Teachings of Presidents
The Life and Ministry of Ezra Taft Benson

“The Life and Ministry of Ezra Taft Benson,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson (2014), xii–35

“Life and Ministry,” Teachings: Ezra Taft Benson, xii–35

The Life and Ministry of Ezra Taft Benson

Travelers on the highway between Logan, Utah, and Whitney, Idaho, witnessed something unusual on June 4, 1994. They saw people standing along portions of that 24-mile (39-kilometer) stretch of road. The next day, Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained why people had gathered there. They had been waiting for a funeral cortege, transporting the body of President Ezra Taft Benson to the cemetery in his hometown after funeral services in Salt Lake City, Utah. Elder Hales described the scene:

“The drive by the cortege to Whitney, Idaho, was a touching tribute to a prophet of God.

“There was a tribute by members of the Church as they lined the highway and stood on the overpasses along the road. Some were dressed in their Sunday best on a Saturday afternoon. Others paused in respect, stopping their cars and standing reverently, waiting for the prophet to pass. Farmers stood in their fields with their hats over their hearts. Probably more significant were the young boys taking their baseball hats off and putting them over their hearts. Flags waved good-bye as the prophet went by as well. There were signs that read, ‘We love President Benson.’ Others said, ‘Read the Book of Mormon.’”1

This outpouring of affection was indeed a tribute, but it was more than that. It was visible evidence that people’s lives had changed because they had followed the counsel of a prophet. And the people who gathered along the highway represented many more. Between the time Ezra Taft Benson was born near Whitney, Idaho, and the time his mortal remains were buried there, he served as an instrument in the Lord’s hands, traveling throughout the world and helping millions come unto Christ.

Lessons Learned on the Family Farm

On August 4, 1899, Sarah Dunkley Benson and George Taft Benson Jr. welcomed their firstborn child to their family. They named him Ezra Taft Benson, after his great-grandfather, Elder Ezra T. Benson, who had served as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Ezra was born in the two-room farmhouse that his father had built the previous year. The delivery was long and difficult, and the attending doctor thought the 11¾-pound (5.3-kg) baby would not survive. But the baby’s grandmothers had a different idea. They filled two pans with water—one warm, the other cold—and dipped their grandson alternately in each pan until he started to cry.

Ezra Taft Benson at three months old.

Ezra Taft Benson as a baby, 1900

Young Ezra Taft Benson, often called “T” by family members and friends, enjoyed a fulfilling childhood on the farm that surrounded the house where he was born. President Gordon B. Hinckley, who served with President Benson for almost 33 years in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the First Presidency, told of the lessons young Ezra learned:

“He was a farm boy, literally and truly, an overall-clad, sunburned boy who at a very early age came to know the law of the harvest: ‘Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap’ (Gal. 6:7).

“He came to know in those lean days that without hard work, nothing grows but weeds. There must be labor, incessant and constant, if there is to be a harvest. And so there was plowing in the fall and plowing in the spring—the sweaty work of walking in a furrow all day long behind a team of strong horses. In those days a hand plow was used, and it was necessary to hold constantly the handles that twisted and shook as the sharp plow point cut the earth and neatly rolled it over. After a day of that, a boy was exhausted and slept well. But morning came very soon.

“The field needed the harrow, again horse-drawn, to break the clods and prepare a seed bed. Planting was an arduous, back-breaking task. And then there was irrigation. The Benson farm was in dry country, redeemed by the magic of irrigation. The water had to be watched, not only during the day but all through the night. There were no electric flashlights or propane lanterns. There were only kerosene lanterns which cast a feeble and sickly yellow glow. It was imperative that the water get to the end of the row. That was a lesson never to be forgotten.

“I can see in my mind’s eye the little boy, shovel on his shoulder, walking the ditches and the fields to bring life-growing moisture to the parched soil.

“Soon came the time to cut hay, acres and acres of it. The team was hitched to the mower, the boy climbed up into the old steel seat, and the sickle bar flew back and forth, cutting a five-foot swath as the team walked forward. With flies and mosquitos, with dust and scorching heat, it was hard work. The hay then had to be raked, then pitched with a hand fork into cocks to dry. Timing was important. When it reached the right stage it was pitched onto a hayrack, a wagon with a big, flat bed. At the stack yard, a horse-driven derrick lifted it from the wagon to form a huge stack of hay. There was no baling in those days, nor were there mechanical loaders. There were only pitchforks and muscles.

“… Small wonder that his frame grew large and his body strong. Those of us who knew him in his later life frequently commented on the size of his wrists. Robust health, the foundation for which was laid in his boyhood, was one of the great blessings of his life. Until the last few years, he was a man of tremendous energy.

“Throughout the years of his mature life, when he walked with presidents and kings, he never lost the touch of his boyhood farm days. He never lost his capacity for work. He never lost the will to rise at dawn and work into the night.

“But there was more than a tremendous habit of work that came out of that boyhood home. There was a certain strength that comes from the soil. There was a constant reminder of the dictum given Adam and Eve when they were driven from the garden: ‘In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground’ (Gen. 3:19). A spirit of self-reliance was built into those who worked the soil. There were no government farm programs then, no subsidies of any kind. The vagaries of the seasons had to be accepted. Killing frosts, unseasonal storms, wind, and drought were all accepted as the risks of life against which there was no available insurance. Storage against a day of want was a necessity, else there would be hunger. The one constant resource against the risks of life was prayer, prayer to our eternal, loving Father, the Almighty God of the universe.

“There was much of prayer in that little home in Whitney, Idaho. There was family prayer, night and morning, in which thanks was expressed for life with its challenges and opportunities, and in which pleas were made for strength to do the work of the day. Those in need were remembered, and when the family arose from their knees, the mother, who was the ward Relief Society president, would have the buggy loaded to share food with those in need, her eldest son as her driver. Those lessons were never lost.”2

Lessons Learned from Faithful Parents

These lessons of hard work, family unity, service, and gospel living began to be magnified one day when 12-year-old Ezra’s parents came home from a Church meeting with unexpected news. President Benson later recalled:

“As Father drove the horse homeward, Mother opened the mail, and, to their surprise, there was a letter from Box B in Salt Lake City—a call to go on a mission. No one asked if one were ready, willing, or able. The bishop was supposed to know, and the bishop was Grandfather George T. Benson, my father’s father.

“As Father and Mother drove into the yard, they were both crying—something we had never seen in our family. We gathered around the buggy—there were seven of us then—and asked them what was the matter.

“They said, ‘Everything’s fine.’

“‘Why are you crying then?’ we asked.

“‘Come into the living room and we’ll explain.’

“We gathered around the old sofa in the living room, and Father told us about his mission call. Then Mother said, ‘We’re proud to know that Father is considered worthy to go on a mission. We’re crying a bit because it means two years of separation. You know, your father and I have never been separated more than two nights at a time since our marriage—and that’s when Father was gone into the canyon to get logs, posts, and firewood.’”3

With his father on a mission, Ezra assumed much of the responsibility of running the family farm. He “did the work of a man, though he was only a boy,” his sister Margaret later recalled. “He took the place of father for nearly two years.”4 Under Sarah’s leadership, Ezra and his siblings worked together, prayed together, and read letters from their father together. Seventy-five years later, President Benson reflected on the blessings that came to his family because his father served a mission:

“I suppose some in the world might say that his acceptance of that call was proof he did not really love his family. To leave seven children and an expectant wife at home alone for two years, how could that be true love?

