The One Who Made a Difference

Ben B. Banks

Of the First Quorum of the Seventy

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If the right friends help make us better people—and they do—then what kinds of friends have our General Authorities had in their lives? The New Era invited a few of the Brethren to talk about some of the people who were most influential in their lives. After reading their stories, you may want to take a second look at the people around you. Some may someday be among your best friends and you don’t yet realize it. There might also be some people you wouldn’t have sought out before, but who have a great deal to offer.

Special Issue: Faces of Friendship

I Love You Mother

Throughout my school years I never lacked for friends; in fact, I spent a lot of time with my friends. But the one who was always my confidante and whom I could always go to with any concern or discussion was my mother. I realize this may seem a bit unusual, but at the early age of two, I lost my father as a result of a construction accident. So my mother and I grew very close together, not only in a parent-child relationship but as best friends.

When I received my first electric train for Christmas at seven years of age, the two of us sat down and put the train together, just as friends would do. When I was eight years old and broke my arm because of a foolish prank, I remember how tender and kind she was, looking after my every need.

I remember the first winter after I received my driver’s license. I was driving down Parley’s Canyon in a blinding snowstorm and couldn’t see the road. All of a sudden I found myself off the side of the road into a snowdrift and had to abandon the car for the evening. The next morning, who was by my side with patience and understanding as a friend would be, helping me shovel the car out of the snowdrift? My mother.

We grew so close together over the years as friends that even after I was married she continued to teach me great lessons. We lived next door to each other. When I would return home from work, I had to pass her home before going into my home. During her later years she had arthritis, and I always worried about her health. One of the first days after my wife and I were married and I arrived home from work, I stopped in at my mother’s house before going to my own. I will never forget the experience of having her take me by the arm and escort me right back out of her house with this counsel, “You go see your wife first and tell her you love her. Then you can come and see me.”

Yes, my mother was always my best critic and my best advocate, as friends should be. As I mentioned earlier, I had many, many friends throughout my adolescence and teenage years, but the friend I was closest with, who had the most profound influence for good in my life, and whom I will always be grateful for is my mother.

Special Issue: Faces of Friendship

My Friend My Father

When I was very young, my father moved our family to Provo, Utah, where he operated a dental laboratory. After school, I would run to his lab and watch him make special false teeth. Often I would take a piece of wax and try to mold a tooth or a full denture. My efforts were awful! In my early teenage years, he would have me work by his side to learn each part of his trade. He was a perfectionist, and he constantly taught me how to remake the delicate, detailed work without any criticism from him but with continued explanations and demonstrations of how to improve. Each time I made a correction, he would tell me how much he appreciated my work and my effort. This gave me self-confidence, and my work improved.

Our time together, his constant encouragement and listening ear, and the many thousands of corrective counseling moments in the dental lab led to many discussions about God, the gospel, the plan of happiness, and the various aspects of life. This was how he guided me into a framework—a template, if you will—for me to try to order my own life.

My dad loved life and was quite a prankster. On one Halloween night, he shaved off his mustache (which he wore all his life) and dressed up in a costume and went Halloweening. I did not recognize him at first, but that night he and mother had so much fun. Later, I found myself making false Dracula teeth for myself and my friends and doing some of the same fun things I had watched him do.

We went fishing many times, and on occasion we even caught fish. We had family gatherings often, and my dad ordained me to every office in the priesthood except Seventy. We worked together, played together, and worshiped together all the days of my youth.

Because of this very special friendship, I later wanted to take my family often to my parents’ home to be with my dad and mom. There was always a joke or two and a tasty sandwich to be eaten. But most of all, our relationship was warm, nonjudgmental, and totally accepting.

My parents have now passed on, and I have sorely missed that close friendship with my father these past 14 years. They are some of the fondest memories of my life here on earth. I am encouraged to know that God has promised a continuation of those relationships and friendships into eternity if we can totally accept the Lord’s commandments and live within the boundaries He has set. How fortunate I was to have a dad who truly became my friend, my teacher, my mentor, and my example for all time and eternity.

