Edmund Benji Benjamin Retires
Story posted March 15, 1999
March 19, 1999, BRUNSWICK, Maine -- If you tell someone that Edmund Benjamin has retired from Bowdoin, you may not get much of a reaction, but if you mention that Benji has left, you'll find many disappointed people.
Benji, as everyone calls him, retired recently after 25 years at Bowdoin. He began working for President Roger Howell Jr., became a patrol officer, then served for years as a security officer at the Museum of Art. Benji is leaving behind many who will miss him, and you don't have to look far to find someone to speak at length about how much they like him.
"He's probably the most friendly, giving person that I've ever met," says Louann Dustin-Hunter, program coordinator for the security department. She met Benji when he was working part time at the Stowe House. He suggested she apply for a job in Bowdoin's security office.
In 1963 Benji came to Brunswick from Grenada, where he had served in the British Army and worked as a Customs security officer. He remains an Anglophile and converses in British phrases spoken with the lilt of the Caribbean Islands. He seasons his speech with quotes from Shakespeare and Winston Churchill.
After mentioning his warmth, people mention his manners when commenting about Benji. He has a code of etiquette born of his military background and exposure to British culture. He opens doors for ladies (not women, he says, ladies) and stands when they enter a room. He insists on treating everyone, men and women, young and old, with respect. Part of his charm, Dustin-Hunter says, is that he treats everyone with the same warmth.
Something else most people know about Benji is that he loves to sing, and he is not shy about performing.
"If he thinks the timing is right and the spirit is right, he'll say, 'I'm going to sing a song,'" Dustin-Hunter said. The highlight of the Security Department Christmas parties was his singing, she said.
He will also talk at length about poetry and song and the importance of making an audience feel what you feel.
"Singing is like telling a story," he says. Whenever you sing or even speak, you should have people leaning forward in their seats wanting to hear more.
Despite his passion for all things British, Benji has enjoyed living in the United States. He appreciates especially the opportunities available for Americans and foreigners alike and wishes American students took greater advantage of them.
It's not easy for him to say what he likes best about America. "The trouble is, I don't dislike anything about it," he says. What he will miss most about Bowdoin is one of the things he liked best about his job at the Museum of Art -the people he has met.
He has been a good ambassador for the school, says Suzanne Bergeron, assistant director for operations at the Museum. He is welcoming and friendly to all of the 22,000-28,000 people who come through the museum each year. They all meet him, and they all remember him. Benji was devoted to the College and the Museum.
"He took his job as a security officer very seriously," Bergeron says. He would examine the paintings each day, and he always noticed when something was out of place. That's what is needed in a museum security officer, she says.
"You keep an eye on every little thing," Benji says of working in security at an Art Museum.
In addition to looking after the art work, he also kept track of people walking inside the museum. Children need to treat a museum as though it were a church, he says. If a child were getting rowdy, Benji might clear his throat loudly and shake his head no, once he had the child's attention. He also kept an eye out for elderly people who might slip on the stairs and warned them to watch their step.
Benji says he particularly enjoyed openings, because it showed devotion and support for the museum.
"Grenada may have my roots, but Bowdoin has the whole tree trunk," he says.
Many at Bowdoin feel as fondly about Benji as he does about the College.
"I think almost everyone on campus knows Benji," Bergeron said. Alumni and former staff look for him when they return to campus for a visit. "They come back and say, 'Where's Benji' instead of 'Where are the paintings.'"
Benji leaves this month to return to his family and friends in Grenada.
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