The first time I saw Ben was in the band room of Jefferson Junior High School, where we being held prisoner by band teacher/master terrorist Alice Lyman. I was a voluntary prisoner, since I could always quit band, but I believed then is suffering for art. Ben was still an elementary school student, but something of a prodigy. Word of his talent reached Miss Lyman, and she recruited him for the Jefferson Band. So Ben was allowed to walk from Pine Valley School to Jefferson for Band Practice. Ben quickly became a favorite with Miss Lyman, and in my eyes a teacher's pet.
Miss Lyman would ask Ben to perform a passage from the score the band was practicing, as an example of how to do it right. "Show the how to play that Benny," she would say. And then he would play it for us. Miss Lyman would smile and then return to her terrorist teacher mode.
A dozen years later, I got to know Ben's mother, Anna Kate. Ben was in Texas then. He had graduated from Rice University with a BS in physics, and had gotten married. He was still in Houston as I recall, teaching school, and doing volunteer work for the local Pacifica Radio station. Later Ben's wife Fran finished her PhD in English and promptly went to the dogs. The University of Georgia Bulldogs that is. Ben, who was doing technical translation from German into English tagged along, and the two took up long term residency in the college town of Athens, Georgia.
There was no Pacifica radio station in Athens, but Ben found a new niche in the Town and Gown, a Community theater. Ben occasionally acted or directed, but more often he built sets, and he taught a generation of theater struck University of Georgia students how to build them. Fran whose scholarly interests included theater, sometimes directed .
Ben loved the people he worked with in the theater, and they loved him. Ben's mother became a widow, and eventually she befriended my parents. After my mother died, I encouraged my then 92 year old father to date her, but Anna Kate brought a gleam into Daddy's eyes and in September 2004 Daddy married her. With that the once hated Ben became my step-brother. By then I was prepared to like Ben, and I did. Ben and I were natural brothers. We had similar values. We chatted occasionally, sometimes on line. Facebook gave me another way to keep up with him.
Saturday my brother David sent me an email. He had been browsing the Internet, and had come across a story that Ben had just been murdered in Athens. It was true. The community theater group Ben was in was having a picnic, and a woman who was one of Ben's friends was having a quarrel with her ex-husband, a University of Georgia Professor. He left the picnic, but presently returned armed with two guns, and with the intent to kill his ex-wife. Ben attempted to protect his friend, and for his trouble he got shot, several times it would seem. I have not talked to Ben's wife Fran, but I have the impression that she witnessed Ben's murder. It would appear that a lot of people did.
Such a senseless death. I will miss Ben. I will miss his gentleness and kindness. Of course Miss Lyman made Ben play for the band because he was better than the rest of it. But Ben was modest, and never bragged about it. That was not Ben's way. Such a tragedy. I am selfish enough to wish that Ben would have been a coward yesterday.