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Hamilton Alumni Review
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Alumni Necrology

James Morrow Benson, Jr. ’66

Who overcame a youthful brush with the law to carve out a  successful career in higher education, was born on September 27, 1944, in Buffalo, NY. A son of James M., an engineer and business executive, and Arlene Betz Benson, he grew up in Buffalo, where he was graduated in 1962 from the Nichols School. He entered Hamilton that year and joined the Emerson Literary Society. Thinking of a future career in medicine, he pursued premedical studies. However, at the beginning of his junior year, he and two other Hamilton students became involved in trouble with the law, as the result of thefts in which alcohol played a part, and they were separated from the College. Although the faculty committee on student discipline declined Jim Benson’s request for readmission to the College, Dean Winton Tolles, with characteristic insight and sensitivity, saw future promise in the 20-year-old, and assisted with recommendations in his gaining admission elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Jim Benson, who had been given probation by the court, worked at several jobs in the Buffalo area while attending night school at Canisius College. Having decided that he wished to do research and teach in the field of biology, he managed to obtain admission to the University of Rochester, where he did extremely well academically and was awarded his B.S. degree in 1967. He received a fellowship to pursue Ph.D. studies in cellular physiology at Brandeis University, and by the time he was awarded his doctorate in 1974, he had already begun his teaching career at the University of Maine in Bangor.

Dr. Benson taught anatomy and physiology at Maine’s Bangor campus for more than 25 years, and was in charge of the course for student nurses. Promoted to associate professor of biology, he retired in 1998. When not in the classroom or lab, he took to the water as an enthusiastic sailor. He particularly enjoyed coastal cruising on Penobscot Bay, and he and his brother participated in the memorable Operation Sail 1976 aboard the tall ship Gazela. During his retirement years he also taught sailing.

Known to family and friends for his fondness for dogs and as an expert “tinkerer” who could make or fix almost anything, Jim Benson was also known by them as radiant in personality and caring by nature. Following his retirement and move to Rockport along the Maine coast, he volunteered in the emergency department of the Penobscot Bay Medical Center as well as at the animal shelter in Thomaston.

James M. Benson, Jr. died unexpectedly at his home in Rockport on June 29, 2010. Previously married, to Nancy Hamlin in 1967, and Susan Volpe in 1988, he is survived by his mother and his brother, Richard C. Benson, as well as a nephew.
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