It is with deep sadness and amazement that we announce the passing of our incredible mother, Barbara Amussen Benson Walker on March 26, 2020. We thought and hoped that she would live forever through sheer, cheerful force of will. Mom passed away peacefully at her daughter Heather and Dr. Paul R. Sandstrom’s home in Mesa, AZ surrounded by her loved ones singing her into the heavenly choir at the age of 85. She was joyfully greeted as she passed through the veil of mortality by her beloved husband, the late Dr. Robert H. Walker (Bob), her parents and loved ones.
Barbara will never be forgotten by her posterity: her five “perfect” children, Flora (Larry) Spackman of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, Heather (Paul) Sandstrom of Mesa, Arizona, Laurel (David) Udall of Lindon, Utah, Robert (Joni) Walker of Honolulu, Hawaii and Bountiful, Utah, and Holly (Karl) Tilleman of Phoenix, Arizona. She and Bob are blessed with 25 “Awesome Blossom” grandchildren: Beth (Stuart) Thompson, Mary Anne (Nelson) Kroeker, Sara (Dustin) Johnson, Holly (David) Melchin, Grant (Chelsa) Spackman, Erica (Alan) Soelberg, Ryan (Karen) Sandstrom, Alexis (BJ) Gremillion, Walker (Lauren) Sandstrom, Ashlyn (Brady) Fenn, Barbara Jo (Garrett) Hatch, Christine (Rock) Hull, Robert (Brian) Matheny, Rachel (Jon) Hughes, Janelle (Kyle) Palmer, Louisa (Hayden) Clasby, Derek (Amanda) Walker, Justin (Tatum) Walker, McKenna (Austin) Bush, Jacob Walker, Karl B. (Jessica) Tilleman, Daniel (Becca) Tilleman, Mary (Brandon) Caywood, Michael (Julie) Tilleman and Sarah Tilleman. Barbara adored each and every one of their 52 brilliant great-grandchildren (with four more percolating in utero) and while Barbara would love to have each one named, it will take up far too much room. She is also survived by her three beloved sisters, Beverly Parker, Bonnie (Lowell) Madsen, Beth (David) Burton, and sister-in-law, May Benson.
She was predeceased by her devoted and brilliant husband, her adored parents, her protective and loving older brothers, Reed and Mark Benson, sister-in-law, Lela Benson, and brother-in-law, James Parker.
Barbara was born June 20, 1934, the eldest daughter of President Ezra Taft and Flora Benson, the third of six children.
Barbara was born in Boise, ID when her father was working for the State of Idaho as an agricultural county agent. When Barbara was four years old, the Benson family moved to Washington, DC. (for the first time.) In 1943, her father was called to be an Apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This necessitated the family’s move to Salt Lake City, Utah where Mom resided until her marriage. Mom’s childhood was spent in an idyllic family. Growing up with siblings Reed, Mark, Beverly, Bonnie and Beth, their home was filled with love, learning, laughter and lullabies.
Barbara graduated from East High School in Salt Lake City where she served as President of the East High School Associated Girls Association and the Seminary Student body Vice-President. She attended the University of Utah for one year where she served as the freshman class Vice President. When her parents moved back to Washington, DC for her Dad to serve in US President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s cabinet as Secretary of Agriculture, it was decided (not by Mom!) that she needed to attend BYU. After much “discussion”, Mom acquiesced and left the U of U for BYU. She ended up loving her three years at BYU where she studied Home Economics. She was voted “friendliest girl on campus” (WHAT?!!!! Of course!!!) and she dazzled as the BYU Homecoming Queen in 1954. She worked at Deseret Book during the summer months. She later served on the National BYU Alumni Board.
Barbara was unforgettable! Her personality was bigger than life; she literally filled every room! She had a joyful, commanding presence and a megawatt smile adorned with bright red lipstick which she was eager to share on unsuspecting cheeks! She was the most fun, upbeat, optimistic, encouraging, generous, positive and grateful person – ever! She could find the good in any situation. Mom’s vehicle of choice was a convertible which she drove with panache and style – even in the middle of harsh Canadian winters, with kids piled in the back seat covered in blankets! As a powerful force of nature, she used her talents for awesome! One granddaughter called her a “human Disneyland!” Her enthusiastic personality made her the consummate hostess, as generous with her hospitality as she was with her talents. She loved Christmas with all her heart and decorated her homes to the max. The Walker home was open for any meeting, fireside, and party, complete with delicious refreshments. She was friends with everyone she met. She loved the quote: “Blessed are they who have the gift of making friends; the power of going out of one’s self and appreciating whatever is noble and loving in another.” (Thomas Hughes 1822-1896) As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said recently, “Everyone needs a dose of Barbara Walker every day!”
