President Ezra Taft Benson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was praised Sunday night at a fireside in the Salt Lake Tabernacle for his loyalty to God, family and country and for his integrity.
The fireside was in honor of President Benson's 90th birthday, which he will celebrate Aug. 4.The program included a video-taped message from President Bush, who said, "We marvel at all you have accomplished during your life. Your life is marked by accomplishment after accomplishment.
"Your service," Bush said, "is the very model of selfless devotion and compassion for others." On Friday, Bush announced that President Benson will receive the Presidential Citizens Medal, given to citizens who have performed exemplary service.
President Gordon B. Hinckley, first counselor in the First Presidency, said President Benson's life has been marked by constancy.
"From the days of his boyhood he has been consistently faithful to every calling to serve in the church," President Hinckley said. "There have been no excuses or alibis, no rationalizing to escape responsibility. He has accepted each call, prayed for the ability to fulfill it, and enthusiastically gone to work."
President Thomas S. Monson, second counselor in the First Presidency, praised President Benson for setting a true course, marking the way and providing a "superb example to follow." He told of the example set by President Benson's parents and their impact on the children.
"This family learned of faith, experienced sacrifice, developed strength and shared love," said President Monson. "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."
President Benson was also praised by his sister, Margaret Benson Keller, and by his daughter, Barbara Benson Walker. Keller spoke of her thankfulness for her brother's love, prayers and constant example of courage and righteous living.
"Ezra T. was an inspiration and the joy of his noble family," recalled his sister. "Ezra T. often tried to see how much work he could do in a day. He loved the challenge."
Walker said her father's loyalty to God, family and country is reflected in his life. She said her father has been valiant in raising the voice of warning in the fight for freedom and has left a legacy of holding aloft the title of liberty.
She also recalled her father as one whose life is in balance. "Dad worked at keeping his life in balance. He felt as much at home pitching softballs as preaching sermons."
A video presentation recounted the life of President Benson, from his boyhood days on the farm in Whitney, Idaho, to his missionary work in Great Britain and his success as a farmer and a spokesman for farmers nationwide. It contained accounts of his service to the church following World War II, when he was sent to Europe to look after the affairs of church members and to prepare the way for missionaries to return, and newsreel clips of his service as secretary of agriculture under President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The Tabernacle Choir sang one of President Benson's favorite hymns, "I Believe in Christ," and led the packed Tabernacle audience in a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday."
President Benson responded by saying, "I love you, my brothers and sisters, and pray God's blessings on each of you."
President Hinckley presented President Benson with a leather-bound book containing written expressions from each of the members of the Council of the Twelve and the members of the First Presidency.