“But my father knew a greater vision of love. He knew that ‘all things shall work together for good to them that love God’ (Romans 8:28). He knew that the best thing he could do for his family was to obey God.

“While we missed him greatly during those years, and while his absence brought many challenges to our family, his acceptance proved to be a gift of charity. Father went on his mission, leaving Mother at home with seven children. (The eighth was born four months after he arrived in the field.) But there came into that home a spirit of missionary work that never left it. It was not without some sacrifice. Father had to sell our old dry farm in order to finance his mission. He had to move a married couple into part of our home to take care of the row crops, and he left his sons and wife the responsibility for the hay land, the pasture land, and a small herd of dairy cows.

“Father’s letters were indeed a blessing to our family. To us children, they seemed to come from halfway around the world, but they were only from Springfield, Massachusetts; and Chicago, Illinois; and Cedar Rapids and Marshalltown, Iowa. Yes, there came into our home, as a result of Father’s mission, a spirit of missionary work that never left it.

“Later the family grew to eleven children—seven sons and four daughters. All seven sons filled missions, some of them two or three missions. Later, two daughters and their husbands filled full-time missions. The two other sisters, both widows—one the mother of eight and the other the mother of ten—served as missionary companions in Birmingham, England.

“It is a legacy that still continues to bless the Benson family even into the third and fourth generations. Was not this truly a gift of love?”5

Church Service as a Young Man

Inspired by his parents’ example and motivated by his own desire to help build the Lord’s kingdom on the earth, Ezra Taft Benson enthusiastically accepted calls to serve. When he was 19 years old, his bishop, who was also his grandfather, asked him to serve as one of the adult leaders for 24 young men in the ward. The young men participated in Boy Scouts of America, and Ezra served as an assistant Scoutmaster.

In this calling, one of Ezra’s many responsibilities was to help the young men sing in a choir. Under his leadership, the young men won a competition with choirs from other wards in their stake, thus qualifying for a regional competition. To help motivate them to practice and sing their best, Ezra promised them that if they won the regional competition, he would take them on a 35-mile (56-kilometer) hike over the mountains to a lake. The plan worked—the young men from Whitney won.

“We began planning our hike,” President Benson recounted, “and during the meeting one little 12-year-old raised his hand and very formally said, ‘… I would like to make a motion.’ … I said, ‘All right, what?’ He said, ‘I’d like to make a motion, so we will not be bothered with combs and brushes on this trip, that we all clip our hair off.’”

Eventually all the young men agreed to get short haircuts in preparation for their hike. They became more enthusiastic about the idea when one of them suggested that the Scoutmasters cut their hair as well. President Benson continued:

“Two Scoutmasters took their places in the barber’s chair while the barber very gleefully went over each head with the clippers. As he neared the end of the job, he said, ‘Now, if you fellows would let me shave your heads, I would do it for nothing.’ And so we started on that hike—24 boys with heads clipped and two Scoutmasters with heads shaven.”

Reflecting on his experiences with the young men in his ward, President Benson said: “One of the joys of working with boys is the fact that you do get your pay as you go along. You have an opportunity to observe the results of your leadership daily as you work with them through the years and watch them grow into stalwart manhood, accepting eagerly its challenges and responsibilities. Such satisfaction cannot be purchased at any price; it must be earned through service and devotion. What a glorious thing it is to have even a small part in helping to build boys into men, real men.”6

President Benson never forgot those young men, and he made efforts to keep in touch with them. Many years after that 35-mile hike, he visited the Whitney Ward as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and spoke with a small group of them. They were able to tell him that 22 of the 24 had remained faithful in the Church. They had lost contact with the other two. President Benson eventually found those two men, helped them return to Church activity, and performed their temple sealings.7

Courting Flora

In the fall of 1920, Ezra went to Logan, Utah, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) from Whitney, to enroll at the Utah Agricultural College (now Utah State University). He was with some friends when a young woman caught his eye. He later recalled:

“We were out near the dairy barns when a young woman—very attractive and beautiful—drove by in her little car on her way to the dairy to get some milk. 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.’”

Ezra’s friends laughed at his declaration, saying, “She’s too popular for a farm boy.” But he was undeterred. “That makes it all the more interesting,” he replied.

Flora Smith Amussen at college graduation Mrs. Ezra Taft Benson

Flora Amussen, before she married Ezra Taft Benson

Not long after this conversation, Flora and Ezra met for the first time in Whitney, where she had been invited to stay with one of Ezra’s cousins. And soon after that, Ezra invited her to a dance. She accepted, and other dates led to what they later called a “wonderful courtship.” But their courtship was interrupted—and, in many ways, enhanced—when Ezra received a call to serve as a full-time missionary in the British Mission.

In preparation for Ezra’s mission, he and Flora talked about their relationship. They wanted their friendship to continue, but they also recognized the need for Ezra to be a devoted missionary. “Before I left, Flora and I had decided to write [letters] only once a month,” he said. “We also decided that our letters would be of encouragement, confidence and news. We did just that.”8

Two Missionaries

The British Mission, which had been such a fruitful field for early Latter-day Saint missionaries, was different for Elder Benson and his companions. Antagonists in the British Isles, including some clergy, had stirred up widespread hatred toward Latter-day Saints, publishing anti-Mormon articles, novels, plays, and movies. Elder Benson was no doubt saddened by people’s bitter feelings about the restored gospel, but he did not allow such trials to weaken his faith. In fact, he wrote in his journal about local youth taunting him and his companions by yelling “Mormons!” His unspoken response was “Thank the Lord I’m one.”9

In addition to sharing the gospel with people who were not members of the Church, Elder Benson served as a priesthood leader and a clerk among Latter-day Saints in Great Britain. These varied opportunities to serve led to sweet experiences, in bright contrast to the difficulties he often faced. Elder Benson baptized and confirmed a few people, and he helped many more draw nearer to the Lord. For example, he told of a time when, at a special meeting organized by faithful Church members, he was guided by the Spirit to speak in a way that helped the members’ friends receive a witness that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.10 He recorded that he and a companion once gave a priesthood blessing to a severely sick woman who recovered about 10 minutes later.11 He rejoiced when, as a clerk, he found Saints whose names were in the records of the Church but who had been lost to local leaders.12 He received valuable leadership training, serving under the direction of two mission presidents who were also members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: Elders Orson F. Whitney and David O. McKay.

Elder Benson was grateful for the protection of the Lord as he preached the gospel. One night he and his companion were surrounded by a mob of men who threatened to throw them in the river. He prayed silently for help. Then, as he later reported, “a big husky stranger pushed his way through to my side. He looked me straight in the eye and said in a strong, clear voice, ‘Young man, I believe every word you said tonight.’ As he spoke a little circle cleared around me. This to me was a direct answer to prayer. Then a British bobby [police officer] appeared.”13

When Elder Benson was not actively serving others, he “kept himself going by ‘devouring the Book of Mormon,’ particularly the missionary experiences of the sons of Mosiah.”14 He also received comfort and support through letters from home, which he said he “read time and time again.” Looking back on his mission, he commented: “Mother and father poured out their hearts to me in letters, and were a real strength to me as a young man. Flora’s [letters] were full of spirit and encouragement, never any sentimental stuff. I think that increased my love and appreciation for her more than anything.”15

Elder Benson received his release from full-time missionary service on November 2, 1923. He was hesitant to leave, saying that bidding farewell to the “dear good Saints” in Great Britain was “the hardest part of [his] mission.”16 Still, he was happy at the prospect of being reunited with his family, and he looked forward to seeing Flora.