Special Issue: Faces of Friendship

My Friend The Bishop

During my early teenage years in Glendale, California, my father, Wayne M. P. Hancock, was not a member of the Church, had habits contrary to the Word of Wisdom, and was a traveling salesman frequently gone from home. Harry V. Brooks, bishop of the Glendale West Ward, took a special interest in the youth of his ward and became my personal role model, counselor, and friend. I would do nothing that would disappoint him or bring him sorrow.

This man, large in stature, would dissolve in tears every time one of his youth gave a talk in church or received some special recognition. We in turn would become teary eyed because we knew our bishop loved us.

What he was and had accomplished excited in me the desire to emulate him. For example, his fireside talks and frequent references to his mission in Hawaii and the beloved Hawaiian people created in me a singular desire to serve a mission in Hawaii. I even purchased a ukulele with a Hawaiian songbook and taught myself to play some songs. Hawaii, its people and music, are still a part of me.

During periodic dental exams and treatment he would talk to me about what I was interested in for my life’s work. As it turned out, I did follow the professional path, but as an attorney rather than a dentist.

When it was announced that there would be a centennial Scout encampment at Salt Lake City in 1947 as part of the centennial celebration, Bishop Brooks determined that his Scout troop would participate. He readily saw in my nonmember father a man with organizational skills and a salesman’s boldness. Dad was called by him to be finance committee chairman. The close association that developed between Bishop Brooks and my father led to Dad’s joining the Church when I was 16 years old.

Shortly after I was ordained a priest, Bishop Brooks came to me and said, “Our daughter, Linda, will soon be eight years old, and we would like to have you baptize her.” How proud I was to exercise my priesthood authority by baptizing my bishop’s daughter. Only in later years as a father myself did I really appreciate what Bishop Brooks had sacrificed—the privilege of baptizing his oldest child—so that one of his priests could have the opportunity to perform that sacred ordinance.

Bishop Harry V. Brooks was a great friend. He molded my life during a time of need. I shall eternally reverence and be grateful to him.

Special Issue: Faces of Friendship

My Friend Elmer

Friends come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and ages. I learned that as a young boy. I knew that after my daily chores were done, I had a friend next door ready to play—not to run in the fields, ride horses, or swim in the pond, but to sit and have a good game of checkers. For many of the boys my age in our community, Elmer Sessions didn’t seem like a very good prospect as a friend. He was old, especially in the eyes of a 10-year-old boy. He was crippled and could be a little disagreeable at times. But Elmer liked me and I liked him.

Elmer was a good checkers player, and I would patiently watch him plan and execute his moves. He taught me by example how to play checkers. I don’t know who was more excited, Elmer or me, the first time I beat him at his own game.

There was a determination about Elmer that I came to admire. He had an appreciation for nature and beauty and loved to see things grow. Every morning you could see him heading out to work in his garden. With the aid of an old walking stick, Elmer would drag his crippled leg behind him. The walk itself was difficult, and keeping the weeds out of his large garden seemed to me to be a monumental task. It wasn’t easy, but he took pride in the beautiful produce that grew there. I would help him when I could. I enjoyed our conversations. He was full of interesting facts that he was willing to share with a listening boy.

He liked to grow unusual things in his garden, and one spring day I remember asking him what he was planting. He replied, “Goober peas.” When I told him I had never heard of goober peas, he gave me some and told me to go home and plant them in our garden. I did, and I watched them carefully as they grew. When I expressed my concern that I couldn’t see any fruit on the vine, he told me to be patient. The day came when it was time to harvest the goober peas. Elmer showed me how to dig around the plants, and was I surprised and delighted to find that under the ground were mounds of peanuts just waiting to be roasted—Elmer’s goober peas.

Over the years I learned many things from Elmer Sessions—lessons about patience, determination, endurance, and long-suffering. I learned that friends can come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and ages. That an old man and a young boy can be friends. Friendships can easily span years when two people are willing to listen and care and reach out to each other.

