The poet wrote: “Here and there, and now and then, God makes a giant among men.” Such a man was him whom we honor today—President Ezra Taft Benson.
To fully appreciate the stature of Ezra Taft Benson, one must turn back the pages of his journal—even the years of his life—and ever so quietly visit that modest farm dwelling in Whitney, Idaho, which George T. and Sarah Dunkley Benson and their children reverently called home.
There is no more thrilling and inspiring missionary account than the call to George Benson to leave his wife, his seven children, and all that he held dear and respond with gladness to a call to serve. President Benson was the eldest of the children, and Mother was expecting her eighth child. When President Benson would tell of his family’s experience during this period, tears would come to his eyes—and ours—and feelings of emotion would well up within the heart.
He described how his mother would gather the children around the kitchen table, wipe her hands on her apron and, by the light of a coal oil lantern, read to her children letters from their missionary father. This family learned of faith, experienced sacrifice, developed strength, and shared love. Every son, each daughter filled honorably a full-time mission. From such a setting came President Benson’s reverence for his mother, adoration of his father, and loyalty to his brothers and sisters. In that household, and in his own family today, the Lord and His church come first.
How fitting that Ezra Taft Benson, like the Master, “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.”1 How blessed the day when he met his eternal sweetheart and companion, Flora Amussen, and they became one for time and for all eternity. From the sparse years of graduate school to the heady atmosphere of Washington, their priorities remained unchanged. The entire Church found justifiable pride in the Edward R. Murrow telecast which featured the Ezra Taft Benson family at home. Mr. Murrow reported that his fan mail from this show exceeded all others. America was starved to see a righteous family learning and living as a family should.
These two remarkable sweethearts, “T” and Flora, joyfully journeyed along the pathway of life together. From Idaho, where President Benson served as stake president and as county agricultural agent, to Washington, D.C., where again he served as stake president and as secretary of agriculture, they blessed the lives of all with whom they mingled, and they won the lasting respect of all with whom they served.
Seeking an example of “love at home,” we need not look beyond the family of President and Sister Benson. My wife and I were privileged to attend the Bensons’ 62nd wedding anniversary. Children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren rejoiced as the President and his companion held hands and led the group in singing “Keep the Home Fires Burning,” “Love’s Old Sweet Song,” and the favorite, “I Love You Truly.”
This love which the prophet had for his own children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren extended to the children of the entire Church—even to the children of the world. He respected them. He loved them. And they respected and loved him. When they visited they brightened his day; they lighted up his life.
Many years ago, William A. Morton wrote a small book pertaining to the life of the Prophet Joseph Smith. He entitled the book From Plowboy to Prophet. Such a journey describes the life of Ezra Taft Benson. From the plow in Whitney, Idaho, to God’s appointed prophet came he. He loved beautiful Cache Valley, the farm, the university, the temple.
In this favorite valley is Clarkston, Utah, and a small cemetery where Martin Harris, one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon, is buried. Behind the beautiful granite shaft that marks his grave there is a small headstone for another less prominent person, with faded letters but which contains a lovely message: “A light from our household is gone; a voice we loved is stilled. A place is vacant in our hearts that never can be filled.”
Such is the feeling today of one and all who revered President Benson.
President Benson has long been a champion and advocate for the youth of the Church. On one occasion he counseled them: “Beloved youth, you will have your trials and temptations through which you must pass, but there are great moments of eternity which lie ahead. You have our love and our confidence. We pray that you will be prepared for the reins of leadership. We say to you, ‘Arise and shine forth,’ (D&C 115:5), and be a light unto the world, a standard to others.”2
President Benson had a long-standing commitment to Scouting. No person better exemplified adherence to the Scout Oath:
On my honor, I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.
Bestowed upon him was every recognition of Scouting leadership: the Silver Beaver, the Silver Antelope, the Silver Buffalo, and the Bronze Wolf. Locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally he set a true course; he marked the way; he provided a superb example to follow.
This giant of a man was respected nationally and internationally as a Scouter of strength. Of all the many prominent persons who entered the halls of honor where Scouters meet, Ezra Taft Benson was one for whom all others stood and applauded as a mark of profound respect.
Early in the apostolic years, an assignment was to come which, for a time, separated Ezra Taft Benson and his sweetheart, Flora. Like his father, President Benson was called to leave home and family and fill a special mission to war-torn Europe. The magnitude of his call was overwhelming. For ten and one-half months President Benson labored night and day without respite, blessing the members of the Church in Europe, giving them nourishment for their bodies and everlasting hope for their souls. From the chaos of war came Saints—scattered, battered, and very much in need. To them came Ezra Taft Benson, with his superb organizational skills and with the inspiration of Almighty God.
Through the inspired welfare program of the Church, hundreds of tons of lifesaving food and clothing were transported across the vast Atlantic Ocean and, under the direction of this gifted leader, distributed to the hungry, the cold, the homeless.
It was my privilege to follow President Benson later in one of his extended assignments to the countries of Europe. The years have flown by, and many whom he helped have now passed on. Yet there remain those who step forward to bless the name of Ezra Taft Benson. As I dedicated a new chapel in the city of Zwickau in Germany, a devoted man asked that I give his greetings to President Benson, then added, “He saved my life. He gave me food to eat and clothing to wear. He gave me hope. God bless him!”
One of the most personally satisfying and spiritually rewarding experiences of my life has been to serve as one of President Benson’s counselors in the First Presidency of the Church. No one could possibly have had a better role model to follow. His life has been rich, his love far-reaching, his testimony of the truth ever firm.
To those who so lovingly cared for President Benson during the period of illness prior to his passing, we express profound appreciation. A special debt of gratitude also is due his loyal and devoted secretary of so many years, Gary Gillespie, whose competent and capable service was so much appreciated by President Benson and was such a blessing to him.
Today as we journey to the quiet, peaceful cemetery in Whitney, we shall surround an open plot of ground where his mortal remains will be placed to rest by the side of his eternal companion, Flora. 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.
To his posterity, he would leave a heartfelt thought found in the book of 3 John in the Holy Bible—beautiful words, an eternal hope: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.”3
May his family members and all of us who loved him experience the joy promised by the Lord and Savior, who declared: “I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end. Great shall be their reward and eternal shall be their glory.”4
I close with a favorite word often used by President Benson: the word home. Robert Louis Stevenson captured in his poem “Requiem” President Benson’s final journey in mortality when he wrote:
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.
The plowboy who became God’s prophet has gone home. God bless his memory, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.