to compete in the Logan Tabernacle against six other winning groups. This was a big event for the boys, some of whom had never been as far from home as Logan.

“To motivate his troop, Ezra promised them—‘in a moment of anxiety or weakness,’ he wasn’t sure which—that if they won the regional competition, he would lead them on a thirty-five-mile hike across the mountains to Bear Lake.

“On the night of the competition each choir drew lots for placement. The Whitney chorus drew last place, which prolonged their anxiety. When they were finally announced, twenty-four boys marched up the aisle and on stage while the pianist played ‘Stars and Stripes Forever.’ Ezra crouched between two benches to direct their performance. ‘They sang as I’d never heard them sing, and of course I’d not tell the story had we not won first place in Logan,’ he said.

“A promise made is a debt unpaid, and the Scouts had barely been declared the winners when they gathered around their Scoutmaster to remind him of the hike. At a subsequent prehike planning session, one twelve-year-old Scout excitedly suggested, ‘Mr. Scoutmaster, I’d like to make a motion. We should all clip our hair off so we will not be bothered with combs and brushes on the trip.’ The older Scouts squirmed (crewcuts, they thought, would not attract young women), but the motion carried—not, however, before one of the older Scouts said, ‘How about the Scoutmasters?’ It was Ezra’s turn to squirm.

“The following Saturday Ezra took his place in the barber’s chair, with twenty-four Scouts looking on. As the barber neared the end of Ezra’s haircut, he said, ‘If you’ll let me shave your head, I’ll cut the hair of the rest of your boys for nothing.’ Two days later, twenty-four Scouts and one bald Scoutmaster, with his bald assistants, set out for Bear Lake. The ten-day hike was ‘glorious nevertheless,’ filled with fishing, camping, hiking, swimming, and camaraderie. ‘One of the joys of working with boys is that you get your pay as you go along,’ Ezra later explained. ‘You can observe the results of your leadership daily. … Such satisfaction cannot be purchased at any price; it must be earned.’ [See Ezra Taft Benson, “Scouting Builds Men,” New Era, Feb. 1975, 14–18.]” (Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, 42–44).

He Was Called as a Missionary to England

In the early 1850s when many of the Saints were moving to the Great Salt Lake Basin, the missionaries in Great Britain were enjoying great success. Church membership in Great Britain was then double that in the United States. Many of the British converts eventually migrated to America and settled in the western frontier. By the early 1900s, however, anti-Mormons had created a hostile environment that made missionary work difficult in Great Britain. Motion pictures and publications of the time depicted Mormons as deceptive and immoral.

In 1921, Ezra Taft Benson was called to serve a mission in England. In 1922, Elder David O. McKay, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was called as the mission president and found England flooded with the vilest slander against the Church. It was in this atmosphere that Elder Benson served.

“A series of one-liners in his journal indicates the challenges [Elder Benson faced]: ‘Cussed by a little 18 yr. old maid … tracting among the rich—enjoyed it in spite of their bitterness’; ‘detectives on our trail at present’; ‘two ministers watching us tract. ha! Rain and snow.’ Maids in some wealthy homes usually answered the door, and some subsequently accused the missionaries of trying to lure them away. An anti-Mormon lecture, ‘Inside of Mormonism,’ was held one evening while the Saints were holding an MIA meeting. ‘Town in uproar about Mormons. All of vast assembly voted to have us put out of town,’ Ezra wrote on March 30, 1922. He penned a rebuttal for the Cumberland News denouncing lies published about Mormonism.

“Despite the rejections, Ezra kept his sense of humor (‘Went tracting, was kicked out twice is all’) and perspective (‘Kids yelling Mormons! as we go down to church, but thank the Lord I’m one’). But conditions continued to intensify to the point where the missionaries even called on the police for protection. In April 1922, while trying to rent a hall for a meeting, Ezra lamented, ‘Searched in vain for a hall but no success. The world seems to be against the work of the Lord.’

“Opposition notwithstanding, some good came of the anti-Mormon tirades. The Millennial Star, reporting on a meeting held in Grimsby on March 31, 1922, noted, ‘It was the unanimous opinion that more good than harm was resulting. All the meetings are better attended than they have been for years past and many new friends are being made’” (Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, 58).

He Married Flora Amussen, His Lifelong Companion

Ezra Taft Benson married Flora Smith Amussen on 10 September 1926 in the Salt Lake Temple. She was the daughter of a Danish pioneer who immigrated from Denmark. Her father was a jeweler and watchmaker. Some of Ezra’s friends felt he had no chance of dating her. He “recalled that he was spending a weekend with his friends in Logan, Utah, when he first saw his future bride. ‘We were out near the dairy barns when a young woman—very attractive—drove by in her little car on her way to the dairy to get some milk,’ he remembered. ‘As the boys waved at her, she waved back. I said, “Who is that girl?” They said, “That’s Flora Amussen.” I told them, “You know, I’ve just had the impression I’m going to marry her”.’

“His friends laughed and told him, ‘She’s too popular for a farm boy.’ Young Ezra simply said, ‘That makes it all the more interesting.’

“After a ‘wonderful courtship,’ he was called on a mission to Great Britain. Flora had graduated from Brigham Young College (which offered a high school curriculum from 1909 until it closed in 1926) and would be attending Utah State Agricultural College (now Utah State University).

“‘When I came back, we resumed our courting,’ President Benson related. ‘Then to my great surprise, Flora received a mission call to go to the Hawaiian Islands. I was really pleased to see her have this opportunity to go. She saw it as an opportunity for me to graduate from college.’

“Brother Benson graduated from Brigham Young University in 1926, the same year Sister Benson completed her mission. They married when she returned, and the couple moved to Ames, Iowa, where President Benson had been granted a seventy-dollar-a-month scholarship to study agriculture at Iowa State College (now Iowa State University).

“After Brother Benson finished his graduate studies and received his master’s degree in 1929, the Bensons moved to an eighty-acre farm near Whitney, Idaho. Brother Benson became a county agricultural agent, an Extension Service economist, and a marketing specialist for the University of Idaho” (“President and Sister Benson Celebrate 60th Wedding Anniversary,” Ensign, Nov. 1986, 99).