Special Issue: Faces of Friendship

My Friend Arthur

As a 15-year-old boy, I needed a friend, especially when my family moved hundreds of miles away from my home community, my high school, my ward, and my best friend. Entering San Luis Obispo High School in California as a junior, without a friend, I found that friend. He wasn’t my age. There were no Latter-day Saint young men my age in the San Luis Obispo Branch. Looking back, I know that the friend who, perhaps more than any other, influenced my life for good, was a man the age of my parents.

Arthur Godfrey was president of the San Luis Obispo Branch of the Church and a teacher of agricultural science at the high school. Positive and sincerely interested in all of us, he became our friend. When I needed a job, he helped me find one in the community cannery. When I arrived late for work one afternoon, he forcefully taught me the absolute necessity of being on time, of how essential were duty and keeping promises.

A 15-year-old boy benefits when a friend believes in him. President Godfrey did that for me. He understood me, knew my weaknesses, yet believed that I could accomplish something with my life. Such trust imparted new confidence in me.

After our family moved a hundred miles south to Santa Barbara, Arthur performed a simple service for me that has made all the difference. My mission call in 1950 came while the Korean War was raging. As I was about to depart for the mission, a telegram came from the Missionary Department requiring that I obtain a written release from my San Luis Obispo draft board as a condition of entering the Salt Lake Mission Home. Although obtaining such a release seemed impossible, we decided to try. Mother and I drove to San Luis Obispo, without an appointment, but acting on the impulse of the Spirit. As we neared San Luis Obispo, another impression came to first visit our friend Arthur at the high school.

“I don’t know if I can help, but I’ll call the chairman at the draft board. He is a friend of mine. We serve on the Boy Scouts council together,” Arthur said. The call resulted in an invitation to come at once for an interview. As we sat across the desk from him, the chairman explained the difficulties in our request, then said, “I’m going to sign this release. I know of no better man than Arthur Godfrey. If he believes this is right, I will take his word. There is no one I respect as much as I do Arthur.” Instead of going to war I went to Montana and Wyoming to share the gospel. Those two years have made all the difference in my life. I owe them to my friend and to our Lord.

When I returned from the mission, Arthur was president of the Santa Barbara Stake created in my absence. When I was drafted by the United States Army, he suggested strongly that I should now serve my country, although I had been accepted for graduate work and could have obtained another deferment. I did as he suggested, and the army promptly sent me to Korea. There, instead of fighting in war, I had additional spiritual experiences.

Today, at 90, Arthur remains my dear and close friend. In a coming day he will depart for a better world, but he will always be my friend, my teacher, and my example.

Special Issue: Faces of Friendship

What Is a Friend

As I look back over my life, I recognize some major turning points that came about through the influence of friends. They were not friends of my same age; they were actually friends of my father. At the time, I did not fully realize what good friends of mine they were as well, and what a major impact their thoughtful intervention would have on my life.

As I stepped off the stand after speaking in sacrament meeting, one of my father’s dear friends complimented me on the talk. I really wanted to know how effective my presentation had been, and so I pressed him further. “Would you have any suggestions for me?” He indicated there was something that might prove helpful if I sincerely wanted to know. He then asked the question: “What did you say tonight that could not have been said by any Protestant minister?” I was a little taken back by that comment; and in the days that followed, I spent a great deal of time reflecting on what I had said.

More than 40 years have passed since that experience, and I think I can honestly say that I have never once given any kind of a Church presentation without always attempting to convey my testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. How grateful I am for the insight, judgment, and concern that prompted his comment. How grateful I am that he was a true friend.

A year or two later a business associate asked me if I would be willing to accept some counsel. I readily indicated I would be happy to receive it. He suggested that I was too abrupt, too impatient, too brusk, and too intent on achieving my goals quickly. I had such respect for this man that I spent many hours pondering his perception and have made a great effort over the course of many years trying to gain control over an intensity that might overshadow other qualities I would rather acquire. The direction of my life has been affected in a major way by this effort.