Flora also looked forward to seeing Ezra. But she did more than anticipate the immediate prospect of spending time with him. She truly looked forward—to his future and his potential. From the time she was a teenager, she had maintained that she would “like to marry a farmer,”17 and she was happy with Ezra’s apparent desire to settle on the family farm in Whitney, Idaho. However, she felt that he needed to finish his education first. She later said, “[I] prayed and fasted for the Lord to help me know how I could help him be of greatest service to his fellowmen. It came to me that if the Bishop thought I was worthy, [he would] call me on a mission. The Church came first with Ezra, so I knew he wouldn’t say anything against it.”18

Ezra was surprised when, after he and Flora had started courting again, she told him that she had accepted a call to serve a mission in the Hawaiian Islands. She was set apart on August 25, 1924, and she left the next day. Just after she departed, Ezra wrote in his journal: “We were both happy because we felt the future held much for us and that this separation would be made up to us later. It is difficult, though, to see one’s hopes shattered. But though we sometimes had a cry about it, we received assurance from Him who told us it would all be for the best.”19

It all was truly for the best. Flora was, in the words of her mission president, “a very good, energetic missionary”20 who gave her “heart and soul, time, and talents to the work of the Lord.”21 She supervised the Primary organization in some areas of the mission, taught children at an elementary school, served in the temple, and participated in efforts to strengthen local Latter-day Saints. She even served for a time as a missionary companion to her widowed mother, Barbara Amussen, who was called on a short-term mission. Together, this mother-daughter companionship encountered a man who had joined the Church years earlier in the United States because of the efforts of Flora’s father, Carl Amussen. The convert had since fallen away from Church activity, but Flora and her mother fellowshipped him and helped him return to the Church.22

While Flora was gone, Ezra stayed busy. He and his brother Orval purchased the family farm and continued their education. For a time, Ezra attended Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, while Orval stayed in Whitney to take care of the farm. They agreed that after Ezra finished school, he would return to the farm while Orval served a mission and completed his schooling. Determined to finish quickly at BYU, Ezra pursued an ambitious class schedule. He also participated in social functions at the university, including dances, parties, and dramatic productions.

President Ezra Taft Benson in cap and gown, graduation

Ezra Taft Benson when he graduated from Brigham Young University in 1926

Although Ezra was voted “BYU’s Most Popular Man” during his last year of school, no one was able to steal his attention from Flora. He later said that when she completed her mission in June 1926, he was “anxious” to see her, although he insisted that he had not been “waiting” for her to come back.23 He graduated with honors just a few months before she returned.

Beginning Life Together

One month after Flora returned from her mission, she and Ezra announced their engagement. Some people continued to question Flora’s judgment. They did not understand why someone so accomplished, wealthy, and popular would settle for a farm boy. But she continued to say that she had “always wanted to marry a farmer.”24 Ezra “was practical, sensible and solid,” she said. And, she observed, “He was sweet to his parents, and I knew if he respected them, he’d respect me.”25 She recognized that he was “a diamond in the rough,” and she said, “I am going to do all within my power to help him be known and felt for good, not only in this little community but for the entire world to know him.”26

Flora and Ezra were sealed on September 10, 1926, in the Salt Lake Temple by Elder Orson F. Whitney of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The only festivity after the wedding was a breakfast for family and friends. After the breakfast, the new couple left immediately in their Model T Ford pick-up truck for Ames, Iowa, where Ezra had been accepted into a master of science program in agricultural economics at the Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts (now the Iowa State University of Science and Technology).

Much of their trip was over dirt roads and through sparsely inhabited country. Along the way, they spent eight nights in a leaky tent. When they arrived in Ames, they rented an apartment one block from the college campus. The apartment was small, and the Bensons shared the space with a large family of cockroaches, but Ezra said that “it soon looked like the coziest little cottage one could ever imagine.”27 Ezra again dedicated himself to his education. Less than a year later, after countless hours of study, lectures, and writing, he graduated with a master’s degree. The couple, now expecting their first baby, returned to the Benson farm in Whitney.

Balancing Professional Opportunities and Church Callings

When the Bensons returned to Whitney, Ezra engaged himself fully in the day-to-day operations of the farm, which included milking cows, raising hogs and chickens, and growing sugar beets, grain, alfalfa, and other crops. Orval was called to serve a full-time mission in Denmark.

Less than two years later, local government leaders offered Ezra a job as the county agricultural agent. With Flora’s encouragement, Ezra accepted the position, even though it meant leaving the farm and moving to the nearby city of Preston. He hired a local farmer to run the farm until Orval returned.

Ezra’s new responsibilities included counseling local farmers on issues affecting their productivity. More than anything, he felt that the farmers needed better marketing skills—something that became increasingly important after the onset of the Great Depression, and something that he, with his education in agricultural economics, was positioned to provide. He encouraged farmers to participate in farmers’ cooperative associations, which would help them cut costs and get the best prices for labor.28

Ezra’s abilities as an agricultural leader generated other employment opportunities. From 1930 to 1939, he worked as an agricultural economist and specialist with the University of Idaho Extension Division in Boise, the Idaho state capital. Those responsibilities were interrupted between August 1936 and June 1937, when the Bensons moved to California so Ezra could study agricultural economics at the University of California at Berkeley.

Even with pressing responsibilities at work and at home, Ezra and Flora Benson made time to serve in the Church. In Whitney, Preston, and Boise, they were called to teach and lead youth.29 They embraced these callings with enthusiasm, believing that “the youth are our future.”30 Ezra also received an opportunity to help with local missionary work.31 In Boise, Ezra was called to serve as a counselor in a stake presidency. He even continued in that position during the time he and his family lived in California. The Boise Stake grew rapidly, and in November 1938, Elder Melvin J. Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles divided the stake into three stakes. Ezra Taft Benson was called to serve as one of the stake presidents.

In January 1939, Ezra was surprised to be offered the position of executive secretary for the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives in Washington, D.C. He counseled with Flora about this opportunity. Because he had been set apart as a stake president only two months earlier, he also contacted the First Presidency to ask for their counsel. They encouraged him to accept the position, so he and his family said farewell to their friends in Boise in March 1939 and moved to Bethesda, Maryland, close to Washington, D.C. In June 1940 he was called to serve as stake president again, this time in the newly organized Washington Stake in Washington, D.C.

A Loving, Unified Family

Ezra and Flora Benson always remembered the eternal importance of their relationship with one another and their relationships with their children, their aging parents, and their siblings. Their emphasis on maintaining a unified family was more than a sense of duty; they genuinely loved each other, and they wanted to be together—in this life and throughout the eternities.

Ezra’s many responsibilities in Church callings and professional assignments often took him away from home. Sometimes the expressions of the young children emphasized this fact. For example, as he left for a Church meeting one Sunday, daughter Barbara said, “Good-bye, daddy. And come back again and visit us sometime.”32 It was a challenge for Flora to raise their six children with her husband gone so frequently, and she occasionally admitted to feeling “lonesome and just a bit discouraged.”33 Still, through it all, she cherished her roles as a wife and mother, and she was pleased with her husband’s dedication to the Lord and the family. In a letter to Ezra, she wrote: “As usual the days seem like months since you left. … [But] if all men … loved and lived their religion as you do, there would be very little sorrow [and] suffering. … You’re always so devoted to your family and ready at all times to give help to others in need.”34

Ezra showed this devotion whenever he was home. He took time to laugh and play with his six children, to listen to them, to ask for their opinions about important issues, to teach the gospel, to help with household chores, and to spend time with each of them individually. The children found comfort and strength in their parents’ unified love for them. (Because family was so important to Ezra Taft Benson, this book contains two chapters of his teachings on the subject. Those chapters, titled “Marriage and Family—Ordained of God” and “The Sacred Callings of Fathers and Mothers,” include reminiscences from the Benson children about the loving home of their childhood.)

