Leaders of giant stature cast giant shadows.
President Ezra Taft Benson, who will commemorate his 90th birthday on Aug. 4, is one of those great leaders whose shadow has been cast around the world and his influence felt by millions.For half of his 90 years, President Benson has served in the leading councils of the restored gospel, first as a member of the Council of the Twelve and then as president of the Church. For eight years, he also served in the top echelons of the U.S. government as Secretary of Agriculture in the Eisenhower Administration.
His life has been one of service, a selfless devotion to helping others.
From his early days as a county agricultural agent in his native Idaho to his monumental calling now as president of the 6.8 million-member Church, President Benson has fostered a love and a caring for mankind.
And even though he has traveled the world in carrying out his heavy responsibilities of the past 45 years, he has never outgrown his homespun roots.
Reared on the fertile soil of a farm in southeast Idaho, President Benson still has an active interest and appreciation for farming. A short time ago, during a rainstorm in Utah, he was elated because the rain meant that farmers were receiving much-needed moisture during a year that has been parched bone-dry.
Often, when President Benson expresses his appreciation for a kindness shown to him, he good-naturedly remarks, "This is too good for a farm boy."
Recently, he visited his hometown of Whitney just across the Utah border, and, among other activities, called on a life-long friend. The two spent a few moments together, sitting on the porch in the late morning sun, and reminisced. Many years had come and gone since they were growing up together.
"President Benson," someone suggested, "will you please sing, `I Am a Mormon Boy' "?
Without hesitation, he began singing and his childhood friend joined in. He wasn't embarrassed to sing about being "a Mormon boy" - quite the contrary. He was obviously pleased to sing one of his favorite songs that he learned to love while growing up in a tiny farming community where singing provided many an evening's entertainment.
President Benson, who is the fifth Church president to reach 90, is a man of unusual traits. His Book of Mormon addresses since he became president of the Church have been masterpieces of Church literature. Many - perhaps thousands - have changed their lives because of his teachings and sermons over the pulpit.
But President Benson also gives another kind of sermon that touches so many lives. That is in the sermons he lives, and particulary notable is the sermon of love and devotion, demonstrated by the kindness he shows to his wife of nearly 63 years.
Flora Amussen Benson is his most avid supporter and she accompanies him on most of his assignments. Always he treats her with the utmost tenderness and patience and love. They often hold hands as they sit together on the stand.
Each week, President Benson receives on his desk in his office in the Church Administration Building a fresh bouquet of flowers from the Church gardener. The flowers, however, rarely stay on his desk. Most of the time, he takes them home for his wife to also enjoy, a small act of kindness that is so characteristic of the man who lives the sermons he preaches.
President Benson loves the beauty and majesty of nature, a feeling that was keenly developed as a youngster on the farm. He watched and waited as nature, in its annual cycle, turned the greens of spring to the yellow and gold of harvest in the fall, from the hues of summer to the white of winter. And now, perhaps more than ever, he appreciates the handiwork of God in the beauty of nature about him.
He has an appreciation for fine arts and loves music. He still likes to go to concerts, broadcasts of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and enjoys barbershop quartet singing. When he was younger, he enjoyed dancing, and as recently as a couple years ago, he would dance with his wife in their apartment.
President Benson is tender hearted and tears are often very close to the surface. He has a genuine love for people. The special statement of the First Presidency "to come back and taste again the sweet and satisfying fruits of fellowship with the saints," issued shortly after he became president of the Church nearly four years ago, demonstrates the depth of that love.
Even though he is in the twilight years of his life, he still travels on several Church assignments. He presides at the daily meetings of the First Presidency and the weekly temple meetings of the General Authorities, plus carrying on his committee assignments. He goes to the temple each week whenever possible, and attends Church each Sunday when he's not on assignment, usually visiting a ward in the Salt Lake area.
For 90 years, President Benson has, indeed, cast a giant shadow, and leaves giant footsteps for others to follow. The best birthday present we could give him is to heed his teachings and counsel, thereby drawing closer unto Christ and enabling us to "feast at the table of the Lord."