Stories from the General Authorities:

Are There Any Mormons in Washington

by Elder Ezra Taft Benson

of the Council of the Twelve

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    This incident happened during World War II. I was serving on a four-man agriculture advisory committee to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and was chief executive officer of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, a federation of 4,600 farmers’ marketing organizations located in every state of the Union and in Puerto Rico.

    Because of the demands of the war, materials used in farming were in short supply. With the help of the board of directors, we had organized a National Committee for Farm Production Supplies to help focus the attention of heads of government agencies on the needs of farmers. If they were to produce to the maximum, meet the challenge of the president of the United States that “food will win the war,” they must have adequate production supplies.

    I had gone to my office at 1731 “I” Street N.W. early to prepare for the meeting at the White House and also the meeting of the committee in the hope that I would get much work done before office hours began and the telephone started ringing.

    I had just arrived at my desk when the telephone rang. A total stranger on the other end of the line introduced himself as a prominent businessman from Chicago. He invited me to have lunch with him at a downtown hotel. I told him I was too busy for lunch, but he was so sincere and earnest that I finally agreed, and so at one o’clock I faced him across the luncheon table at the Washington Hotel in downtown Chicago.

    After introductions he said, “I suppose you wonder why I have invited you to lunch inasmuch as I am a total stranger.”

    I said, “Yes, I have been wondering.”

    Then he said this: “Earlier in the week I came out of a businessmen’s luncheon in Chicago and while talking with some of my friends, I told them that I was going to Washington, D.C., to set up an office and hire a young man to take charge of the office and represent our corporation in the nation’s capital. I began telling my business friends the kind of a young man I would like to have represent our firm. I said I would want a young man whose integrity would never be questioned, who was clean in his habits, who would leave liquor alone and was living a clean, moral life. In fact, I would prefer to have a young man who didn’t smoke.”

    Then he said, “One of my business associates said, ‘What you want is a returned Mormon missionary.’

    “I had heard about the Mormon Church,” he continued, “but I knew very little about their organization or standards. I knew they had missionaries because my wife told me that she had a very pleasant conversation with two young men in dark suits who had called during the day and left literature.”

    He added, “As I rode down here on the train last evening, I thought to myself that possibly the suggestion of my business friend had merit. Possibly that’s just the kind of a young man I do want—a returned Mormon missionary. When I registered at the hotel here last evening, I said to the clerk at the desk, ‘Are there any Mormons in Washington?’

    “He said, ‘I don’t know. I suppose there are; they seem to be everywhere.’ But I said to him, ‘Do you know any?’ He said, ‘Frankly I can’t say that I do, but Mr. Bush, the manager, is here, and maybe he can help you.’”

    Then my new acquaintance said, “I put the question to Mr. Bush and he gave me your name. Now that’s why I’ve invited you to lunch. Can you give me the names of three or four young men who meet the standards I have outlined? I would like to interview them for a job that I think has a great future with a starting salary of some eight or nine thousand dollars.” (In the 1940s the purchasing power of the dollar was about three times what it is today.)

    My new-found friend continued, “Our corporation is one of the largest in Chicago and has among its assets the largest hotel in the city.” And he repeated, “Can you give me the names of three or four young men?”

    I was happy to tell him, as president of the Washington Stake, that I could not only give him the names of three or four, but ten, or fifteen, or twenty, any one of whom I felt sure would meet the standards that he had outlined.

    Yes, it pays for young men, and young women too, to maintain the standards of the Church and be true to the faith.

    Illustrated by Dale Kilbourn