The Call to the Apostleship

In the summer of 1943, Ezra left Maryland with his son Reed to tour several farming cooperatives in California as part of his responsibilities with the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives. He also planned to meet with Church leaders in Salt Lake City and visit family members in Idaho.

On July 26, after having accomplished the objectives of their trip, they returned to Salt Lake City before departing for home. They learned that President David O. McKay, with whom Ezra had met less than two weeks earlier, had been searching for him. Ezra called President McKay, who told him that President Heber J. Grant, then President of the Church, wanted to meet with him. Ezra and Reed were driven to President Grant’s summer home a few minutes away from downtown Salt Lake City. When they arrived, “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.’”35

In his journal, Ezra recounted the experience:

“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.’”36

After this interview, Ezra and Reed were driven to President McKay’s home. On the way, Ezra did not share anything about his experience with President Grant, and Reed did not ask. When they arrived at the McKay home, President McKay told Reed what had transpired. Then Ezra and Reed embraced.

Ezra was restless that night as he and Reed began their train trip home. The next day, he called Flora and told her about his call to the Apostleship. “She said how wonderful she felt it was and expressed her complete confidence I could measure up,” he recalled. “It was reassuring to talk to her. She has always shown more faith in me than I have myself.”37

Over the next several weeks, Ezra and Flora made arrangements to move to Utah, and Ezra did all he could to provide a smooth transition for his successor at the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives. He and Spencer W. Kimball were sustained as members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on October 1, 1943, and they were ordained Apostles on October 7, with Elder Kimball being ordained first.

Thus began Elder Ezra Taft Benson’s ministry as one of the “special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world” (D&C 107:23).

Quorum of the Twelve ca. 1950 [Back Row Left to Right: Delbert L. Stapley, Henry D. Moyle, Matthew Cowley, Mark E. Petersen, Harold B. Lee, Ezra Taft Benson, Spencer W. Kimball; Front Row Left to Right: John A. Widtsoe, Stephen L. Richards, David O. McKay, Joseph Fielding Smith, Joseph F. Merrill, A.E. Bowen.

The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, sometime between October 1950 and April 1951. Standing, left to right: Delbert L. Stapley; Henry D. Moyle; Matthew Cowley; Mark E. Petersen; Harold B. Lee; Ezra Taft Benson; Spencer W. Kimball. Seated, left to right: John A. Widtsoe; Stephen L Richards; David O. McKay, President of the Quorum of the Twelve; Joseph Fielding Smith, Acting President; Joseph F. Merrill; Albert E. Bowen.

Providing Food, Clothing, and Hope in Post-War Europe

On December 22, 1945, President George Albert Smith, then the President of the Church, called a special meeting for the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He announced that the First Presidency had felt inspired to send an Apostle to preside over the European Mission and supervise the Church’s efforts there. World War II had ended earlier that year, and many European nations were just starting to recover from the widespread, overwhelming destruction of the war. Elder Ezra Taft Benson, the First Presidency felt, was the right man to do the job.

This news came as a “great shock” to Elder Benson, who was the newest and youngest member of the quorum. Like his father’s mission call 34 years before, this assignment would require him to be separated from his young family. The First Presidency could not say how long he would be gone. However, he assured them that his wife and children would support him, and he expressed his complete willingness to serve.38 He later described the assignment he had accepted:

“The magnitude of it seemed overwhelming. They [the First Presidency] gave us a four-point charge: First, to attend to the spiritual affairs of the Church in Europe; second, to work to make available food, clothing, and bedding to our suffering Saints in all parts of Europe; third, to direct the reorganization of the various missions of Europe; and, fourth, to prepare for the return of missionaries to those countries.”39 But President Smith gave him this comforting promise: “I am not at all concerned about you. You will be just as safe there as anywhere else in the world if you take care of yourself, and you will be able to accomplish a great work.”40

Elder Benson described the experience when he shared the news with his wife and family: “In a sweet and impressive talk with my wife, sanctified by tears, Flora expressed loving gratitude and assured me of her wholehearted support. At dinner I told the children, who were surprised, interested, and fully loyal.”41

When Elder Benson and his companion, Frederick W. Babbel, arrived in Europe, they were saddened by the sickness, poverty, and devastation they saw all around them. For example, in a letter to Flora, Elder Benson told of mothers who were grateful to receive a gift of soap, needles and thread, and an orange. They had not seen such things for years. Elder Benson could see that, with the meager rations they had been given in the past, they had “starved themselves to try and give more to their children in true mother spirit.”42 He told of Church meetings in “bombed-out building[s]” and in “almost total darkness.”43 He told of refugees—“poor, unwanted souls, … driven from their once happy homes to destinations unknown.”44 He also told of miracles amid the grim results of war.

One miracle was evident in the lives of Latter-day Saints throughout Europe. On the way there, Elder Benson wondered how the Saints would receive him. “Would their hearts be filled with bitterness? Would there be hatred there? Would they have soured on the Church?” He was inspired by what he found:

“As I looked into their upturned faces, pale, thin, many of these Saints dressed in rags, some of them barefooted, I could see the light of faith in their eyes as they bore testimony to the divinity of this great latter-day work, and expressed their gratitude for the blessings of the Lord. …

“We found that our members had carried on in a marvelous way. Their faith was strong, their devotion greater, and their loyalty unsurpassed. We found very little, if any, bitterness or despair. There was a spirit of fellowship and brotherhood which had extended from one mission to the other, and as we traveled, the Saints asked us to take their greetings to their brothers and sisters in other countries although their nations had been at war only a few months before.” Even the refugees “sang the songs of Zion with … fervor” and “knelt together in prayer night and morning and bore testimony … regarding the blessings of the gospel.”45

Another miracle was the strength of the Church’s welfare program. This effort, which had begun 10 years earlier, saved the lives of many Latter-day Saints in Europe. The Saints were blessed because they had embraced the principle of welfare themselves. They helped one another in their need, sharing food, clothing, and other supplies, and they even planted gardens in bombed-out buildings. They were also blessed because Latter-day Saints from other parts of the world donated goods to help them—approximately 2,000 tons of supplies. Elder Benson told of Church leaders weeping at the sight of basic food that they could distribute to local members, and he said that he stood before congregations in which it was estimated that 80 percent of all the clothing worn had been sent through the welfare program.46 In a general conference address he delivered soon after returning home, he said: “My brethren and sisters, do you need any further evidence of the need for this program and the inspiration back of it? … I tell you God is directing this program. It is inspired!”47

Ezra Taft Benson in Bergen, Norway. Caption: "Inspecting welfare supplies with Pres. Petersen in mission office basement." Collection Summary: Black-and-white views taken during Benson's February-December 1946 mission to postwar Europe to meet with Latter-day Saints, direct distribution of welfare supplies, and arrange for resumption of missionary work.