One can not think of Barbara Benson Walker without remembering her deep love of music and her powerful coloratura soprano voice which she most generously shared right up until the week before she passed away. She started singing lessons at the age of 13, and from then on, she trilled her way through life! The last two weeks of mortality, she was surrounded constantly by her family as they sang to her in person and through video calls – and she sang with us!
Barbara’s first calling in the church was ward chorister at the age of 8, accomplished by standing on a chair, in the Chevy Chase ward in Bethesda, Maryland. She took piano and voice lessons for many years. Her singing accomplishments were prodigious, but to name a few of the highlights: She adored quartet singing for years with her dear friends, Carma Florence, Hope Swendsen and Cathy Whitehead. She sang the soprano lead in several operas in Calgary, including The Impressario and The Merry Widow at the Jubilee Auditorium, and she soloed personally for two presidents of the United States, President Dwight D. Eisenhower and President Richard Nixon and their wives. In Barbara’s words, “A highlight of my musical life was to be requested by President Gordon B. Hinckley and President Thomas S. Monson to sing a solo at the solemn assembly at General Conference in the Tabernacle when my dearly beloved father, President Ezra Taft Benson, was sustained by the entire church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the prophet of the Lord, prophet, seer and revelator on April 6, 1986. I sang one of my dear father’s favourite, “O Divine Redeemer” by Charles Gounod, accompanied on the Tabernacle organ by Robert Cundick.” With all her musical accomplishments, Mom wrote in her personal history, “My most important role is that of wife and mother and singing lullabies to my children.” We are so grateful for the nightly lullabies she sang to us every night right before our prayers.
Mom and Dad were married in the Salt Lake City temple on 29 September 1955. They were introduced by their parents. Dad was an accomplished surgeon in Calgary. Mom was on tour – and soloing – with the BYU Madrigal Singers when the choir came to Calgary to perform. Grandpa and Grandma Benson flew to Calgary from Washington, DC and Grandma Fannye Walker drove up from Raymond, Alberta to facilitate this momentous introduction backstage. After the concert, their mothers accompanied doctor Dad on a house call. As Dad later said, “Our mothers were in the backseat planning the wedding and I was in the front seat trying to remember her name!” Mom moved to Calgary and their happy union lasted 43 years until Bob’s death in 1998, although through their temple covenants, we are deeply grateful they are sealed together for eternity.
Of all Mother’s roles and talents, the one she poured her heart and soul into was that of being an excellent mother. We children lovingly refer to her as our “divine drill sergeant.” Mom and Dad had exceptionally high standards for us in everything we did. And we did a lot. As children, besides our school work and church service, we were put in almost every lesson and activity available to children growing up in Calgary: piano, organ, swimming, diving, scuba diving, synchronized swimming, tennis, badminton, figure skating/hockey, hula dancing, ballet, Scottish dancing, art lessons, horseback riding, hiking, choir, typing, sewing, piano and vocal trios, swim team, volleyball, basketball, rugby and football. We are grateful for the hours Mom spent driving us everywhere; we had fun honing our skills (or lack thereafter) especially at The Glencoe Club. Of all the lessons, piano and organ were probably where Mom’s tenaciousness was most focused. In hindsight, we are intensely grateful for the skills we learned. Because of Mom and Dad’s intense encouragement and support, all of their children received at least one university degree. Extended family was also incredibly important to Mom and Dad and their home was always open to our sweet cousins for however long the need. Precious family relationships were made and solidified as time was spent at the Raymond and Calgary Stampede, and at their homes in Midway, Utah, Mesa, Arizona, and Waterton Lakes National Park. Dad and Mom felt strongly that Sunday dinners were a sacred family bonding time, and the decades-long tradition of Mom’s Alberta roast beef Sunday dinners were always a highlight of the week, where tummies were filled and where we all became best friends.
Mom served continually in the community and in the church. While she said she loved living in Canada, she had a ferocious love of the United States of America. The American flag was always flying – even in Canada. She recently proclaimed that her true loves were her faith, family, freedom, food, and Fox News! She lead the music in her congregation, served as ward music chairman and directed the choir for literally decades. Every music calling in the church had her name on it. In addition, she taught in Sunday School, Primary, Young Women and Relief Society and had many leadership positions on the ward and stake levels. Her lasting legacy was one of a loving, faithful and consistent Visiting Teacher. She loved the sisters she was asked to minister to, never missing a monthly visit while bearing delicious treats for 60+ years. She was a proud member of the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers and her Salt Lake Fine Arts Group. The crowning calling in her life of service was her weekly assignment in the Salt Lake City temple – for 19 years – working in the Youth Center. She loved tending and singing with the children ages newborn to 18 years old as they waited to be sealed to their parents. She has been an enthusiastic and fearless missionary her whole life! She loves the gospel of Jesus Christ and strived daily to serve others the Lord had put in her path. She was so proud of the missionary force of her children and grandchildren who have served full-time missions, including her children who have been currently serving: daughter, Laurel and Dave Udall as Public Affairs missionaries in Los Angeles, California and son, Robert and Joni Walker as Mission President and companion in the Honolulu Hawaii mission. Her missionary successes were prodigious.