He Wanted to Help Farmers

“Ezra Taft [Benson] returned to Whitney[, Idaho,] with a master’s degree and an eagerness to help other farmers improve their crops. He was so helpful, in fact, that his neighbors drafted him as county agricultural extension agent.

“For the next fifteen years, his work in agriculture and his Church service increased in scope and influence. At thirty-one, he went to Boise, where he was agricultural economist and marketing specialist for the University of Idaho and where he founded a farmers’ cooperative council. In Boise he also served as stake MIA superintendent, counselor in a stake presidency, and stake president. At thirty-nine, he was offered a position in Washington, D.C., as executive secretary of a national organization representing more than two million farmers and forty-six hundred cooperative farming groups. He accepted the job only after he was assured that he would not have to lobby at cocktail parties or compromise his standards in any way. By age forty, he was serving as stake president for the second time—this time of the newly formed Washington (D.C.) Stake” (“President Ezra Taft Benson,” Ensign, July 1994, 12–13).

When he worked as an agricultural economist and marketing specialist for the University of Idaho, “he observed situations that didn’t make sense—farmers who raised grain yet scrimped to buy high-priced puffed wheat in a box; who bought the fruit the family ate rather than raising fruit on idle acres; who left valuable equipment outside to rust in winter without taking preventive measures. He cried with men whose homesteads had been in their families for decades and who knew nothing other than tilling the soil, but who couldn’t afford to stay on the farm.

“After his first tour of the state, Ezra came to appreciate more fully the Prophet Joseph Smith’s counsel to the Latter-day Saints that men should be taught correct principles and then allowed to govern themselves. ‘I had a firm philosophy,’ Ezra said. ‘You cannot help people permanently by doing for them what they can and should do for themselves. I had to help the people stand on their own feet’” (Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, 107).

He Was Called to the Apostleship

“On 26 July 1943, Ezra Taft Benson’s true vocation of serving in the kingdom became his full-time occupation when President Heber J. Grant called him to be the youngest member of the Quorum of the Twelve. He was set apart on October 7 of that year, the same day as Elder Spencer W. Kimball, whom he would follow as President [of the Church]” (“President Ezra Taft Benson,” Ensign, July 1994, 14).

On 26 July Ezra received a phone call asking him to meet with President Grant “at his summer home in a nearby canyon. …

“… Ezra was immediately shown into President Grant’s bedroom, where the aged prophet was resting. At the President’s bidding, Ezra closed the door and approached him, sitting down on a chair next to the bed. President Grant took Ezra’s right hand in both of his and, with tears filling his eyes, said simply, ‘Brother Benson, with all my heart I congratulate you and pray God’s blessing to attend you. You have been chosen as the youngest member of the Council of the Twelve Apostles.’

“The shock registered in Ezra’s face. He felt as if the earth were sinking from beneath him. He had had no premonition of the calling. Later he recorded his feelings: ‘The announcement seemed unbelievable and overwhelming. … For several minutes [I] could say only, “Oh, President Grant, that can’t be!” which I must have repeated several times before I was able to collect my [thoughts] enough to realize what had happened. … He held my hand for a long time as we both shed tears. … For over an hour we were alone together, much of the time with our hands clasped warmly together. [Though he was] feeble, his mind was clear and alert, and I was deeply impressed with his sweet, kindly, humble spirit as he seemed to look into my soul.

“‘I felt so utterly weak and unworthy that his words of comfort and reassurance which followed were doubly appreciated. Among other things he stated, “The Lord has a way of magnifying men who are called to positions of leadership.” When in my weakness I was able to state that I loved the Church he said, “We know that, and the Lord wants men who will give everything for His work.”

“‘He told of the action taken in a special meeting of the First Presidency and the Twelve two weeks before and that the discussion regarding me had been enthusiastically unanimous. … I feel confident that only [through] the rich blessings of the Almighty can this ever be realized.’

“The President asked Ezra to attend general conference in October, when he would be sustained and ordained. He also told him that his grandfather and other faithful progenitors were rejoicing at this appointment of a descendant to the apostleship” (Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, 174–75).

He Went on a Mission to Help the Suffering Saints of Europe

“In December 1945, Elder Benson was assigned to preside over the European Mission in the aftermath of World War II. Specifically, his commission was to reopen missions throughout Europe and to distribute food, clothing, and bedding to the suffering Saints.

“On an almost eleven-month mission of love, Elder Benson traveled more than sixty thousand miles to Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Scandinavia—often in freezing weather in unheated trains and planes. With typical optimism, he organized the ‘K-Ration Quartet’ with his traveling companions, to sing away the tedious and uncomfortable hours.

“Time and time again, when permission to enter war-torn countries or to distribute supplies seemed impossible to obtain, Elder Benson appealed to the Lord to open the way. Barrier after barrier was dissolved, and thousands of tons of Church welfare supplies were sent to the Saints in Europe. During this mission, Elder Benson also dedicated Finland for the preaching of the gospel.

“Elder Benson met in bombed-out schoolhouses and meetinghouses with Saints who had lost homes, families, health—everything except their devotion to the gospel. The scenes of starvation and destruction never faded from President Benson’s memory. Nor did the faces and the faith of his beloved European brothers and sisters, of whom he often spoke throughout his life. Eighteen years later, Elder Benson again presided over the European missions, this time with headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany. He always took special joy in seeing stakes, missions, and temples established in Europe” (“President Ezra Taft Benson,” Ensign, July 1994, 14).

In August 1946 “Elder Benson learned that Elder Alma Sonne, an Assistant to the Twelve, had been called to succeed him in Europe. The news was unexpected. He had planned to be in Europe for another six months and believed there was much left to do. But he was delighted to be going home. In a moment of rare reflection, he admitted that the previous months had been ‘a bit rough and rugged, but the Lord has sustained me in a most remarkable way.’