Elder Benson, right, inspecting welfare supplies in Bergen, Norway

Elder Benson and Brother Babbel experienced another recurring miracle as the Lord opened the way for them to travel among the war-torn nations in Europe. Time and time again, Elder Benson asked military officers for permission to enter certain regions to meet with the Saints and distribute goods. Time and time again, he received basically the same response from those leaders and others: “Don’t you realize there has been a war here? No civilian travelers are permitted to enter.” And time and time again, after he looked those leaders in the eyes and calmly explained his mission, he and Brother Babbel were permitted to travel about and accomplish what the Lord had sent them to do.48

After about 11 months, Elder Benson was replaced by Elder Alma Sonne, an Assistant to the Twelve, who served in Europe with his wife, Leona. Brother Babbel remained to assist the Sonnes. From the time Elder Benson left Salt Lake City on January 29, 1946, to the time he returned on December 13, 1946, he traveled a total of 61,236 miles (98,550 kilometers). Elder Benson felt the mission had been a success, but he was quick to say: “I know the source of the success which attended our labors. Never at any time have I felt it would be possible for me or my associates to accomplish the mission to which we were assigned without the directing power of the Almighty.”49 The success of the mission could be seen in the strength of the Church in European nations, newly organized and growing. Success could also be seen in the lives of individual Saints—individuals like a man who once approached President Thomas S. Monson many years later at a meeting in Zwickau, Germany. He asked President Monson to extend greetings to Ezra Taft Benson. Then he exclaimed: “He saved my life. He gave me food to eat and clothing to wear. He gave me hope. God bless him!”50

Patriotism, Statesmanship, and Service in the United States Government

While Elder Benson was away from home, he was reminded of something he had cherished since his youth: his citizenship in the United States of America. From his father, George Taft Benson Jr., he had learned to love his native land and the principles on which it had been founded. He had learned that the Constitution of the United States of America—the document that governed laws in the nation—had been prepared by inspired men. He cherished the right to vote, and he always remembered a conversation he had with his father after an election. George had publicly supported a certain candidate, and he had even prayed for this man in family prayers. After George learned that his candidate had lost the election, Ezra heard him pray for the man who had won. Ezra asked his father why he would pray for a candidate who wasn’t his choice. “Son,” George replied, “I think he’ll need our prayers even more than my candidate would have.”51

In April 1948, Elder Benson gave his first of many general conference addresses focusing on “the prophetic mission” of the United States of America and the importance of freedom. He testified that the Lord had prepared the United States “as the cradle of liberty” so the gospel could be restored there.52 “We are followers of the Prince of Peace,” he taught near the end of the discourse, “and we should rededicate our lives to the spread of truth and righteousness and the preservation of … liberty and freedom.”53 In subsequent discourses, he spoke of the United States of America as “the Lord’s base of operations in these latter days.”54

Elder Benson warned of threats to freedom in the United States and throughout the world. He often spoke forcefully against “coercive man-made systems” of government, “which are contrary to eternal principles.”55 He also warned of other influences that threatened freedom, including immoral entertainment, lack of respect for the Sabbath day, complacency, and false teachings.56 He encouraged Latter-day Saints all over the world to use their influence to help ensure that wise and good people would be elected to public office.57 He declared: “The effective preaching of the gospel can only thrive in an atmosphere of liberty. Yes, we all say, we love liberty. But that is not enough. We must protect and safeguard that which we love. We must save liberty.”58

On November 24, 1952, Elder Benson’s strong words of patriotism were tested as he received an invitation to serve his country. He had traveled to New York City at the invitation of Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had just been elected president of the United States. President-Elect Eisenhower was considering Elder Benson to serve on his cabinet—in other words, to be one of his top advisers—in the position of secretary of agriculture for the entire nation. Elder Benson was honored by the attention. “But,” he later said, “I didn’t want the job. … Nobody in his right mind, I told myself, would seek to be Secretary of Agriculture in times like these. … I knew something of what the post entailed: the splintering cross fires, the intense pressures, the tangled problems. …

“But it wasn’t only the problems and pressures that concerned me. We all have those. Like many Americans, I was reluctant to get into politics actively. Sure, I wanted to see men of high ideals and good character elected and appointed to run the government, but that was vastly different from plunging in myself. …

“Most of all, however, I was more than satisfied with the work I was already doing as one of the Council of the Twelve. … I neither desired nor intended to make a change.”59

Before going to meet President-Elect Eisenhower, Elder Benson had sought counsel from President David O. McKay, the President of the Church at the time. President McKay had told him: “Brother Benson, my mind is clear in the matter. If the opportunity comes in the proper spirit I think you should accept.”60 This direct counsel, combined with Elder Benson’s foundational desire to “fight effectively for [his] beliefs as an American,” caused what he called an “internal debate.”61

When Mr. Eisenhower and Elder Benson met for the first time, it did not take long for the president-elect to offer Elder Benson the position of secretary of agriculture. Elder Benson immediately listed reasons why he might not be the right man for the job, but President-Elect Eisenhower did not back down. He said: “We’ve got a job to do. I didn’t want to be President, frankly, when the pressure started. But you can’t refuse to serve America. I want you on my team, and you can’t say no.”62

“That did it,” recalled Elder Benson. “The conditions of President McKay’s counsel had been met. Even though I felt I had already received from my Church what in my eyes was a greater honor than government could bestow, and I told him so, I accepted the responsibility of becoming Secretary of Agriculture to serve for not less than two years—if he wanted me that long.”63

Immediately after accepting the position, Elder Benson accompanied President-Elect Eisenhower to a news conference, where his appointment was announced to the nation. As soon as the conference was over, he returned to his hotel. He called Flora and told her that President-Elect Eisenhower had asked him to serve and that he had accepted the invitation.

She replied: “I knew he would. And I knew you’d accept.”

He explained: “It will mean a terrible responsibility—and a great many problems for both of us.”

“I know,” she said, “but it seems to be God’s will.”64

President Ezra Taft Benson being sworn in as the Secretary of Agriculture

Elder Benson being sworn in as United States secretary of agriculture by Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson, with President Dwight D. Eisenhower looking on

As Elder Benson had expected, his administration as secretary of agriculture was a tumultuous experience for him and his family. But he insisted that he was not trying “to win a popularity contest”—that he simply wanted “to serve agriculture and serve America”65—and he followed this personal pledge: “It is good strategy to stand up for the right, even when it is unpopular. Perhaps I should say, especially when it is unpopular.”66 It was fortunate for him that he was not concerned with popularity; while he remained steady and true to his convictions, his popularity among politicians and citizens fluctuated drastically. At times, people wanted him ousted from his position as secretary of agriculture.67 At other times, people suggested that he would be a good choice for vice president of the United States.68

Even in his role as a government leader, Elder Benson was open about his Christian ideals, his testimony of the restored gospel, and his devotion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Whenever he conducted a meeting with his associates in the Department of Agriculture, the meeting began with a prayer.69 He sent President Eisenhower passages from the Book of Mormon that prophesied of the destiny of the United States of America, and the president later said that he had read them “with the greatest of interest.”70 He gave copies of the Book of Mormon to many other world leaders as well.71 In 1954, Edward R. Murrow, a prominent television news reporter in the United States, asked Elder Benson for permission to feature the Benson family on a Friday night program called “Person to Person.” Elder and Sister Benson declined at first, but they later consented after listening to their son Reed, who saw the invitation as a great missionary opportunity. On September 24, 1954, people all over the nation watched a live, unrehearsed family home evening in the Benson home. Mr. Murrow received more fan mail as a result of that program than he had received for any other. People from all over the country and from varied religious backgrounds wrote to thank the Bensons for their shining example.72