Mom was a faithful and devoted wife to her sweetheart, Bob. She was incredibly supportive of Dad’s professional pursuits, including moving her growing family to Edmonton, Alberta and Cleveland, Ohio for Dad to become a cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon. We children never heard Mom complain when Dad was busy with his constant church callings, including the first Bishop of the Calgary 5th ward, President of the Calgary Stake and Regional Representative. Indeed, they served the Lord valiantly side-by-side. When Dad became ill with congestive heart failure, she nurtured him constantly during the two years preceding his death. After Dad died, she sold the beloved family home on Prospect Avenue in Calgary and moved to Salt Lake City, Utah where she lived until two years before her death. She always said she loved Canada and being close to daughter, Flora and Larry and their children, but her heart truly belonged to Utah. She thrived in Salt Lake City, surrounded by many of her progeny, siblings and friends. She loved being in close proximity to daughter, Laurel and Dave Udall, and son, Robert and Joni Walker, and their families in Utah. She spent over 20 years attending her grandchildren’s concerts, games, and graduations during her widowed years. Mom attended every grandchild’s missionary farewell, homecoming and marriage – with Dad looking down from heaven. In 2004, Bishop Bruce R. Christensen of the Salt Lake City 21st ward sent this birthday greeting to Mom: Dear Barbara, How blessed we are to have you as a member of the 21st ward. Your great gift of music lifts our spirits each Sunday. Your many selfless acts of kindness to those who need a lift show us how to serve. You are a spiritual giant and a great Church treasure. Thank you for being so thoughtful and kind to me personally. Thank you for showing us how to raise such a strong, exemplary, eternal family. I wish you the best of everything in the days ahead.” After a mild stroke in 2018, Barbara moved to Mesa, Arizona to live with her daughter, Heather, and husband, Dr. Paul R. Sandstrom.
Mom’s last two years in Arizona were “heaven on earth!” as she reminded us every day. She sang constantly for two years straight, with her daughters accompanying her, having a song for every conversation. She sang regularly in the Estate Groves ward choir with Heather. The Primary children loved her as she sat next to Heather by the piano each week, singing her heart out. One of her favourite things to do in Arizona was to attend the plays, concerts, recitals and sporting events of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She has been the ultimate cheerleader! She loved Fridays with all her heart to be with her daughter, Holly – to go together to lunch and Mom’s hair and nail appointments, and spend time with Holly and Karl’s family. There was nothing she loved better than to sing in the homes of her family members or cruise around with Heather in her convertible, singing at the top of her lungs! As a family, we are eternally indebted to Heather and Paul and their family for their never-ending and constant service to Mom, willingly done with cheerful hearts and deep love. We are so grateful for her “perfect pal,” Henrietta Moho, her devoted in-home care provider for the past two years.
A constant guiding force in Barbara’s life was her deep love of the Savior and the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. She and Dad made every effort to make sure that their family was built upon upon a “sure foundation.” Their consistency in family prayers, Family Home Evening, devotion to the Lord through their constant and diligent church service helped their children love the Lord as is evidenced by their children’s constant and energetic service in their various assignments. “The abundant life noted in the scriptures is the spiritual sum that is arrived at by the multiplying of our service to others and by investing our talents in service to God and man.” (Spencer W. Kimball) By this definition, Barbara has lived an “abundant life” to the fullest. We know she is continuing to share her friendliness, her exuberant personality, her many talents and her unfailing testimony! The heavenly choirs just gained a supernal, spectacular soprano!
“And I soon go to the place of my rest, which is with my Redeemer; for I know that in him I shall rest. And I rejoice in the day when my mortal shall put on immortality, and shall stand before him; then shall I see his face with pleasure, and he will say unto me: Come unto me, ye blessed, there is a place prepared for you in the mansions of my Father.” (Enos 1:27 from The Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ.)
Barbara’s funeral service will be broadcast on Friday, April 10 at 11:00 am (Arizona time.) Relatives and friends are invited to view Barbara’s funeral service by logging into
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International numbers available: https://us02web.zoom.us/u/kJrfJmYcM
Internment will take place in the Benson family plot in Whitney, Idaho at a later date, tentatively scheduled for 20 June 2020 (her 86th birthday) when the world is hopefully a less topsy turvy place!
A Facebook page has been set up “Remembering Barbara Walker.” We would appreciate if photos and memories can be posted of Barbara for her family.