Fostering Homeless Animals

A ‘truth’ in animal rescue is that good foster parents are like gold – very valuable, and hard to find.

The commitment to foster homeless animals is significant. Fostering is inconvenient. It interferes with your family life and work, and complicates your vacations – sometimes forcing you to change plans. It’s a 24/7 responsibility that goes on for weeks, months, and occasionally years. Along the way, you feed them, bathe them, heal them, spay / neuter them, potty-train them, socialize them, reassure them, comfort them, play with them, love them – and then give them away (with your heart) to somebody else. You just hope that adopter will care for them as well as you did. Adoption is both wonderful and terrifying – and always heartbreaking. Afterwards, you go back to the kill shelter to find another terrified homeless animal to save, and the cycle starts again.

Fostering is hard – but it saves lives. It turns tragic stories into happy endings, and for each of those animals saved, it is EVERYTHING – life in the face of certain death. Fostering enables animal rescues to scale lifesaving. That’s why we do it.

Fostering is an incredibly selfless act of love and empathy. You allow your own heart to break over and over so that homeless animals may live long healthy happy lives with people who will love them.

Fostering homeless animals is also among the most rewarding things you will ever do in your entire life. Living your life so that homeless animals may survive, and happily live out their own lives in loving forever homes is truly fulfilling. It gives your own life higher purpose, and helps make your own life worth living. At the end of your life, it will have mattered that you were here, doing what you did.

Foster parents are true heroes. They deserve your admiration. They deserve your support and understanding. Good animal rescues treat their foster parents accordingly.

You should foster homeless animals yourself.

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Personal Thoughts On 2013

Lunchtime reflections…

The last two years have been challenging and busy – with intense highs and lows.

  • Divorced from ex-wife
  • Fell in love with and married Joanne :-)
  • Renovated house
  • My father Julian Whitfield Benson died (we were very close)
  • Honeymooned in Belize
  • Visited family & friends in England
  • Changed jobs
  • My uncle Roger Byrd died
  • Adopted Charley Beagle into our Muttly Crew
  • Had a baby girl (Athena now 8 months old) :-)
  • Sold house in East Cobb
  • Bought house in West Cobb and moved
  • Rescued / fostered dogs from local kill shelter
  • Learned about corrupt politics of animal advocacy
  • And other private things…

In 2013, I will rediscover “normal life”, and refocus on important priorities.

  • Enjoy my wife and my baby daughter (and the doggies) in our new home
  • Implement my new multi-point animal advocacy strategy (more to come)
  • Write lots of cool software
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I’m A Wanted Man

Life is absurd.

A few weeks ago, I was in a fender bender. A rude bratty teenage girl hit me when she turned left in front of me without signaling. A few minutes later, her father and the police were also on the scene. Everyone expected her to be cited, so I was shocked when the cop cited me instead for “failure to yield”. I had a court date, and I planned to show up and fight it.

Then my daughter was unexpectedly born 3 weeks early, and I forgot all about the court date, the citation, and even the bratty teenager. For the past week, I’ve had no more than 3 hours of sleep per night. I am tired. And forgetful. This morning I realized that I had missed the court date. Instead of being in court on Monday morning, I had been in the pediatrician’s office with my new daughter.

So I called the court clerk to sort things out. She told me that I could pay the fine, or come in and get a new court date. Of course, I want a new court date, and am on my way to the courthouse now to do just that. I am writing this post on my iPad in a gas station parking lot.

In the meantime, they’ve issued a bench warrant for my arrest. Yes, really. So I’m on the run, though if I were a proper criminal, it would mean I’m running the wrong way – straight into the hands of The Law. I hope they haven’t been ordered to shoot on sight, ’cause I’m a sleep-deprived grumpy new father, and I’ll put up one hell of a fight.

Just ask the rude bratty teenage girl.

Life is absurd.

Posted in Humor, Personal Life | Leave a comment

What’s Your Dog’s Life Worth To You?

I received this forwarded email message tonight, and responded directly to the original sender.  You may find my response harsh – especially if you’re not an animal lover – but the person in question had indicated a willingness to euthanize this poor dog Roz – described as “my baby, truly the best dog in the universe” – because of a planned move.  My only interests are this dog’s interests.  When you adopt a pet, it is supposed to be a lifetime commitment.

If you are willing to adopt or rescue this poor dog Roz, I will be very happy to connect you to this person.

Here’s the email I received:

We are leaving the country next week. We had a new home for our dog, but he called today and has a true family emergency and can’t take her anymore. Had I known, I would have made plans for her months ago.

