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Ben Dillingham, outstanding community leader passes; tributes pour in

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Community leader, Ben Dillingham passed away from pancreatic cancer at his home in San Diego  Thursday, Nov. 16. Ben was noted for his iron integrity, generosity of spirit, and dedication to the city of San Diego and the LGBT community. His loss will be felt by many, and he will be remembered for having lived a varied, accomplished, and committed life.

The San Diego LGBT Community Center today released the following obituary:

Benjamin Franklin Dillingham Ill was born in Honolulu, Hawaii on May 23, 1945, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin F. Dillingham II. A fifth generation descendent of New England missionaries to the Hawaiian Islands, he attended Punahou School in Honolulu, and later St. Mark’s School in Southborough, Massachusetts. He holds the distinction of being the first sports manager ever named to the St. Mark’s School Athletic Hall of Fame.

Ben attended Harvard College, where he majored in Economics and managed teams in football, hockey and lacrosse, graduating Cum Laude in in 1967. He proudly earned six letters in athletics and was Vice President of the A. D. Club.  Ben then pursued an MBA at the Harvard Business School.

With his MBA in hand, Ben became a commissioned officer in the United States Marine Corps. He received the Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V” for his service in Vietnam. Additionally, Ben was awarded the Army Commendation Medal for his work on the XM-1 Main Battle Tank.  After serving eight years, and with the rank of Captain, he returned to civilian life in San Diego.

After several years at General Dynamics, Ben became the Chief Financial Officer for the San Diego Metropolitan Transit Development Board. Under his stewardship, the first light-rail transit system was established in San Diego. In 1986, Ben became Chief of Staff to San Diego Mayor Maureen O’Connor, and after she left office, continued to manage her affairs.

Ben shared his life with three life partners – first, Dannis Grady Whorton, then Fredrick Stann Libby, and finally, Johnny Richard Beck. Each lost his battle with AIDS. Throughout his life and through these relationships, Ben was an influential community leader, and a strong advocate of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) rights.

Ben served with distinction on many charitable Boards of Directors over the years, including San Diego AIDS Project, AIDS Foundation San Diego, San Diego Human Dignity Foundation, and Episcopal Community Services. Ben was also a member of the San Diego County Veterans Advisory Council and Chair of the County Treasury Oversight Committee.

Ben was repeatedly recognized for outstanding community service. He was the San Diego LGBT Pride Grand Marshall and Man of the Year. He also received the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Award, the José Julio Sarria International Honor, the Human Rights Award, the Crystal Torch Award from the Human Rights Campaign, the Episcopal Community Services Award for Social Justice, and the Humanitarian Award from the City of San Diego Human Relations Committee.

Ben was held in such high esteem by his community that the LGBT Veterans Wall of Honor in the San Diego LGBT Community Center was named after him, along with Bridget Wilson. There is also a Benjamin F. Dillingham III LGBT Leadership Award and the Ben F. Dillingham Community Fund.

Ben is survived by his mother, Mrs. Andrews Dillingham, his sister Mrs. Hugh Watts (Ceseli) Foster, his brother Henry Gaylord Dillingham II and his sister Mrs. Stuart Harold (Lorie) Rosenwald, treasured in­ laws, delightful nieces and nephews and their offspring, and many good friends and colleagues.

Memorial arrangements will be announced when they have been finalized.

Tributes pour in:

“Captain Benjamin Dillingham III, decorated Tank Commander, dear friend and soul mate for over 35 years, has left a limitless sadness in me. Rarely has so generous a man, or brilliant an advisor, graced the halls of civil service.  Motivated by a profound faith, principled discipline, and the love of the Marine Corps he served, Ben’s contributions to San Diego (the Trolley, the Soviet Arts Festival, LGBTQ community, and copious anonymous gifts) are dwarfed only by his humility.”
– Hon. Maureen F. O’Connor, former San Diego Mayor

“Ben was the first for San Diego. Before Christine Kehoe and before Bonnie Dumanis – there was Ben Dillingham, representing the LGBT community in the halls of power at City Hall. He was chief of staff for Maureen O’Connor. He was a pioneer, a mentor and a statesman. He was the lodestar for those of us aspiring to serve in politics. And he helped make it a reality for many of us. And years later, as I’ve ascended through the ranks of elected politics, I have always felt Ben’s presence. Every so often, I would get a note from Ben, expressing his pride in me for a particular issue – and for representing the LGBT community. He could take you to task too, but he’d always do that in person. Those notes I’ve saved over the years. I feel truly fortunate to have had that kind of relationship and thoughtful attention from a gentleman and a master. Godspeed, Benjamin F. Dillingham, III!”
– Hon. Toni G. Atkins, California State Senator