“But because word of the change came so suddenly, Elder Benson wondered if his performance had been acceptable. Then an unusual experience allayed his fears, and he recorded it in his journal: ‘Last night, in a dream, I was privileged to spend, what seemed about an hour, with Pres. George Albert Smith in Salt Lake. It was a most impressive and soul-satisfying experience. We talked intimately together about the Great Work in which we are engaged and about my devoted family. I felt the warmth of his embrace as we both shed tears of gratitude for the rich blessings of the Lord. … The last day or so I have been wondering if my labors in Europe have been acceptable to the First [Presidency] and the Brethren at home and especially to my Heavenly Father. This sweet experience has tended to put my mind completely at ease, for which I am deeply grateful.’

“Shortly thereafter Elder Harold B. Lee wrote Ezra, ‘The brethren are united in the feeling that you have performed a glorious mission and a work that could hardly have been accomplished by one of lesser courage and ability … and with undaunted faith in the power of the Lord to overcome obstacles’” (Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, 224).

He Was United States Secretary of Agriculture

“In 1952, Elder Benson was astonished to receive a telephone call informing him that U.S. President-elect Dwight D. Eisenhower, a man he had never met, wanted to talk to him about becoming U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. Farm leaders had recommended Ezra Taft Benson as the best man for the job. With Church President David O. McKay’s blessing and President Eisenhower’s assurance that he need never endorse a policy that he did not agree with, Elder Benson became Secretary Benson. The Benson family returned to Washington, D.C., for the eight years of the Eisenhower administration” (“President Ezra Taft Benson,” Ensign, July 1994, 14–15).

The years he served politically (1953–61) were challenging years. “Early on, Elder Benson sought a blessing from the First Presidency. Assisted by J. Reuben Clark, President McKay pronounced words of comfort and counsel on the apostle’s head: ‘You will have a responsibility, even greater than your associates in the cabinet because you go … as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. You are entitled to inspiration from on high, and if you so live and think and pray, you will have that divine guidance which others may not have. … We bless you, therefore, dear Brother Ezra, that when questions of right and wrong come before the men with whom you are deliberating, you may see clearly what is right, and knowing it, that you may have courage to stand by that which is right and proper. … We seal upon you the blessings of … sound judgment, clear vision, that you might see afar the needs of this country; vision that you might see, too, the enemies who would thwart the freedoms of the individual as vouchsafed by the Constitution, … and may you be fearless in the condemnation of these subversive influences, and strong in your defense of the rights and privileges of the Constitution’” (Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, 258–59).

While Elder Benson served as Secretary of Agriculture, he faced many hostile groups who, after hearing him, were convinced that he was an honest man. A number of his critics became his advocates. Many times he convinced those same groups that his views were the best and that all could benefit if they supported him. President Eisenhower recognized that much of his administration’s popularity, especially in the south, was due to his Secretary of Agriculture, Ezra Taft Benson.

“For a man who opposed big government, Ezra was taking the reins of an enormous department. The USDA housed one tenth of its 78,000 employees in the combined Administration and South buildings in Washington, D. C., containing between them nearly five thousand rooms and eight miles of corridors. The remainder were scattered in ten thousand locations throughout the United States and in fifty countries. His 1953 budget, $2.1 billion, was, next to the Treasury, the largest for any civilian department. He and his staff would oversee food needs for 160 million Americans” (Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, 260).

“In that period, controversy was raging about how to stabilize supply and demand in an uncertain farm economy, and Ezra Taft Benson’s face appeared on the covers of national magazines as he dealt with the problem. He spoke forthrightly, without regard for how popular his opinion might be. Speaking to farmers and politicians, he dared to suggest that the solutions to economic and political problems are based on spiritual and moral principles, without which no nation can have prosperity or peace. In Washington, Elder Benson instigated the practice of opening Cabinet meetings with prayer, and the Bensons presented a family home evening program to the Eisenhowers” (Ensign, July 1994, 15).

“As U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Ezra Taft Benson spent eight years in what he called ‘the cross fire’ of national politics. … He was one of only two Cabinet members who lasted both terms of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration. …

“Taking his post, he found himself in the ‘hot seat’—advocating unpopular but later proven sound farm policies and programs.

“In Cross Fire, a book he wrote about his Cabinet years, he declared, ‘In politics … it helps to have a hide like an elephant.’

“His critics were so vocal that another Cabinet officer once remarked, ‘Every night when I go to bed I thank God I’m not the Secretary of Agriculture.’

“Though the tide of public opinion often washed against him, time proved him a wise, competent Secretary, and one of the most popular who ever served.

“Secretary Benson declared: ‘The supreme test of any government policy, agricultural or other, should be, “How will it affect the character, morale, and well-being of our people?”’

“Standing firm in his beliefs, he won the farm vote in 1956 and again in 1960. As years passed, many critics became advocates” (Gerry Avant, “8 Years in ‘Cross Fire’ of U.S. Politics,” Church News, 4 June 1994, 17).

“Throughout the Cabinet years, Elder Benson maintained a calm in the face of criticism so fierce that it amazed even those who disagreed with his policies. A plaque on his desk reading ‘O God, give us men with a mandate higher than the ballot box’ explained one reason for his equanimity: Ezra Taft Benson merely did what he thought was best, not what might have been politically expedient. He later told the other reason: ‘I have prayed—we have prayed as a family—that we could avoid any spirit of hatred or bitterness’ (in Conference Report, Apr. 1961, p. 112)” (Ensign, July 1994, 15).

The Bensons Were a Close Family

“President Benson’s family—with their musicales, home evenings, and prayers for each other—was always his refuge and support. The Washington press was astounded that Elder and Sister Benson felt no qualms about refusing social invitations when a child’s concert or a daddy-daughter scavenger hunt was at stake” (Ensign, July 1994, 15).

“When he was asked to an important dinner by a Cabinet officer, [Ezra Taft] Benson said, ‘Sorry, I have a date with my daughter Bonnie.’

“The date was a father-daughter party and scavenger hunt at the Mormon Church. After a supper, at which each girl served her father, everybody joined the scavenger hunt. The first father-daughter team to come back with the stipulated ‘treasure’ won the evening’s prize.

