File Photo J.W. Benefield stands in the lobby of the new Benefield Elementary with a portrait hanging of himself.
LAWRENCEVILLE — Fair Manager Dale Thurman remembers friend and coworker J.W. Benefield as the kind of man “who could relate to anybody...Whether it was people in their coat and ties or folks out there digging the ditches.”
Benefield worked with Thurman for many years as a board member for the Gwinnett County Fair Association.
Thurman reminisced Friday that the late Benefield “worked well with everybody. He is a man who will be missed by many.”
Funeral services are scheduled for 3 p.m. Sunday at Bethesda United Methodist Church in Lawrenceville for Benefield, 86, who died at his home Friday after a long-term battle with dementia. Visitation is scheduled for 2 to 5 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday at Wages and Sons Gwinnett Chapel.
Friends of Benefield remember him as a man devoted to his work as a school official, as a public servant and as an avid promoter of his native county.
Among other endeavors, Benefield will be remembered for his work in the field of education.
He served as the Gwinnett County Schools superintendent from 1967-77. He was named Outstanding Superintendent of 1977 by the Georgia Association of Education Leadership.
Current Gwinnett County Schools Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said he’ll remember his friend and fellow educator as “a prince among men.”
“He will be sorely missed by me, personally, and by the school system,” Wilbanks said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this sad time and we would like to thank them for sharing him with us.”
Louise Radloff, who served on the school board during Benefield’s tenure, said Benefield “was a man of integrity and a man of faith.”
“He was a gentleman, and he had a lot of deep roots in Gwinnett County,” Radloff added.
She said that his tenure as superintendent in the late 60s ran parallel with societal changes like desegregation and the integration of students of all races into schools all over the county.
“He also saw the beginning of the growth in this county,” Radloff said. “He led during times of great change.”
Benefield began his 26-year career in education in 1950 as an agriculture teacher at Bethesda High School and Central Gwinnett High School.
His name was memorialized in 1982 with the dedication of Benefield Elementary School, which was located at 970 McElvaney Lane in Lawrenceville.
The facility opened originally to relieve growth in the areas served by Lawrenceville Elementary, Gwin Oaks, Dyer, Bethesda and B.B. Harris elementary schools. In 2008, the school relocated to Old Norcross Road to meet growth needs needs.
Wilbanks said Benefield “served this county well as superintendent but he also did much outside of that role.”
Other roles included his service on the board of directors for the Gwinnett County Fair Association. He spent more than a decade working to promote the fair as chief executive officer and treasurer.
Thurman said he can think of few others who worked harder “to make the fair a success. He was here every day to see what was going on and offer his guidance. He deserves a lot of credit for making the fair what it is today.”
Those who worked with him in his role as a board member of the Gwinnett Convention and Visitors Bureau offered similar insights.
“He worked hard for the community, and he asked for nothing back,” said Jim Maran, president and CEO of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce. “He was a real decent guy that everybody really liked, and he was a great leader in our community.”
Benefield served as a board member of the Gwinnett Convention and Visitors Bureau from 1987-2011. He was named Citizen of the Year by the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce in 1980 and was elected as the chamber president in 1984.
In addition, he was a member of the Lawrenceville Rotary Club, served on the Gwinnett Tech Foundation, was a trustee at Georgia Gwinnett College and was involved with the American Red Cross, Boy Scouts of America and the Kiwanis Club.
In addition to his wife of 62 years, Sara, he is survived by daughters, Susan Cooper of Lawrenceville and Ann Davis of Dacula; and grandson, Justin Davis of Dacula.
Daughter Susan Cooper said her father was “a very good person. He loved people, and people loved him.”
Thurman agreed that Benefield was “quite a man. Everybody who knew him knew he was strong. He was always leading the pack.”