I didn't know J.W. Benefield well, but I credit him with rekindling my interest in county fairs. I met Benefield through his work as CEO of the Gwinnett County Fair Association when he'd come to the office and promote the local fair.
He was a staunch supporter of the fair, and when we met he was persistent in what he thought were good stories that we could cover. Though those conversations helped with some ideas for our coverage, they were probably more instrumental on a personal level, reminding me of the area I came from and how things like the fair can play a nice role in a community.
His tireless work in support of the fair only hinted at some of the other major accomplishments he had in this county, well before I made my way here. But you could tell by the way Benefield handled himself in his later years that he was no stranger to hard work or to getting things done. You could tell he was a person of stature, someone who would be missed when they were gone.
Gwinnett County is missing J.W. Benefield this week. The former Gwinnett County Schools superintendent died this past Friday at his home after a long battle with dementia. On Sunday Benefield's funeral service was held, the new year starting with remembrances of a man who served this county well.
He started started his career in education in Gwinnett in 1950. Benefield spent 26 years in education, starting as an agriculture teacher at the old Bethesda High School before working his way to the top job, superintendent. He served in that role for a decade, being recognized as the state's top superintendent in 1977.
His honors are numerous, including the naming of a school in his honor -- Benefield Elementary. But those who knew him best will tell you he was much more than just a name on a building.
He was a "prince among men," said J. Alvin Wilbanks, the current GCPS superintendent. "He was a gentleman," school board member Louise Radloff said. "He was a great leader in our community," Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce CEO and president Jim Maran said, He was "a man who could relate to anybody," said Gwinnett County Fair manager Dale Thurman.
That ability to relate to people is a big reason I make an annual pilgrimage to the county fair. In truth, the Daily Post would cover the fair regardless of how persuasive and persistent Benefield was (although he certainly gave us some good ideas). I personally wouldn't necessarily have to go, but Benefield's enthusiasm rubbed off on me, which it no doubt did many times to others in Gwinnett over the years.
Losing Mr. Benefield is a sad way to start a new year. But as 2012 begins, there are no shortage of good things to remember about a guy considered "a prince among men."
Email Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost,com. His column appears on Wednesdays.