“Residents of the area around the church were rather startled that night to answer their doorbells and find the broad-shouldered Secretary of Agriculture and a 14-year-old girl asking for such things as a green toothpick, an old shoelace, a 1952 calendar, and last September’s issue of a news magazine. The Benson team was so fleet, however, that it won first prize: a chest filled with ‘dollars’ (chocolate candy). ‘He was happier about this,’ said a fellow church member, ‘than an invitation to the White House.’ Such simple family enterprises afford him a measure of relaxation that would be hard to find at functions of state” (Roul Tunley, “Everybody Picks on Benson,” American Magazine, June 1954, 108).

“Pray for Dad”

“On an April day 21 years ago, I discovered one source of a General Authority’s strength.

“I was seated with the six children of Elder Ezra Taft Benson, one of whom was my college roommate. My interest heightened when President McKay arose and announced the next speaker. I watched respectfully as Elder Benson, whom I had not yet met, walked toward the microphone. He was a big man, well over six feet tall. He was a man with a Ph.D., a man internationally known as the United States Secretary of Agriculture and a special witness of the Lord, a man who seemed serene and sure, one who had addressed audiences throughout the world. Suddenly a hand touched my arm. A little girl leaned toward me and whispered urgently, ‘Pray for dad.’

“Somewhat startled, I thought, ‘This message is being passed down the row, and I am to pass it on. Shall I say, “Pray for Elder Benson”? Shall I say, “You’re supposed to say a prayer for your father”?’ Sensing the immediate need to act, I leaned over and whispered simply, ‘Pray for dad.’

“I watched that whisper move along the row to where Sister Benson sat, her head already bowed. …

“As years have passed, general conferences have come and gone, and each time President Benson has stood to speak, I have thought, ‘His children, who are scattered across the continent, are united now in prayer for their father.’

“And I have come to believe that the brief message that passed along the row some 21 years ago is the most important message a family can share. What extraordinary power and faith any man can have to meet the daily challenge of his life if somewhere in the world his daughter or son is whispering, ‘Pray for dad’” (Elaine S. McKay, “Pray for Dad,” New Era, Jan.–Feb. 1981, 7).

He Taught about the Importance of the Home

Elder Ezra Taft Benson said: “No nation rises above its homes. In building character the church, the school, and even the nation stand helpless when confronted with a weakened and degraded home. The good home is the rock foundation—the cornerstone of civilization. There can be no genuine happiness separate and apart from a good home, with the old-fashioned virtues at its base. If your nation is to endure, the home must be safeguarded, strengthened, and restored to its rightful importance” (in Conference Report, April 1966, 130).

He Became President of the Twelve

On 30 December 1973, at the age of seventy-four, Elder Ezra Taft Benson was set apart as president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “He had been an apostle for thirty years and from the moment his colleague who had sat next to him throughout that entire period was ordained the prophet, Ezra sustained him fully. …

“As for his own assignment, which had come so unexpectedly, he confided in his journal: ‘It is almost overwhelming as I contemplate … being called to serve as the President of the Twelve. With all my heart I will seek the inspiration of heaven and the blessings of our Heavenly Father. I know the work is true. I know that God lives and that this Church carries the name of Jesus Christ. With His aid and the aid of my Heavenly Father, I am sure I will be blessed with success in my humble efforts.’ …

“In April 1974 President Kimball outlined his vision of an expanded missionary program in a masterful address to Regional Representatives [see Spencer W. Kimball, “‘When the World Will Be Converted,’” Ensign, Oct. 1974, 3–14]. Elder William Grant Bangerter of the First Quorum of the Seventy recalled that President Kimball had not spoken long when ‘a new awareness seemed suddenly to fall on the congregation. We became alert to an astonishing spiritual presence, and we realized that we were listening to something unusual. … It was as if, spiritually speaking, our hair began to stand on end.’ When President Kimball concluded, President Benson declared in a voice filled with emotion, ‘President Kimball, through all the years that these meetings have been held, we have never heard such an address as you have just given. Truly there is a prophet in Israel.’ That night Ezra recorded in his journal, ‘It is my prayer that Brother Kimball will live for many, many years. The Lord is magnifying him. The mantle of the President has fallen upon him. He … will be a great blessing to the entire Church’” (Dew, Ezra Taft Benson, 426, 431).

Spirituality Is a Key to Keeping Freedom Alive

President Ezra Taft Benson was a strong advocate of freedom. On one occasion he wrote: “What can we do to keep the light of freedom alive? Keep the commandments of God. Walk circumspectly before Him. Pay our tithes and fast offerings. Attend our temples. Stay morally clean. Participate in local elections, for the Lord has said, ‘Honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold.’ (D&C 98:10.) Be honest in all our dealings. Faithfully hold our family home evenings. Pray—pray to the God of heaven that He will intervene to preserve our precious freedoms, that His gospel may go to every nation and people. Yes, in the words of the Lord Himself: ‘Stand ye in holy places, and be not moved, until the day of the Lord come. …’ (D&C 87:8.) Those ‘holy places’ are our temples, stakes, wards, and homes” (This Nation Shall Endure [1977], 9–10).

He Became President of the Church

On 10 November 1985, nearly twelve years after he became President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, President Ezra Taft Benson was ordained and set apart as President of the Church. It was not a day he had anticipated. He and Sister Benson had prayed that President Kimball’s life would be prolonged. Nevertheless, he said:

“Now that the Lord has spoken, we will do our best, under his guiding direction, to move the work forward in the earth. …

“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” (quoted in Don L. Searle, “President Ezra Taft Benson Ordained Thirteenth President of the Church,” Ensign, Dec. 1985, 5).

“[President Benson] was eighty-six when the mantle of the prophet came upon him, but he was noticeably enlivened and strengthened by the call. He traveled extensively throughout the Church, dedicating temples and speaking to the Saints. …

“During his presidency, President Benson witnessed another remarkable set of events involving the principles of freedom he had defended so forthrightly throughout his life. Miraculously, the Iron Curtain in eastern Europe began to part for the blessing of the people he had grown to love after World War II. In 1985 the Freiberg Temple, located in the German Democratic Republic, had been dedicated—a miracle in itself. But without missionary work in that country, the Church’s growth was limited. Then, in 1988, the Communist government of the German Democratic Republic granted permission for missionaries to serve there and also for its young citizens to serve missions elsewhere.

