Accustomed as we are to looking to the Lord's prophets for strength, guidance, counsel, hope and even comfort, we sometimes overlook the fact that each has had a wife who was companion, helpmeet, friend and confidante. President Ezra Taft Benson had his beloved Flora Amussen Benson.
Their lives were happily linked since their marriage in the Salt Lake Temple on Sept. 10, 1926. Her death on Aug. 14 - about a month shy of their 66th anniversary - brings them a temporary separation as the mortal phase of her life has ended.
Born July 1, 1901, daughter of a Danish father and Scottish mother, her life was woven with a pioneering spirit. Her father, Carl Christian Amussen, a successful early watchmaker and jeweler in Utah, died when she was only a year old. Expressing her devotion to her mother who reared her, she professed, "I'll never leave you." But her mother, Barbara McIsaac Smith Amussen, reminded young Flora that marriage and motherhood would lead to the highest degree of glory in the celestial kingdom. "Then, if I must marry, I want to marry a poor man materially, who is rich spiritually," she decided. "We will get what we get together. I would like to marry a farmer who recognizes his dependence on the Lord."
Young Ezra Taft Benson, a farm boy from Idaho, fit the bill. Before their marriage, she gave to her mother a substantial portion of stocks and dividends she had inherited, thereby divesting herself of her worldly goods. She retained the better part - the choice qualities of love, loyalty and devotion. Her husband, their six children, 34 grandchildren and 51 great-grandchildren were the beneficiaries.
Her obituary in Salt Lake newspapers stated: "A buoyant spirit, she was an inspiration to many as she mingled among the humble and great of the earth and gladly lifted them. Her devotion to her family was legendary, and she became a worldwide example of a homemaker who joyfully served in her divine role as wife, helpmeet, and mother."
Sister Benson is honored for what she chose to be: a wife, mother and homemaker. On national television, she said: "I've always considered my first job was to be a support to my husband and be a real companion, and he, our children and our religion have been the most important things in my life. . . . the greatest career that a woman could have is to be a real homemaker and a mother and not just a housewife. I've dedicated myself to that goal. I've given practically all of my full time to the job. . . . We feel that our children are our jewels and that a nation is no stronger than its homes. So you see, we mothers have taken upon us the world's great work, for we indeed are the builders of men."
Expressing her love for her family and the Church, she once said, "I would be willing to live in a log cabin if I could have my family and the gospel." But no log cabin was required. When her husband was selected as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture in the Cabinet of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, she found herself at the height of society in Washington, D.C., meeting with kings, queens, foreign presidents, ambassadors and others in important and influential positions.
Yet, she never lost her common touch. "There was never anything pretentious about Sister Benson," remarked one who has been close to the family over the years. "She would rather to have been at home making a lemon meringue pie for her husband than to have attended a social function. She didn't carry on much small talk. I never heard her gossip, and she did not give fake compliments. She always looked for the good in others and always found something positive to say.
"She was so optimistic and had such a positive outlook about everything that some might have thought she was naive to the way things really were. But I think she just was a woman with no guile. It was not possible for her to be devious."
In later years, after their children were grown, Sister Benson traveled the world with her husband, first as he served in the Council of the Twelve, and later when he became president of the Church. Having served a mission in the Hawaiian Islands before they married, she never let her love for missionary work wane. On their many travels together, she often discussed the gospel with fellow travelers on planes and trains and in hotel lobbies.
On their travels, people sometimes asked, "Don't you get awfully tired traveling with your husband to so many places?" Although visibly exhausted, she would reply, "Oh, we never tire in doing the work of the Lord."
No, Sister Benson never tired in doing her Heavenly Father's work. And now her work here is finished. We bid her a reluctant farewell as she moves on to a new field of endeavor.