Elder Benson served as secretary of agriculture for eight years, the entire time President Eisenhower led the United States. President McKay said that Elder Benson’s work would “stand for all time as a credit to the Church and the nation.”73 Elder Benson looked back on those years in the national spotlight and said: “I love this great land. It has been an honor to serve.”74 He also commented, “If I had it to do over again, I would follow very much the same course.”75 Looking ahead to his continuing ministry as an Apostle, he said, “Now [I] devote my time to the only thing I love better than agriculture.”76

Although Elder Benson’s government service came to an end in 1961, his love for his country and the principle of freedom continued. In many of his general conference addresses, he focused on these topics. He referred to the United States of America as “a land I love with all my heart.”77 He also said, “I cherish patriotism and love of country in all lands.”78 As he counseled all Latter-day Saints to love their countries, he taught: “Patriotism is more than flag-waving and brave words. It is how we respond to public issues. Let us rededicate ourselves as patriots in the truest sense.”79 “Unlike the political opportunist, the true statesman values principle above popularity and works to create popularity for those political principles which are wise and just.”80

A Special Witness of the Name of Christ

As an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, Elder Ezra Taft Benson obeyed the command to “go … into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15) and to “open the door by the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ” (D&C 107:35). He served in many parts of the world, touring missions and teaching the people.

He cherished the privilege of meeting with Latter-day Saints. In a general conference address, he commented: “I have sometimes said to my wife, as I returned from visiting in the stakes, that I do not know exactly what heaven is going to be like, but I could ask nothing finer over there than to have the pleasure and joy of associating with the type of men and women I meet in the leadership of the stakes and wards of Zion and the missions of the earth. Truly we are richly blessed.”81 In another discourse he said: “There is a real spirit of brotherhood and fellowship in the Church. It’s a very powerful thing, somewhat intangible, but very real. I feel it, as do my associates, as we travel throughout the stakes and wards of Zion and throughout the missions of the earth. … There is always that feeling of fellowship and brotherhood. It is one of the sweet things in connection with membership in the Church and kingdom of God.”82

Elder Benson also loved sharing his witness of the Savior with people of other faiths. For example, in 1959 he went with Sister Benson and four members of the United States Department of Agriculture to tour seven countries, including the Soviet Union. Although he was there by virtue of his position as secretary of agriculture, his apostolic testimony touched the hearts of many. He recounted:

“On the way to the airport [our] last night in Moscow, I mentioned … to one of our guides my disappointment that we had had no opportunity to visit a church in Russia. He said a few words to the chauffeur, the car swung around in the middle of the avenue and we eventually pulled up before an old stucco building on a dark, narrow, cobblestone side street not far from Red Square. This was the Central Baptist Church.

“It was a rainy, disagreeable October night with a distinct chill in the air. But when we entered the church, we found it filled; people were standing in the hall, in the entry, even in the street. Every Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday, we learned, similar crowds turn out.

“I looked at the faces of the people. Many were middle-aged and older but a surprising number were young. About four out of every five were women, most of them with scarves about their heads. We were ushered into a place beside the pulpit. …

“The minister spoke a few words, and then the organ struck a chord or two and began a hymn in which the entire congregation joined as one. Hearing a thousand to 1500 voices raised there became one of the most affecting experiences of my entire life. In our common faith as Christians, they reached out to us with a message of welcome that bridged all differences of language, of government, of history. And as I was trying to recover balance under this emotional impact, the minister asked me, through an interpreter who stood there, to address the congregation.

“It took me a moment of hard struggle to master my feelings sufficiently to agree. Then I said, in part, ‘It was very kind of you to ask me to greet you.

“‘I bring you greetings from the millions and millions of church people in America and around the world.’ And suddenly it was the most natural thing in the world to be talking to these fellow Christians about the most sacred truths known to man.

“‘Our Heavenly Father is not far away. He can be very close to us. God lives, I know that He lives. He is our Father. Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the World, watches over this earth. He will direct all things. Be unafraid, keep His commandments, love one another, pray for peace and all will be well.’

“As each sentence was translated for the congregation, I saw the women take their handkerchiefs and as one observer put it begin to ‘wave them like a mother bidding permanent goodby to her only son.’ Their heads nodded vigorously as they moaned ja, ja, ja! (yes, yes, yes!). Then I noticed for the first time that even the gallery was filled and many persons were standing against the walls. I looked down on one old woman before me, head covered by a plain old scarf, a shawl about her shoulders, her aged, wrinkled face serene with faith. I spoke directly to her.

“‘This life is only a part of eternity. We lived before we came here as spiritual children of God. We will live again after we leave this life. Christ broke the bonds of death and was resurrected. We will all be resurrected.

“‘I believe very firmly in prayer. I know it is possible to reach out and tap that Unseen Power which gives us strength and such an anchor in time of need.’ With each sentence I uttered, the old head nodded assent. And old, feeble, wrinkled as she was, that woman was beautiful in her devotion.

“I don’t remember all that I said, but I recall feeling lifted up, inspired by the rapt faces of these men and women who were so steadfastly proving their faith in the God they served and loved.

“In closing I said, ‘I leave you my witness as a Church servant for many years that the truth will endure. Time is on the side of truth. God bless you and keep you all the days of your life, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.’

“With that I brought this broken little talk to an end, because I could say no more, and sat down. The whole congregation then broke into a favorite hymn of my childhood, ‘God Be with You Till We Meet Again.’ We left the church as they sang and as we walked down the aisle, they waved handkerchiefs in farewell—it seemed all 1500 were waving at us as we left.

“It has been my privilege to speak before many church bodies in all parts of the world, but the impact of that experience is almost indescribable. I shall never forget that evening as long as I live.

“Seldom, if ever, have I felt the oneness of mankind and the unquenchable yearning of the human heart for freedom so keenly as at that moment. …

“I came [home] resolved to tell this story often—because it shows how the spirit of freedom, the spirit of brotherhood, and the spirit of religion live on and on despite all efforts to destroy them.”83

President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

On December 26, 1973, Elder Benson received the unexpected news that the President of the Church, President Harold B. Lee, had died suddenly. With President Lee’s passing, the counselors in the First Presidency took their places in the Quorum of the Twelve. Four days later, Spencer W. Kimball was set apart as President of the Church, and Ezra Taft Benson was set apart as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. With this responsibility, President Benson assumed additional administrative duties. He presided at weekly quorum meetings and coordinated the work of his brethren, including their assignments to preside at stake conferences and mission tours and to call stake patriarchs. He also had some supervisory responsibilities over other General Authorities. An administrative staff took care of clerical tasks to help him and his brethren organize the work.84

In a meeting with the Quorum of the Twelve, President Benson shared his thoughts about serving as their President: “I have had a very anxious concern about this great responsibility—not a fearful feeling, because I know we cannot fail in this work … if we do our best. I know the Lord will sustain us, but it gives me great concern to be called to leadership over a body of men such as you—special witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ.”85

President Benson combined this humility with characteristic boldness and insistence on hard work. He often delegated responsibilities to others so they would have opportunities to serve. He expected the best from those he led, just as he expected the best from himself. But although he was demanding, he was kind. He listened to the views of his brethren, promoting open discussion in quorum meetings. Elders Boyd K. Packer, Russell M. Nelson, and Dallin H. Oaks, who were junior members of the Quorum of the Twelve under his leadership, said that he always encouraged them to share their viewpoints, even if their ideas were different from his.86

