CITYWIDE— Mark Benjamin, CEO of Morley Builders, was praised by friends and peers for his contributions to the city and his strong character.
Benjamin was killed in a jet crash at Santa Monica Airport, along with his son Luke, and two women who have yet to be identified.
Morley Builders constructed iconic city buildings like the Main Library and the Shore Hotel, and also the Douglas DC-3 Spirit of Santa Monica Memorial, a project overseen by Benjamin and erected outside of the airport where he died.
“Mark would not normally build a project that small, but him being a pilot, Mark really invested a lot with his company, his employees, everything,” said architect Kris Andresen. “As a friend, I felt like he did a favor for me in doing that project. Mark put it on a crane, and lifted it up, and put it on a column.”
Benjamin was good to Santa Monica, said Andresen, who designed the Santa Monica History Museum, to which Morley donated $250,000.
“Someone in his position, it wasn’t necessary for him to sponsor baseball teams, but he’d work with every nonprofit in the city,” she said.
Donna Gentry, who was on the Human Relations Council board with Benjamin, said it is hard to talk about him without sounding trite.
“You can’t talk about him in a few words,” she said. “He had so many amazing qualities, and you know everyone is going to use the same ones, but it’s so true.”
She called him accessible and generous. Gentry was with Benjamin last Thursday, and he brought up SuperBowl-A-Thon, an annual fundraiser for the Westside Shelter and Hunger Coalition.
“He was always getting in there and just bowling a few and buying beer for all of his teams,” she said. “He’s just down to earth, accessible, and fun. Multi-million dollar company, but you wouldn’t know that if you knew him day-to-day.”
Judi Barker, CEO of Barker Hangar at the airport, said that Benjamin’s handshake was as good as a contract. She also worked with him on the DC-3 Memorial.
“There were daily problems, and he would come up with a solution very calmly,” she said, laughing. “We were all freaking out. He would get it done.”
Barker once gave Benjamin a golf umbrella, but did not expect him to be so appreciative.
“He was like, ‘thank you so much!’” she said. “He’s got a plane and two beautiful homes. He was always giving money to everyone and everything, and he was so happy over an umbrella.”
Former Mayor Nat Trives called Benjamin a “giant” but also “just a guy.”
“He was down-to-earth. He wasn’t a chest-pounding ecologist, but everything he did represented the fact that he wanted to put the best materials into his buildings that [were] good for ecology,” he said. “He had respect for the outdoors.”
Laurel Rosen, president of the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce, said Benjamin was a rare person.
“Mark’s presence in the community has so many different layers in it,” she said. “It impacted the landscape of Santa Monica. He cared about this community. He loved flying, and loved his family, and he loved life.”