“The finest of friends must sometimes be stern sentinels, who will insist that we become what we have the power to become” (Neal A. Maxwell, Insights from My Life, 191). These are among the greatest and best friends a person can have.

Special Issue: Faces of Friendship

My Friend Jim

As I have reflected on my friends and my life experience, I have concluded that there was not just one special friend that made a difference. Rather, my life has been lifted and sustained by relatively large numbers of people. As I mention one particular friend, I would wish for no one to be confused that he was any more my “best friend” than were all my other “best friends.” He was just one of the guys in my ward and school “gang” (when that was a positive term!). Whatever else we did, or whatever else our other divergent activities, we were always good friends.

Jim was more than a year older than I and a year ahead in school. One of the things I appreciated about him is that age or school grade didn’t seem to make any difference to him. Jim was not necessarily always the best behaved until his later teens. He did, however, constantly have a good heart.

Jim is a talented musician and his natural aptitudes declared themselves quite early. He was a skilled saxophonist who did things seemingly much easier than did I, who also tried to play, but in a very ordinary way. Even when we were young boys, Jim was always patient with my musical deficiencies and those of others and built our self-esteem with his tolerance and good-natured support. One interesting observation about Jim is that as a teenager, he had more than a few people who were sure that he was their “best friend.”

One of Jim’s greatest accomplishments, in my judgment, was his dramatic change for the good when he entered the army after high school graduation. Recognizing that for perhaps the first time in his life his behavior would reflect not only on himself but on his family and the Church, he quickly became exemplary to his mainly non-LDS associates and qualified to serve a mission.

After his release from military service, he was called on a mission, which he successfully served. He then graduated from the university and married in the temple. He has served with distinction in the Church as a bishop, teacher, and in other assignments.

In all of this he continues to be a great friend to many and to me.

Special Issue: Faces of Friendship

A Friendly President

As a teenager, I thought of friends as people near my own age whose association I enjoyed. I now realize that friends can also be those of any age we hold in high esteem because of their positive influence in our lives.

Such a friend and teacher came into my life when I served my mission in England in the early 1960s. Marion D. Hanks became my mission president, and his teachings and example have blessed me throughout my life. What truly characterized his life and teaching was his understanding and commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Let me share three of his lessons that have been particularly helpful to me.

The Attributes of the Savior

Elder Hanks wanted his missionaries to understand the attributes of the Savior. He had us read the Book of Mormon, marking each reference to the Savior, and then asked us to think about the implications of being a follower of Christ. “Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am” (3 Ne. 27:27).

His testimony and the demonstrated love, appreciation, and awe which he obviously felt for the Savior established an example which has been highly influential.

The Wise Use of Agency

Elder Hanks taught that agency is much more than a gift; it is something you have whether you want it or not (2 Ne. 2:27). We cannot control circumstances, but we can control our spiritual reaction to those circumstances.

On July 8, 1962, Elder Hanks wrote to us:

“Years ago a great friend and benefactor shared with me a great thought. I believed it then and decided to build it into the foundation of my life. The years have increased to absolute knowledge my assurance that it is true. When we first came here I shared it with you and asked you to memorize it and live by it. I would like all of you to learn it:

“There is no chance, no destiny, no fate, can circumvent or hinder or control the firm resolve of a determined soul.”

Determining in advance to live all the commandments has enormous power. This has served me well throughout my life.

The Importance of Service

Elder Hanks taught that if the purpose of religion is to learn to love God and your fellowmen, then to be religious is to be of service, as his own life demonstrated. He not only fulfilled and magnified his callings, but he also extended his love and service without restraint to those in need.

I have not had significant contact with Elder Hanks in more than 35 years since returning from the mission field. However, the impressions he left were so strong, and his teachings, particularly from the Book of Mormon, so influential, that they have been magnified many times over in my life and in the lives of those who served under him. We all consider him a dear friend.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Robert T. Barrett