I called every shelter and humane society. Same answer from all of them ‘can’t take her, too little time to place, YOU left it too late’ like we could have known this would happen. One woman said she would help if I gave her $30 a day until she found her a home and she wanted my credit card number.

My only options now are a miracle or Euthanasia.

Her name is Roz. 4 yr old lab/border collie mix, 55lb.

She was a rescue, I have had her 2 years, the foster home we got her from are no longer Fosters (old now) and don’t want her back.

She is spayed. All shots and screenings done 2 weeks ago. Microchipped. House trained, calm,

Her name is Roz. 4 yr old lab/border collie mix, 55lb.

Great guard dog, barks once to let you know someone is close or something is wrong, otherwise quiet.

Does like to chase cats, squirrels, chipmunks and deer. Probably wouldn’t know what to do if she caught one, it hasn’t happened yet.

This is my baby, truly the best dog in the universe.

Please, please help me find her a loving home.

And this was my response:

Your email was forwarded to me through a network of animal rescuers. I am an animal advocate who works on animal welfare and rescue issues throughout Georgia. I’ve talked to other good people who are in a similar situation to yours, and feel trapped by circumstances – when it feels like your pet’s best interests are in conflict with your own. I’m sure you’re a very good person – as a matter of fact, I would not take the time to write this if I didn’t sense that you are. There are too many animals to save to waste time on lost causes. So here it is: You have more choices than you think, though they’re not what you’re expecting. I’m going to offer a perspective shift which requires that I convey to you a few difficult truths.

First – the good news. Your information about the rescue that adopted Roz to you is probably wrong. Most rescues have a clause in their adoption contract that REQUIRES you to return an adopted pet to them if for any reason you can’t keep that pet. It doesn’t matter whether the original foster parent is available or not – the adopted pet must be returned to the rescue. Which rescue group did you adopt Roz from? It will be on your copy of the adoption contract.

Even so, that’s not what I would do. I would take my pets with me. Find the appropriate housing in your destination country to meet Roz’s needs – just as you would if Roz was your human daughter – and adjust your lifestyle and expectations so that Roz can remain your baby. My wife and I are citizens of different countries – I’m American and she’s British – so we understand the realities of international lifestyle and travel, and transporting a loved pet overseas is a perfectly valid option these days.

Now – the bad news. It simply doesn’t matter what has happened up to this point. You must make a choice for Roz – a choice that will say a lot about who you are as a person. The responsibility for Roz’s well-being is yours alone.

Municipal shelters are overwhelmed by hundreds of thousands of homeless pets right now – and that’s just in Georgia. Rescues and humane societies are completely overwhelmed trying to save just a tiny fraction of the homeless pets in municipal shelters.

If you dump Roz at a municipal shelter, she will almost certainly be killed. Survival rates for owner-surrendered dogs that fit Roz’s description are abysmal. Not only that, but shelter euthanasia is a truly horrible thing to behold. The dog does not die quietly or gently. Roz’s last minutes will be terrifying and painful. Nearly all shelters use a terrible device called a catch pole, and drag the terrified dog to a room that reeks of death, where they are restrained forcibly by poorly-trained staff, and injected without mercy or care with chemicals that make them defecate and urinate all over themselves as they die while choking violently against the catch pole. Often, their bones are broken as staff try to hold these terrified animals immobile for injection. It is a terrible way to die, and I thought you should know that truth about it before deciding Roz’s fate.

You can’t have it both ways – claiming your only options are a miracle or euthanasia, and then saying Roz is your baby. Human or canine, we don’t euthanize our babies, or dump them at shelters. So unless you’re willing to take Roz with you, find a great home with a loving new parent, or you adopted from a reputable rescue who will accept Roz back, you have a choice to make that will reflect your values and priorities: Is Roz’s life worth enough to you to postpone leaving the country until she is safely and permanently adopted to a loving and trustworthy new parent?

Personally, I would cancel my departure in a heartbeat – even if it meant losing my job. Our family’s pets are worth far more than any other consideration in our lives – financial, career, anything… Yes, it’s difficult, but if Roz is as important to you as your claim, then my advice is the best advice you will ever receive. I hope you make your decision in Roz’s best interests – ensuring that she has a long and happy life.

Most sincerely,
Chris Benson

Posted in Animal | 10 Comments

Tech Pivots

The world of technology development is constantly changing, and the smart technologists and smart companies are changing with it.  It’s just the way it is.  The need to constantly learn new stuff is baked into the process.  Do it or fail.

Early on, I was a Microsoft ASP / VB6 developer.  Then I went object-oriented, and evolved into an Enterprise Java developer / architect.  It was obviously the way of the future.  So I jumped, and never looked back.

