Prophet loved being among people

"It is so good to be with you; I can hardly hold back the tears."

San Juan Puerto Rico Regional Conference, April 12, 1987

Something special happened when President Ezra Taft Benson went out among the people.

A feeling of excitement and a kind of hushed anticipation seemed to hang in the air just before he entered a building where congregations assembled, whether it was for a temple dedication, regional conference or other Church event.

Many who thrilled at catching a glimpse of the prophet as he walked by had no way of knowing that he was as edified by their presence as they were by his. President Benson, during his travels, often remarked, "Look at all those people! They're wonderful!"

On many occasions, he prolonged his visits among the Saints. After a meeting's closing prayer, he sometimes returned to the podium and said, "I love you. May the Lord bless you."

President Benson, a seasoned traveler before he became president of the Church, never seemed to weary of going out among the people. Although he saw much of the world during his years in the Council of the Twelve and as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, he never exhibited signs of boredom or gave an inkling that he had "seen it all before." He arrived at his destinations showing enthusiasm and excitement.

For example, in early January 1986, he paid a courtesy call on President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George Bush in Washington, D.C. Although he had walked the halls of the White House many times in his role as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, he found a freshness to that visit. As he was escorted into the White House through the diplomatic entrance reserved for distinguished visitors, he commented, "I have never been through this door."

When local leaders went out of their way to do something extra special, such as providing him a basket of fruit for his hotel room during his visits, he often remarked, "I'm only a farm boy from Idaho. I don't deserve all this."

Whether sitting down to dinner with a few local Church leaders and their spouses in San Juan, Puerto Rico, or greeting hundreds at a formal reception in London's posh Savoy Hotel, President Benson remained exuberant. He had the ability to make people feel there was no place else he would rather be than right there with them.

During his travels, President Benson greeted people from all walks of life. Presidents, diplomats and magistrates received no more courtesy than farmers, teachers and students.

On his travels, he paid particular attention to children and, at times, was protective of their presence. One example occurred at the March 22, 1986, ceremony to break ground for the new Hiram Branch meetinghouse near Kirtland, Ohio. As President Benson prepared to turn the first shovel of earth during the ceremony, a young boy walked between the prophet and the area where television and newspaper cameras were positioned. One photographer called out, "Hey, kid! Move over!" President Benson gave the photographer a stern look. Then he smiled at the boy. Without saying a word, he conveyed to photographer and child how he felt about the youngster's presence.

As advancing age robbed him of his strength, President Benson's travels among the people became less frequent. One of his last trips outside Utah was to the Las Vegas Nevada Temple dedication. While he shook hands with only a small number of people, he managed to convey his love to many others.

Leaving the temple, he walked between two assistants who gave him steadying arms to lean on. Outside, he saw long lines of members waiting to attend a dedicatory session. He paused on the sidewalk just outside the temple doors. Then he waved.

The motion, so characteristic of President Benson, conveyed more than words could at that moment. It also was one of the last glimpses of President Benson traveling as a prophet among the people.

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