“By 1990, winds of political change were sweeping the world. Barriers between East and West began to dissolve as the peoples of eastern Europe and other nations fervently embraced principles of democracy and religion” (Ensign, July 1994, 16, 18–19).

President Benson Loved the Book of Mormon

President Howard W. Hunter, then President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said:

“President Benson spoke lovingly and frequently of missionary work and temples and the responsibilities of the priesthood. He spoke of our pioneer heritage and the dangers of pride and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. But most of all he spoke of his beloved Book of Mormon.

“Will any generation, including those yet unborn, look back on the administration of President Ezra Taft Benson and not immediately think of his love for the Book of Mormon? Perhaps no President of the Church since the Prophet Joseph Smith himself has done more to teach the truths of the Book of Mormon, to make it a daily course of study for the entire membership of the Church, and to ‘flood the earth’ with its distribution.

“At the very outset of his ministry as prophet, seer, and revelator, President Benson said unequivocally, ‘The Book of Mormon must be reenthroned in the minds and hearts of our people. We must honor it by reading, by studying it, by taking its precepts into our lives and transforming them into lives required of the true followers of Christ’” (“A Strong and Mighty Man,” Ensign, July 1994, 42).

The Book of Mormon Brings Men to Christ

President Ezra Taft Benson, then President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, taught how the Book of Mormon brings people to Christ:

“The Book of Mormon brings men to Christ through two basic means. First, it tells in a plain manner of Christ and his gospel. It testifies of his divinity and of the necessity for a Redeemer and the need of putting trust in him. It bears witness of the Fall and the Atonement and the first principles of the gospel, including our need of a broken heart and a contrite spirit and a spiritual rebirth. It proclaims we must endure to the end in righteousness and live the moral life of a Saint.

“Second, the Book of Mormon exposes the enemies of Christ. It confounds false doctrines and lays down contention. (See 2 Ne. 3:12.) It fortifies the humble followers of Christ against the evil designs, strategies, and doctrines of the devil in our day. The type of apostates in the Book of Mormon are similar to the type we have today. God, with his infinite foreknowledge, so molded the Book of Mormon that we might see the error and know how to combat false educational, political, religious, and philosophical concepts of our time” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1975, 94–95; or Ensign, May 1975, 64).

He Gave a Blessing of Increased Discernment and Understanding

At the close of the April 1986 general conference, President Ezra Taft Benson gave a prophet’s blessing:

“In our day, the Lord has revealed the need to reemphasize the Book of Mormon to get the Church and all the children of Zion out from under the condemnation—the scourge and judgment. (See D&C 84:54–58.) This message must be carried to the members of the Church throughout the world. …

“Now, in the authority of the sacred priesthood in me vested, I invoke my blessing upon the Latter-day Saints and upon good people everywhere.

“I bless you with increased discernment to judge between Christ and anti-Christ. I bless you with increased power to do good and to resist evil. I bless you with increased understanding of the Book of Mormon. I promise you that from this moment forward, if we will daily sup from its pages and abide by its precepts, God will pour out upon each child of Zion and the Church a blessing hitherto unknown—and we will plead to the Lord that He will begin to lift the condemnation—the scourge and judgment. Of this I bear solemn witness” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1986, 100; or Ensign, May 1986, 78).

“I Have a Vision of Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon”

President Ezra Taft Benson told Church members:

“The Book of Mormon is the instrument that God designed to ‘sweep the earth as with a flood, to gather out [His] elect’ (Moses 7:62). This sacred volume of scripture needs to become more central to our preaching, our teaching, and our missionary work. …

“The time is long overdue for a massive flooding of the earth with the Book of Mormon for the many reasons which the Lord has given. In this age of the electronic media and mass distribution of the printed word, God will hold us accountable if we do not now move the Book of Mormon in a monumental way.

“We have the Book of Mormon, we have the members, we have the missionaries, we have the resources, and the world has the need.

The time is now! …

“I have a vision of homes alerted, of classes alive, and of pulpits aflame with the spirit of Book of Mormon messages.

“I have a vision of home teachers and visiting teachers, ward and branch officers, and stake and mission leaders counseling our people out of the most correct of any book on earth—the Book of Mormon.

“I have a vision of artists putting into film, drama, literature, music, and paintings great themes and great characters from the Book of Mormon.

“I have a vision of thousands of missionaries going into the mission field with hundreds of passages memorized from the Book of Mormon so that they might feed the needs of a spiritually famished world.

“I have a vision of the whole Church getting nearer to God by abiding by the precepts of the Book of Mormon.

“Indeed, I have a vision of flooding the earth with the Book of Mormon.

“My beloved Saints, I am now entering my ninetieth year. I am getting older and less vigorous. …

“I do not know fully why God has preserved my life to this age, but I do know this: That for the present hour He has revealed to me the absolute need for us to move the Book of Mormon forward now in a marvelous manner. You must help with this burden and with this blessing which He has placed on the whole Church, even all the children of Zion.

“Moses never entered the promised land. Joseph Smith never saw Zion redeemed. Some of us may not live long enough to see the day when the Book of Mormon floods the earth and when the Lord lifts His condemnation (see D&C 84:54–58). But, God willing, I intend to spend all my remaining days in that glorious effort” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1988, 3–5; or Ensign, Nov. 1988, 4–6).

He Counseled the Youth to Be Clean

President Ezra Taft Benson gave the following counsel on chastity to the youth:

“I recognize that most people fall into sexual sin in a misguided attempt to fulfill basic human needs. We all have a need to feel loved and worthwhile. We all seek to have joy and happiness in our lives. Knowing this, Satan often lures people into immorality by playing on their basic needs. He promises pleasure, happiness, and fulfillment.

