A Man for all Seasons
I moved to Montecito because of a house.
I was living in Malibu and looking for a new start. On a visit to Montecito, I saw this charming little gardener’s cottage that had been part of a large estate. A friend owned the cottage and wanted to sell it, and I fell in love with it. It was a tiny house with a wonderful patio and a gorgeous lawn dipping down into a fabulous arbor dripping with flowers, and ending up at a purple flowered tennis court. There was only one problem. Being new in town, I knew no one who may have joined me to play on that court.
That’s where Bill Benjamin comes in. I went to the tennis shop on Coast Village Road and asked if they could find me some players. I told them I was a B player (really a B-minus) and my then boyfriend, now husband, was a B-plus (that part was true) – and they sent me Bill, Peter Murphy, and Sharol Siemens. All three became lifelong friends. We had years where we played tennis all weekend and then Bill, Bob, and Peter would start cooking giant tri-tips, chickens, or ribs. It was glorious. The Tennis Mafia was born at our house.
But enough of this; let’s get into Bill’s story.
Bill was born in Providence, Kentucky, in 1925. He was raised with some practical skills but also a love of reading, merchandising, and folk dancing.
At the age of 18, Bill joined the Army and was placed in training at Fort Benning Georgia as a communications specialist. He was called overseas and joined the 242 Infantry Regiment, where he fought against Germany. In April 1945, in a battle near Mundling, Germany, Benjamin earned the Bronze Star for “meritorious action” while serving as a forward scout for his unit. In July of that same year, he was dispatched to Vienna, Austria, where he was promoted to staff sergeant.
After the Army came the University of Kentucky, but he remained in the reserve as a second lieutenant. He graduated with a B.A. in English and journalism. While temporarily employed by Reynolds Metal Company, He was recalled to active duty during the Korean War. He served two years in Stuttgart, Germany, as editor of the 7th Army Journal, the U.S. Army newspaper in Europe.
His path was set.
While passing through New York on his way home, he ran into Curtis Benjamin, his uncle, who was then president of the McGraw Hill Book Company. His uncle persuaded Bill to join McGraw, which he did as a sales representative covering the U.S. northwest colleges and universities. He was given three years of editorial training and was then promoted to science editor in New York City and worked in the college department .
Soon after, Bill launched his own publishing company: WA Benjamin Publishing Inc. His new wife, San Francisco native Orly Noltze, not only assisted him materially in this new venture but gave him two of his greatest gifts: his children Malcolm and Michele.
Benjamin’s book venture was successful, and he eventually sold his interests to Pearson in 1971. It was time for Bill to live his dream , which he did. He moved to France, where he stayed for eight years. Bill came home, fluent in French, with a love and appreciation of French food and a thirst for travel that has not yet been quenched.
Returning to the U.S., Bill started immediately on a long line of entrepreneurial ventures, the most successful of which – First Call (investment Banking Research) – was acquired by Thompson Reuters and was recently valued at $450 million.
To say he has been and is a success is an understatement, but what is really outstanding about Bill is his curiosity about everything. He continues to play tennis (men’s doubles) three days a week, travels to Europe for at least six weeks a year, starts new businesses, reads everything, and is quite a ladies’ man (I think it’s because he can still drive at night).
He enjoys life in every way, which means finding new and interesting places to eat. That’s his pleasure. We know, because we have traveled with him to his beloved France several times. He continues to amaze us with his knowledge of the country and his boundless energy.
We all want to be Bill when we grow up. Did I mention that this friend of ours is going to be 93 this November?
Well, he is.
Bill’s advice concerning aging: 1) Ignore aging; 2) stay busy; and 3) keep looking for your next blonde travel companion!