Members of the Quorum of the Twelve learned that President Benson’s leadership was based on unchanging principles. For example, he repeatedly said, “Remember, Brethren, in this work it is the Spirit that counts.”87 And he had one standard by which he measured all the quorum’s decisions: he asked, “What is best for the Kingdom?” Elder Mark E. Petersen, who served with him in the Quorum of the Twelve, said, “The answer to that question has been the deciding factor in every important matter that has come before President Ezra Taft Benson throughout his life.”88

President of the Church

President Spencer W. Kimball died on November 5, 1985, after an extended illness. The leadership of the Church now rested on the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, with President Ezra Taft Benson as their President and senior member. Five days later, in a solemn and reverent meeting of the Quorum of the Twelve in the Salt Lake Temple, President Benson was set apart as President of the Church. He was inspired to ask President Gordon B. Hinckley to serve as his First Counselor in the First Presidency and to ask President Thomas S. Monson to serve as his Second Counselor.

Portrait of President Ezra Taft Benson, President Gordon B. Hinckley, and President Thomas S. Monson

President Benson with his counselors in the First Presidency: President Gordon B. Hinckley (left) and President Thomas S. Monson (right)

President Benson had known of President Kimball’s precarious health, and he had hoped that his friend’s physical strength would be renewed. “This is a day I have not anticipated,” President Benson told a press conference shortly after he had been set apart as President of the Church. “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.”89

In his first general conference as President of the Church, President Benson shared what would be his primary emphasis for moving the Lord’s work forward. “In our day,” he declared, “the Lord has revealed the need to reemphasize the Book of Mormon.”90

As a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, President Benson had repeatedly preached about the importance of the Book of Mormon.91 As President of the Church, he gave the subject even greater attention. He declared that “the whole Church [was] under condemnation” because Latter-day Saints were not studying the Book of Mormon enough or giving enough heed to its teachings. He said: “The Book of Mormon has not been, nor is it yet, the center of our personal study, family teaching, preaching, and missionary work. Of this we must repent.”92 He frequently quoted the Prophet Joseph Smith’s declaration that people “would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book,”93 and he expounded on that promise. “There is a power in the book,” he said, “which will begin to flow into your lives the moment you begin a serious study of the book.”94 He urged Latter-day Saints to “flood the earth and [their] lives with the Book of Mormon.”95

Throughout the world, Latter-day Saints heeded this counsel from their prophet. As a result, they were strengthened, individually and collectively.96 President Howard W. Hunter said: “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.”97

Closely tied to President Benson’s testimony of the Book of Mormon was his testimony of Jesus Christ. At a time when many people rejected “the divinity of the Savior,” he asserted that “this divinely inspired book is a keystone in bearing witness to the world that Jesus is the Christ.”98 Since his ordination to the Apostleship in 1943, President Benson had served diligently as a witness of the Savior’s living reality. As President of the Church, he testified of Jesus Christ and His Atonement with renewed vigor and urgency. He exhorted the Saints to be “captained by Christ” and “consumed in Christ,”99 to “live a Christ-centered life.”100 Speaking of the Savior, he said, “With all my soul, I love Him.”101

President Benson also taught other topics with urgency and power. He warned of the dangers of pride. He testified of the eternal importance of the family. He taught the principles of faith and repentance and emphasized the need for dedicated missionary work.

Although he did not speak about the United States of America as often as he had earlier in his ministry, he observed the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution of the United States by speaking on the subject in the October 1987 general conference of the Church. And he continued to love freedom and true patriotism throughout the world. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, he rejoiced at the news that the Berlin Wall had fallen and that people in Russia and eastern Europe were receiving greater freedom, with governments that were more open to religious worship.102

President Benson gave a series of talks to specific groups of Church members. Starting in April 1986, he prepared sermons directed to young men, young women, mothers, home teachers, fathers, single adult men, single adult women, children, and the elderly. As President Howard W. Hunter said: “He spoke to everyone and had concern for all. He spoke to the women of the Church and to the men. He spoke to the elderly. He spoke to those who were single, to those in their youth, and he loved speaking to the children in the Church. He gave wonderful, personalized counsel to the entire membership, whatever their personal circumstances were. Those sermons will continue to sustain us and guide us as we reflect on them for many years to come.”103

President Benson wept when he received a letter from a family that had been influenced by one of these talks. In the letter, a young father explained that he and his wife had been watching general conference on television. Their three-year-old son was playing in a nearby room, where conference was playing on the radio. After hearing President Benson’s message to the children, the mother and father walked into the room where their son was playing. The little boy “reported excitedly, ‘That man on the radio said that even when we make mistakes, our Heavenly Father still loves us.’ That simple statement,” said the father, “has left a lasting and meaningful impression on our young son. I can still ask him today what President Benson said and receive the same enthusiastic reply. It is a comfort to him to know that he has a kind and loving Father in Heaven.”104

Soon after the October 1988 general conference, President Benson suffered a stroke that made it impossible for him to speak in public. He attended general conferences and other public gatherings for a time. In the 1989 conferences, his counselors read sermons he had prepared. Beginning in 1990, his counselors conveyed his love for the Saints and quoted from his past sermons. The April 1991 conference was the last he attended. From that time on, he was physically unable to do more than watch the proceedings on television.105

President Gordon B. Hinckley recalled: “As might well be expected, his body began to fail with age. He could not walk as he once walked. He could not speak as he once spoke. There was a gradual decline, but he was still the chosen prophet of the Lord for so long as he lived.”106 President Hinckley and President Thomas S. Monson guided the Church with the authority President Benson delegated to them, but the Church never went forward with new initiatives without President Benson’s knowledge and approval.107

As President Benson became weaker physically, Flora’s health faltered as well, and she died on August 14, 1992. Less than two years later, on May 30, 1994, he joined her, and his mortal remains were buried next to hers in their beloved Whitney. At President Benson’s funeral, President Monson recalled: “He said to me on one occasion, ‘Brother Monson, remember, regardless of what anyone else may suggest, I desire to be buried in Whitney, Idaho.’ President Benson, we are fulfilling that wish today. His body will go home to Whitney, but his eternal spirit has gone home to God. He no doubt is rejoicing with his family, his friends, and his own beloved Flora. …

“The plowboy who became God’s prophet has gone home. God bless his memory.”108


  1. Robert D. Hales, “A Testimony of Prophets,” June 5, 1994, speeches.byu.edu; see also Twila Van Leer, “Church Leader Buried beside Wife, Cache Pays Tribute as Cortege Passes,” Deseret News, June 5, 1994.