“But this is, of course, a deception. …

“Do not be misled by Satan’s lies. There is no lasting happiness in immorality. There is no joy to be found in breaking the law of chastity. Just the opposite is true. There may be momentary pleasure. For a time it may seem like everything is wonderful. But quickly the relationship will sour. Guilt and shame set in. We become fearful that our sins will be discovered. We must sneak and hide, lie and cheat. Love begins to die. Bitterness, jealousy, anger, and even hate begin to grow. All of these are the natural results of sin and transgression.

“On the other hand, when we obey the law of chastity and keep ourselves morally clean, we will experience the blessings of increased love and peace, greater trust and respect for our marital partners, deeper commitment to each other, and, therefore, a deep and significant sense of joy and happiness” (“The Law of Chastity,” in Brigham Young University 1987–88 Devotional and Fireside Speeches [1988], 50–51).

He Counseled Single Adult Men to Pursue the Goal of a Celestial Marriage

After counseling the young single adult men of the Church to examine their priorities, President Ezra Taft Benson said:

“May I now say an additional word about an eternal opportunity and responsibility … which is of greatest importance to you. I am referring to celestial marriage. …

“… We want you to know that the position of the Church has never changed regarding the importance of celestial marriage. It is a commandment of God. The Lord’s declaration in Genesis is still true: ‘And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone’ (Genesis 2:18).

“To obtain a fulness of glory and exaltation in the celestial kingdom, one must enter into this holiest of ordinances.

“Without marriage, the purposes of the Lord would be frustrated. Choice spirits would be withheld from the experience of mortality. And postponing marriage unduly often means limiting your posterity, and the time will come, brethren, when you will feel and know that loss.

“I can assure you that the greatest responsibility and the greatest joys in life are centered in the family, honorable marriage, and rearing a righteous posterity. And the older you become, the less likely you are to marry, and then you may lose these eternal blessings altogether. …

“I realize that some of you brethren may have genuine fears regarding the real responsibilities that will be yours if you do marry. You are concerned about being able to support a wife and family and provide them with the necessities in these uncertain economic times. Those fears must be replaced with faith.

“I assure you, brethren, that if you will be industrious, faithfully pay your tithes and offerings, and conscientiously keep the commandments, the Lord will sustain you. Yes, there will be sacrifices required, but you will grow from these and will be a better man for having met them.

“Work hard educationally and in your vocation. Put your trust in the Lord, have faith, and it will work out. The Lord never gives a commandment without providing the means to accomplish it (see 1 Nephi 3:7).

“Also, do not be caught up in materialism, one of the real plagues of our generation—that is, acquiring things, fast-paced living, and securing career success in the single state.

“Honorable marriage is more important than wealth, position, and status. As husband and wife, you can achieve your life’s goals together. As you sacrifice for each other and your children, the Lord will bless you, and your commitment to the Lord and your service in His kingdom will be enhanced.

“Now, brethren, do not expect perfection in your choice of a mate. Do not be so particular that you overlook her most important qualities of having a strong testimony, living the principles of the gospel, loving home, wanting to be a mother in Zion, and supporting you in your priesthood responsibilities.

“Of course, she should be attractive to you, but do not just date one girl after another for the sole pleasure of dating without seeking the Lord’s confirmation in your choice of your eternal companion.

“And one good yardstick as to whether a person might be the right one for you is this: in her presence, do you think your noblest thoughts, do you aspire to your finest deeds, do you wish you were better than you are?” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1988, 58–59; or Ensign, May 1988, 51–53).

He Counseled Single Adult Sisters to Keep the Goal of a Celestial Marriage

After expressing his love and gratitude to the single adult sisters of the Church, President Ezra Taft Benson said:

“I would like to express the hope we all have for you, which is so real, that you will be exalted in the highest degree of glory in the celestial kingdom and that you will enter into the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.

“Dear sisters, never lose sight of this sacred goal. Prayerfully prepare for it and live for it. Be married the Lord’s way. Temple marriage is a gospel ordinance of exaltation. Our Father in Heaven wants each of His daughters to have this eternal blessing.

“Therefore, don’t trifle away your happiness by involvement with someone who cannot take you worthily to the temple. Make a decision now that this is the place where you will marry. To leave that decision until a romantic involvement develops is to take a risk the importance of which you cannot now fully calculate.

“And remember, you are not required to lower your standards in order to get a mate. Keep yourselves attractive, maintain high standards, maintain your self-respect. Do not engage in intimacies that bring heartache and sorrow. Place yourselves in a position to meet worthy men and be engaged in constructive activities.

“But also, do not expect perfection in your choice of a mate. Do not be so concerned about his physical appearance and his bank account that you overlook his more important qualities. Of course, he should be attractive to you, and he should be able to financially provide for you. But, does he have a strong testimony? Does he live the principles of the gospel and magnify his priesthood? Is he active in his ward and stake? Does he love home and family, and will he be a faithful husband and a good father? These are qualities that really matter.

“And I would also caution you single sisters not to become so independent and self-reliant that you decide marriage isn’t worth it and you can do just as well on your own. Some of our sisters indicate that they do not want to consider marriage until after they have completed their degrees or pursued a career. This is not right. Certainly we want our single sisters to maximize their individual potential, to be well educated, and to do well at their present employment. You have much to contribute to society, to your community, and to your neighborhood. But we earnestly pray that our single sisters will desire honorable marriage in the temple to a worthy man and rear a righteous family, even though this may mean the sacrificing of degrees and careers. Our priorities are right when we realize there is no higher calling than to be an honorable wife and mother.

“I also recognize that not all women in the Church will have an opportunity for marriage and motherhood in mortality. But if those of you in this situation are worthy and endure faithfully, you can be assured of all blessings from a kind and loving Heavenly Father—and I emphasize all blessings.

“I assure you that if you have to wait even until the next life to be blessed with a choice companion, God will surely compensate you. Time is numbered only to man. God has your eternal perspective in mind” (“To the Single Adult Sisters of the Church,” Ensign, Nov. 1988, 96–97).