“Ben was truly one of a kind – a dedicated, principled and driven man whose tireless work ethic was unmatched, and whose generosity to our community and loyalty to friends were endless and unwavering. He will be sorely missed.” 
– Hon. Ron Roberts, San Diego County Board of Supervisors

“When I was a new staffer at City Hall in 1989, knowing Ben was Mayor O’Connor’s openly gay chief of staff was a beacon for me and many others. He was a role model. Ben never lost his Marine bearing, no matter what controversy swept through his office – right outside the mayor’s door. As the years went by, I knew Ben was a quiet, generous and vital supporter of many LGBT organizations. He was compassionate and tireless. With Gloria Johnson, Bill Beck, Mell Merrill, and now Ben, we are losing leaders who paved the way for the proud San Diego LGBT community we know today.”
– Hon. Christine Kehoe, former California State Senator

“Benjamin F. Dillingham was a giant, a fierce force for justice and all that is fair and right. For more than three decades he has stood, ramrod straight, never wavering, as the LGBT community’s symbol of grace, dignity, courage and integrity. He was the epitome of an officer and a gentleman. Whether with private notes of encouragement to community members, or with powerful, incisive and insistent truths spoken to power, he has been the community’s courageous champion for justice, for truth, and for dignity. As he passes from us, we cannot help but stand and salute his extraordinary lifetime of service. Even in our grief we can hear his quiet, encouraging yet insistent voice reminding us, as he has so often, to ‘Soldier on. The battle is not yet won.’ We will Ben, remembering all you have taught us. Rest easy my friend.”
– Dr. Delores A. Jacobs, San Diego LGBT Community Center Chief Executive Officer

“Ben Dillingham was a faithful member of MCC San Diego for over 30 years. He loved and worshiped God in his own quiet way. In life’s joys and challenges, he drew strength from this spiritual relationship.  I was honored to be his pastor for the past 10 years. He had a special love for music and donated the piano his lover, Freddie, played during worship services.

“Ben and I met monthly for almost 10 years. It was my honor to glean from his rich wisdom and experiences in life. We thoroughly enjoyed our Tuesday get-togethers. I loved his humor, sly smile and hearty laugh. In all of his many accomplishments, Ben remained humble and unassuming. He was generous in his praise and gave credit where credit was due. Ben was also generous with his resources. He deeply loved our community and generously supported more people and organizations than we will ever know. I believe his reward in heaven will be great, as he is welcomed with, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your reward.’”
– Rev. Dan Koeshall, Metropolitan Community Church San Diego Pastor

“Ben Dillingham was a very patriotic American, proud Marine, caring Christian, always-giving philanthropist, a major GLBT leader and true public servant, who I had the honor of being friends with for over 30 years. When the history of the San Diego GLBT community is written, Ben will go down as one of the trailblazers and heroes who was loved by all.”
– Nicole Murray Ramirez, Longtime GLBT and Latino Activist, Co-founder San Diego Pride Parade

Donations in memory of Benjamin F. Dillingham III can be sent to:
The Ben F. Dillingham III Community Fund
PO Box 34104
San Diego, CA  92163



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Posted by on Nov 17, 2017. Filed under Around the City, Breaking News, Top Highlights. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

1 Comment for “Ben Dillingham, outstanding community leader passes; tributes pour in”

  1. Dr. Alan Brown, Associate Clinical Director, LGBT Center San Diego, 1988-2000.

    Sadly I cannot even remember the first time I met Ben. Most likely it was at an event associated to The LGBTQ Center, in the late 1980’s, when I was Associate Clinical Director there. Ben and I worked on many projects together, as we battled for the healthcare and dignity of our community through the worst years of the AIDS crisis. Over 30 years of dedication to our Community which I was privledged to be a part of with this amazing man. He always put others first. He always watched out for the vulnerable and easily hurt. Our phone calls, his hugs and encouragement, our Christmas cards and greetings, these will be greatly missed. This is a tragic loss to Alm who were lucky enough to know him, and to our Community in a time when we are under siege again. God Speed dear Ben.

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