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PRES. BENSON RECEIVES A FOND FAREWELL

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President Ezra Taft Benson was eulogized by his probable successor during memorial services in the Tabernacle on Temple Square Saturday for for his love of the Book of Mormon and his emphasis on putting that keystone back in the minds and hearts of church members.

President Howard W. Hunter, senior apostle and president of the Council of the Twelve, said President Benson stressed the Book of Mormon from the very onset of his ministry as a prophet, seer and revelator."Will any generation, including those yet unborn, look back on the administration of President Ezra Taft Benson and not immediately think of his love for the Book of Mormon? Perhaps no president of the church since the Prophet Joseph Smith himself has done more to teach the truths of the Book of Mormon, to make it a daily course of study for the entire membership of the church, and to "flood the earth' with its distribution," President Hunter said.

Approximately 3,000 people, including many honored guests and family members, attended the funeral in the flower-bedecked Tabernacle. Many thousands of others watched it on four local TV stations, through satellite transmissions to 3,000 church buildings or listened over the radio.

President Benson, 94, died Memorial Day of congestive heart failure after more than 50 years as a general authority of the church, including almost nine years as the church's 13th president. His prominent Tabernacle seat has been unoccupied during most general church meetings since 1989 because of his frail health.

President Hunter, though he needed assistance to reach the microphone, stood on his own and spoke slowly and deliberately as the funeral's concluding speaker. He characterized President Benson as a gifted leader and a superb administrator who repeatedly taught the teachings of the gospel should center in and around the family.

"More than once he said, `There is no theme I would rather speak to than home and family, for they are at the very heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The church, in large part, exists for the salvation and exaltation of the family.' "

Although President Hunter also noted this was a time for sadness, he said it was thrilling to think of the joyful reunion President Benson is having with his beloved sweetheart of 66 years, Flora, who died almost two years ago.

"Theirs was a storybook romance, an example to all of what a marriage should be," he said.

President Hunter concluded by explaining the Book of Mormon provides perhaps the most appropriate epitaph for President Benson's valiant service with a description of Captain Moroni that also fits the late prophet:

"A strong and a mighty man; . . . a man whose soul did joy in the liberty and the freedom of his country . . . A man whose heart did swell with thanksgiving to his God, for the many privileges and blessings which he bestowed upon his people; a man who did labor exceedingly for the welfare and safety of his people . . . A man who was firm in the faith of Christ."

Another speaker, President Gordon B. Hinckley, also noted President Benson's Book of Mormon campaign and his emphasis on the family. He referred to "Love at Home" as President Benson's theme song.

He spoke of President Benson's life as a farm boy, a season of life the prophet never forgot and that set the foundation for the robust health he enjoyed through all but the last few years of his life.

"Throughout the years of his mature life, when he walked with presidents and kings, he never lost touch of his boyhood farm days," President Hinckley said.

He also referred to President Benson as a pioneer in the church's welfare program and described him as almost an angel from heaven when he brought food and support to starving Europeans following World War II.

"I am confident that it was out of what he saw of the bitter fruit of dictatorship that he developed his strong feelings, almost hatred, for communism and socialism. That distaste grew through the years as he witnessed the heavy-handed oppression and suffering of the peoples of Eastern Europe under what he repeatedly described as godless communism. These experiences further strengthened his love for the land of his birth," President Hinckley said.

As U.S. secretary of agriculture for eight years, he said President Benson was absolutely fearless in speaking out against programs he considered oppressive.

"Even those who disagreed with his politics were forced to respect his logic, his wisdom and his convictions," President Hinckley said.

President Thomas S. Monson described President Benson as a giant among men. He said many years ago a book written on the Prophet Joseph Smith was titled "From Plowboy to Prophet."

"Such a journey describes the life of Erza Taft Benson. From the plow in Whitney, Idaho, to God's appointed prophet came he," President Monson said.

He also described President Benson as a champion and advocate for the youth of the church and recalled his long-standing commitment to Scouting.

"No person better exemplified adherence to the Scout oath . . . This giant of a man was respected nationally and internationally as a Scouter of strength." He said President Benson had received all of Scouting's highest honors.

He spoke of President Benson's assignment to war-torn Europe and of his superb organizational skills.

"The plowboy who became God's prophet has gone home," President Monson concluded.

Elder Boyd K. Packer said you cannot find the true Ezra Taft Benson in his years of government service.

"He must be measured by the teachings of the book that dominated his thoughts, controlled his conduct, and inspired his very soul . . . in the pages of the Book of Mormon, President Benson found the focus of his service."

Elder Packer said President Benson was not a very good politician.

"He had that kind of honesty that made people shake their heads and the kind of courage which made him essentially immune to criticism or opposition."

As a prophet, Elder Packer said President Benson frequently measured his decisions by asking "What's best for the kingdom?" and by telling the brethren, "It's the spirit that counts."

President Benson was also described by Elder Packer as a lover of good music of all kinds. Indeed, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir provided the music at the funeral with "An Angel From On High," "How Great Thou Art," "Love at Home" and "O Divine Redeemer."

Elders David B. Haight and Richard G. Scott, both members of the Council of the Twelve, offered the funeral prayers.

Mark A. Benson, second-oldest son of President Benson, offered a family prayer prior to the funeral.