He Counseled Fathers on Their Eternal Calling

President Ezra Taft Benson said:

“Fathers, yours is an eternal calling from which you are never released. Callings in the Church, as important as they are, by their very nature are only for a period of time, and then an appropriate release takes place. But a father’s calling is eternal, and its importance transcends time. It is a calling for both time and eternity. …

“What … is a father’s specific responsibility within the sacred walls of his home? May I suggest two basic responsibilities of every father in Israel.

“First, you have a sacred responsibility to provide for the material needs of your family. …

“Second, you have a sacred responsibility to provide spiritual leadership in your family. …

“Mothers play an important role as the heart of the home, but this in no way lessens the equally important role fathers should play, as head of the home, in nurturing, training, and loving their children.

“As the patriarch in your home, you have a serious responsibility to assume leadership in working with your children. You must help create a home where the Spirit of the Lord can abide. Your place is to give direction to all family life” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1987, 59–62; or Ensign, Nov. 1987, 48–50).

President Benson later said:

“We once knew well … our Father in Heaven. …

“Now we are here. Our memories are veiled. We are showing God and ourselves what we can do. Nothing is going to startle us more when we pass through the veil to the other side than to realize how well we know our Father and how familiar His face is to us” (“Jesus Christ—Gifts and Expectations,” Ensign, Dec. 1988, 6).

He Counseled Mothers about the Nobility of Their Work

In a fireside address to parents, President Ezra Taft Benson spoke of the important role of mothers:

“No more sacred word exists in secular or holy writ than that of mother. There is no more noble work than that of a good and God-fearing mother. …

“In the eternal family, God established that fathers are to preside in the home. Fathers are to provide, to love, to teach, and to direct.

“But a mother’s role is also God-ordained. Mothers are to conceive, to bear, to nourish, to love, and to train. So declare the revelations. …

“Now, my dear mothers, knowing of your divine role to bear and rear children and bring them back to Him, how will you accomplish this in the Lord’s way? I say the ‘Lord’s way,’ because it is different from the world’s way.

“The Lord clearly defined the roles of mothers and fathers in providing for and rearing a righteous posterity. In the beginning, Adam—not Eve—was instructed to earn the bread by the sweat of his brow. Contrary to conventional wisdom, a mother’s calling is in the home, not the marketplace.

“… In the Doctrine and Covenants, we read: ‘Women have claim on their husbands for their maintenance, until their husbands are taken’ (D&C 83:2). This is the divine right of a wife and mother. She cares for and nourishes her children at home. Her husband earns the living for the family, which makes this nourishing possible. With that claim on their husbands for their financial support, the counsel of the Church has always been for mothers to spend their full time in the home in rearing and caring for their children.

“We realize also that some of our choice sisters are widowed and divorced and that others find themselves in unusual circumstances where, out of necessity, they are required to work for a period of time. But these instances are the exception, not the rule” (To the Mothers in Zion [pamphlet, 1987], 1–3, 5–6).

He Warned Against Pride

President Ezra Taft Benson urged members of the Church to overcome pride with a broken heart and a contrite spirit:

“Most of us think of pride as self-centeredness, conceit, boastfulness, arrogance, or haughtiness. All of these are elements of the sin, but the heart, or core, is still missing.

“The central feature of pride is enmity—enmity toward God and enmity toward our fellowmen. Enmity means ‘hatred toward, hostility to, or a state of opposition.’ It is the power by which Satan wishes to reign over us.

“Pride is essentially competitive in nature. We pit our will against God’s. When we direct our pride toward God, it is in the spirit of ‘my will and not thine be done.’ As Paul said, they ‘seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s’ (Philippians 2:21).

“Our will in competition to God’s will allows desires, appetites, and passions to go unbridled (see Alma 38:12; 3 Nephi 12:30).

“The proud cannot accept the authority of God giving direction to their lives (see Helaman 12:6). They pit their perceptions of truth against God’s great knowledge, their abilities versus God’s priesthood power, their accomplishments against His mighty works. …

“Pride is a sin that can readily be seen in others but is rarely admitted in ourselves. Most of us consider pride to be a sin of those on the top, such as the rich and the learned, looking down at the rest of us (see 2 Nephi 9:42). There is, however, a far more common ailment among us—and that is pride from the bottom looking up. It is manifest in so many ways, such as faultfinding, gossiping, backbiting, murmuring, living beyond our means, envying, coveting, withholding gratitude and praise that might lift another, and being unforgiving and jealous. …

“Pride affects all of us at various times and in various degrees. Now you can see why the building in Lehi’s dream that represents the pride of the world was large and spacious and great was the multitude that did enter into it (see 1 Nephi 8:26, 33; 11:35–36).

“Pride is the universal sin, the great vice. Yes, pride is the universal sin, the great vice.

“The antidote for pride is humility—meekness, submissiveness (see Alma 7:23). It is the broken heart and contrite spirit (see 3 Nephi 9:20; 12:19; D&C 20:37; 59:8; Psalm 34:18; Isaiah 57:15; 66:2). …

“God will have a humble people. Either we can choose to be humble or we can be compelled to be humble. Alma said, ‘Blessed are they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble’ (Alma 32:16).

“Let us choose to be humble. …

“Pride is the great stumbling block to Zion. I repeat: Pride is the great stumbling block to Zion.

“We must cleanse the inner vessel by conquering pride (see Alma 6:2–4; Matthew 23:25–26)” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1989, 3–7; or Ensign, May 1989, 4–7).

We Believe in Christ

Throughout his ministry, President Ezra Taft Benson bore strong testimony of Jesus Christ and His power to change lives:

“The question is sometimes asked, ‘Are Mormons Christians?’ We declare the divinity of Jesus Christ. We look to Him as the only source of our salvation. We strive to live His teachings, and we look forward to the time that He shall come again on this earth to rule and reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. In the words of a Book of Mormon prophet, we say to men today, ‘There [is] no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent’ (Mosiah 3:17)” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson [1988], 10).

“The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1985, 5; or Ensign, Nov. 1985, 6).

“Men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that He can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace. Whoever will lose his life in the service of God will find eternal life (see Matthew 10:39)” (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 361).