  2. Gordon B. Hinckley, “Farewell to a Prophet,” Ensign, July 1994, 37–38.

  3. Ezra Taft Benson, “Godly Characteristics of the Master,” Ensign, Nov. 1986, 46.

  4. Margaret Benson Keller, in Sheri L. Dew, Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography (1987), 34.

  5. Ezra Taft Benson, “Godly Characteristics of the Master,” 47–48.

  6. Ezra Taft Benson, “Scouting Builds Men,” New Era, Feb. 1975, 15–16.

  7. See Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 44.

  8. See “After 60 Years ‘Still in Love,’” Church News, Sept. 14, 1986, 4, 10.

  9. Ezra Taft Benson, in Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 58.

  10. See Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 55; see also chapter 7 in this book.

  11. See Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 59.

  12. See Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 59.

  13. Ezra Taft Benson, in Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 62.

  14. Sheri L. Dew, Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 59.

  15. Ezra Taft Benson, in Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 53.

  16. Ezra Taft Benson, in Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 63.

  17. Flora Amussen Benson, in Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 75.

  18. Flora Amussen Benson, in Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 79.

  19. Ezra Taft Benson, in Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 79.

  20. Eugene J. Neff, in Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 84.

  21. Eugene J. Neff, in Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 87.

  22. See Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 87.

  23. See Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 87.

  24. Flora Amussen Benson, in Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 96.

  25. Flora Amussen Benson, in Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 88.

  26. Flora Amussen Benson, in Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 89.

  27. Ezra Taft Benson, in Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 92.

  28. Francis M. Gibbons, Ezra Taft Benson: Statesman, Patriot, Prophet of God (1996), 85–89.

  29. See Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 99–100, 101, 115.

  30. Ezra Taft Benson, in Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 115.

  31. See Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 100.

  32. Barbara Benson Walker, in Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 130.

  33. Flora Amussen Benson, in Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 121.

  34. Flora Amussen Benson, in Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 121.

  35. Sheri L. Dew, Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 174; including quotations from Ezra Taft Benson, personal journal, July 26, 1943.

  36. Ezra Taft Benson, personal journal, July 26, 1943; quoted in Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 174–75; spelling standardized.

  37. Ezra Taft Benson, in Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 176.

  38. See Ezra Taft Benson, A Labor of Love: The 1946 European Mission of Ezra Taft Benson (1989), 7.

  39. Ezra Taft Benson, in Conference Report, Apr. 1947, 152–53.

  40. George Albert Smith, in A Labor of Love, 7.

  41. Ezra Taft Benson, A Labor of Love, 7–8.

  42. Ezra Taft Benson, A Labor of Love, 120.

  43. Ezra Taft Benson, in Conference Report, Apr. 1947, 154.

  44. Ezra Taft Benson, in Conference Report, Apr. 1947, 155.

  45. Ezra Taft Benson, in Conference Report, Apr. 1947, 153–55.

  46. See Ezra Taft Benson, in Conference Report, Apr. 1947, 155–56.

  47. Ezra Taft Benson, in Conference Report, Apr. 1947, 156.

  48. See Frederick W. Babbel, On Wings of Faith (1972), 28–33, 46–47, 106–8, 111–12, 122, 131–34, 136, 154.

  49. Ezra Taft Benson, in Conference Report, Apr. 1947, 152.

  50. Thomas S. Monson, “President Ezra Taft Benson—A Giant among Men,” Ensign, July 1994, 36.

  51. See Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 37.

  52. See Ezra Taft Benson, in Conference Report, Apr. 1948, 83.

  53. Ezra Taft Benson, in Conference Report, Apr. 1948, 86.

  54. Ezra Taft Benson, in Conference Report, Apr. 1962, 104.

  55. See Ezra Taft Benson, in Conference Report, Apr. 1948, 85.

  56. See Ezra Taft Benson, in Conference Report, Apr. 1962, 104–5.

  57. See Ezra Taft Benson, in Conference Report, Oct. 1954, 121.

  58. Ezra Taft Benson, in Conference Report, Oct. 1962, 19.

  59. Ezra Taft Benson, Cross Fire: The Eight Years with Eisenhower (1962), 3–4.

  60. David O. McKay, in Cross Fire, 5.

  61. Ezra Taft Benson, Cross Fire, 10.

  62. Dwight D. Eisenhower, in Cross Fire, 12.

  63. Ezra Taft Benson, Cross Fire, 12.

  64. Ezra Taft Benson, Cross Fire, 13.

  65. Ezra Taft Benson, in Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 355.

  66. Ezra Taft Benson, in Sheri Dew, “President Ezra Taft Benson: Confidence in the Lord,” New Era, Aug. 1989, 36.

  67. See Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 313, 345.

  68. See Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 331.

  69. See chapter 2 in this book.

  70. Dwight D. Eisenhower, in Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 292.

  71. See Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 292.

  72. See Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 297–99.

  73. David O. McKay, in Cross Fire, 519.

  74. Ezra Taft Benson, in Conference Report, Apr. 1961, 113.

  75. Ezra Taft Benson, in Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 358.

  76. Ezra Taft Benson, in Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 355.

  77. Ezra Taft Benson, “A Witness and a Warning,” Ensign, Nov. 1979, 31.

  78. Ezra Taft Benson, “The Constitution—A Glorious Standard, Ensign, May 1976, 91.

  79. Ezra Taft Benson, in Conference Report, Apr. 1960, 99.

  80. Ezra Taft Benson, in Conference Report, Oct. 1968, 17.

  81. Ezra Taft Benson, in Conference Report, Oct. 1948, 98.

  82. Ezra Taft Benson, in Conference Report, Oct. 1950, 143–44.

  83. Ezra Taft Benson, Cross Fire, 485–88.

  84. See Francis M. Gibbons, Statesman, Patriot, Prophet of God, 270–71.

  85. Ezra Taft Benson, in Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 430–31.

  86. See Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 429–30.

  87. Ezra Taft Benson, in Thomas S. Monson, “A Provident Plan—A Precious Promise,” Ensign, May 1986, 63.

  88. Mark E. Petersen, “President Ezra Taft Benson,” Ensign, Jan. 1986, 2–3.

  89. Ezra Taft Benson, in Church News, Nov. 17, 1985, 3.

  90. Ezra Taft Benson, “A Sacred Responsibility,” Ensign, May 1986, 78.

  91. See, for example, “The Book of Mormon Is the Word of God,” Ensign, May 1975, 63–65; “A New Witness for Christ,” Ensign, Nov. 1984, 6–8; see also Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography, 491–93.

  92. Ezra Taft Benson, “Cleansing the Inner Vessel,” Ensign, May 1986, 5–6.

  93. Joseph Smith, quoted in the introduction to the Book of Mormon.

  94. Ezra Taft Benson, “The Book of Mormon—Keystone of Our Religion,” Ensign, Nov. 1986, 7.

  95. Ezra Taft Benson, “Beware of Pride,” Ensign, May 1989, 4.

  96. See chapter 10 in this book.

  97. Howard W. Hunter, “A Strong and Mighty Man,” Ensign, July 1994, 42.

  98. Ezra Taft Benson, “The Book of Mormon—Keystone of Our Religion,” 4, 5.

  99. Ezra Taft Benson, “Born of God,” Ensign, July 1989, 4.

  100. Ezra Taft Benson, “Come unto Christ,” Ensign, Nov. 1987, 84.

  101. Ezra Taft Benson, “Jesus Christ: Our Savior and Redeemer,” Ensign, June 1990, 6.

  102. See Russell M. Nelson, “Drama on the European Stage,” Ensign, Dec. 1991, 16.

  103. Howard W. Hunter, “A Strong and Mighty Man,” 42.

  104. Thomas S. Monson, “The Lord Bless You,” Ensign, Nov. 1991, 87.

  105. See Francis M. Gibbons, Statesman, Patriot, Prophet of God, 315.

  106. Gordon B. Hinckley, “Farewell to a Prophet,” 40.

  107. See Francis M. Gibbons, Statesman, Patriot, Prophet of God, 317–18.

  108. Thomas S. Monson, “President Ezra Taft Benson—A Giant among Men,” Ensign, July 1994, 36.