He Received a Presidential Citation

“The U.S. Presidential Citizens Medal was presented Aug. 30 [1989] to President Ezra Taft Benson for ‘a lifetime of dedicated service to country, community, church and family.’

“Brent Scowcroft, assistant to President George Bush for national security affairs and a former Utahn, presented the medal on behalf of President Bush, who expressed his regrets for not being able to present it in person.

“The White House announced the award in July. It was the first made by President Bush since he took office.

“‘President Bush is honoring you as one of the most distinguished Americans of your time,’ Scowcroft told the 90-year-old Church leader, who was U.S. Secretary of Agriculture from 1953 to 1960.

“‘This is an unusual medal,’ he said. ‘It was established in 1969 by executive order for the purpose of recognizing citizens of the United States who have performed exemplary deeds of service for their country or fellow citizens.

“‘President Bush feels that your long and distinguished life of service to your country, to its citizens, and, indeed, to all mankind is uniquely representative of the values that this medal is designed to recognize,’ Scowcroft told President Benson.

“President Benson replied, ‘I don’t merit this honor.’ Scowcroft countered, ‘Yes, you certainly do. Richly so.’

“The text of the citation accompanying the medal reads:

“‘The President of the United States of America awards this Presidential Citizens Medal to Ezra Taft Benson. A lifetime of dedicated service to your country, community, church and family make Ezra Taft Benson one of the most distinguished Americans of his time. As agriculture adviser to Presidents Roosevelt and Eisenhower, leader of his Church, and 60-year friend of the Boy Scouts of America, he has worked tirelessly. His devotion to family and commitment to the principles of freedom are an example for all Americans’” (“Prophet Receives U.S. Presidential Medal,” Church News, 2 Sept. 1989, 4).

The Passing of a Prophet

President Ezra Taft Benson died of heart failure Monday, 30 May 1994, at the age of ninety-four. He had served as a General Authority for over fifty years. Throughout his life he had faithfully served the Lord, the Church, his family, and country. As a tribute to his lifetime of service, President Ezra Taft Benson received fourteen honorary degrees from American colleges and universities.

He chose to be buried in Whitney, Idaho, the small farming community where he was born, next to his beloved wife, Flora, who had passed away in August 1992. They had been married sixty-six years.

Ezra T. Benson

Ezra T. Benson (1811–69), great-grandfather of Ezra Taft Benson

George T. Benson Jr.

George T., Ezra Taft Benson’s father

Benson as baby

Ezra Taft Benson at three months old

Sara Benson and children

Sarah Benson and her children, near the time her husband was called on a mission, 1912. Ezra Taft Benson is 14 years old and the tallest of the children.

George T. Benson and his sons

George T. Benson (far right) and his seven sons. Ezra is next to his father.

Ezra Taft and Orval Benson

Ezra Taft Benson (sitting), age 18, and his brother Orval, age 14

scouts 1977

Ezra Taft Benson was a life-long scouter. Here is President Benson at a National Scout Jamboree in Moraine Park, Pennsylvania, 1977.


A missionary to the British Isles, 1921–23

Do Not Copy

fellow missionaries

Missionaries to the British Isles. Elder Ezra Taft Benson is seated on the far right, next to his mission president, David O. McKay, and Sister McKay, 1922.

Flora Amussen Benson

Flora Amussen Benson

Do Not Copy

mount timp

Hiking Mount Timpanogos, in Utah, 1926. Ezra is in the center.

cap and gown

Graduation from Brigham Young University, 1926

Benson with children

Ezra Taft Benson with his children, Boise, Idaho, late 1930s

Elders Benson and Kimball

Elders Spencer W. Kimball and Ezra Taft Benson were both sustained to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in October 1943.

Elder Ezra Taft Benson

Elder Ezra Taft Benson

Elder Benson and Max Zimmer

Elder Benson and Max Zimmer in the warehouse of the International Red Cross at Geneva, Switzerland, inspecting supplies to be sent to the Saints in Europe, 1946

destruction of WWII

Post World War II devastation, 1946

Poland saints

Elder Benson and a group of Saints in Poland, 1946

welfare for Europe

Welfare supplies for war torn Europe, 1946

taking oath

Elder Ezra Taft Benson being sworn in as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture by Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson, with U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower looking on, January 1953

farm inspection

Secretary Benson inspecting a farm during a drought

Time magazine

Time magazine’s “Man of the Year,” 13 April 1953. Secretary Benson was on the cover of several national magazines.

Eisenhower cabinet meeting

The Eisenhower cabinet. Secretary Benson is third from the right. He served as Secretary of Agriculture from 1953–61.

Benson talking to farmers

Secretary Benson talking with farmers in Nebraska

Bensons with Eisenhower

The Benson family with U.S. President Eisenhower (center)

waving to crowd

A welcome home at an airport in 1958

family outing

On a family outing

Presidents Benson and Kimball

With President Spencer W. Kimball


The First Presidency: Ezra Taft Benson, Gordon B. Hinckley, and Thomas S. Monson

reading scriptures

He had a lifetime love of the Book of Mormon

President Benson speaking

President Benson speaking at general conference

Benson and family on fence

The Benson family visiting a ranch

President Benson speaking

President Benson speaking at a general priesthood meeting

Benson teaching

Always willing to teach

playing baseball

He enjoyed playing baseball.

young women

A light moment with some young women

President Ezra Taft Benson

President Ezra Taft Benson

President and Sister Benson

President and Sister Benson

grand marshall of parade

Grand marshall of a parade in Preston, Idaho, 1976

Benson with Ronald Reagan

President Benson meets with U.S. President Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office of the White House, Washington, D.C., in January 1986, to discuss the Church’s contribution of $10 million in aid to alleviate world hunger.

Benson with counselors

The First Presidency: Gordon B. Hinckley, Ezra Taft Benson, and Thomas S. Monson

George H. W. Bush

U.S. President George H. W. Bush, President Ezra Taft Benson, and President Gordon B. Hinckley

President Ezra Taft Benson

President Ezra Taft Benson