Then Microsoft fought back with C# and .NET, which was just a copy of Enterprise Java.  Picked that up too, though it was more of a lateral move than a progression.

Then Flash & Flex via ActionScript 3, though I didn’t go as deep into that as Java and C#.

Now they’re (mostly) all dead.

Future Microsoft products will not be based on .NET and C#.  Windows 8 apps will be based on HTML5 and JavaScript.

Adobe is abandoning Flash & Flex, recognizing that HTML5 and JavaScript will dominate mobile browsers in the same way Flash dominated desktop browsers.

Java is the exception for several reasons, but it’s market position is evolving too.  It’s the language of the mobile Android platform – the mostly widely distributed smartphone and tablet operating system in the world.  It also remains one of the preferred languages for extremely high-performance server requirements, which makes up for some of its shortcomings against more modern dynamic languages like Ruby and Python.

Finally, the archaic Objective C language remains healthy because it’s the language of Apple’s iOS – the operating system of the iPhone & iPad.  I am hoping that MacRuby will soon offer a viable alternative though, since Apple already includes it natively in iOS (though it’s not accessible yet to developers).

So what’s the point I’m making?  Well, it’s this…

If you’re still developing in Adobe Flash & Flex, Microsoft .NET, or Enterprise Java, then you’re working on legacy platforms which are dying.  Time to change things up.

Java developers need to focus on Android.  That’s an easy switch-over.  Alternatively, go to Ruby – which is a beautiful and highly-productive dynamic language which is becoming very popular.  Or Scala.  Or Python.

Adobe Flash & Flex developers AND Microsoft .NET developers need to switch to HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript / JQuery.

No, let me rephrase that… EVERYBODY who is going to develop a front-end that isn’t a native mobile app needs to switch to HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript / JQuery.

Finally there’s ugly Objective C for iOS (iPhone & iPad).  I use it.  I hate it.  But it’s the mighty leader in mobile app development, so I’ll just have to deal with it.  If you want to do iPhone & iPad, do it.  (At least until MacRuby becomes viable on iOS.)

In fairness, I’ll note that JavaScript is also an ugly language, though an extremely capable one.  It is the assembly language of the Internet though, so once again all developers should know it, whether they’re front-end or server-side developers (Node.js).  Many advanced JavaScripters are migrating to CoffeeScript, which is based on Ruby and Python, and which compiles into JavaScript for execution.

In summary, going forward…

GOOD: Ruby / Rails, HTML5, JQuery, CoffeeScript, SASS

NOT GOOD, BUT NECESSARY: JavaScript, CSS3, Objective C, Java (for Android)

BAD: C# / Microsoft .NET, Adobe Flash & Flex / ActionScript 3, Enterprise Java



Posted in Apple iOS, Entrepreneurship, HTML5 & JavaScript, Ruby & Rails, Science & Technology, Strategy | 4 Comments

We’re having a baby!

This is Baby Benson. Jo and I learned she was pregnant on the evening of Thursday, October 6, 2011. She is 13 weeks into the pregnancy, and is completing the 1st trimester.

We learned of Jo’s pregnancy the very evening her father Terry flew in from England to visit. I had never met him before, and was able to greet my new father-in-law with news that he would soon be a grandfather for the first time. He was a happy man. I think he likes me. :-)

My own father Whit would pass away a mere 33½ hours after finding out that he would soon have another grandchild. It was his last ‘moment of significance’ before he died, and he expressed his profound happiness during those very special final hours. Though it’s an irrational belief, in my mind and heart there is a profound link between our unborn baby and my departed father, whom I loved dearly and miss terribly. I am so happy that he knew about our baby before he passed away.

The grandmothers are thrilled – my mother Gale (Grandmama), Jo’s mother Andrea (Nanny Bullen), and Jo’s step-mother Barbara (Nanny Hiley). We’ve got baby-sitters on both sides of The Pond.

I have a beautiful brilliant wife, and a wonderful life. And now we have our baby. Happiness.

Posted in Personal Life | 2 Comments

LivingSocial Deal To Kill

I’ve been a member of LivingSocial for over a year, and have purchased 5 deals from them during that time.

I particularly liked them because they built their business on my preferred development platform – Ruby on Rails – just like innovators Twitter and Groupon.  I’m a Ruby on Rails developer, so I had classified LivingSocial in the cool kids category.

Earlier this year, I listened to National Public Radio (NPR) with rapt attention as LivingSocial CEO Tim O’Shaughnessy told NPR’s Morning Edition co-host Steve Inskeep that now, the challenge is to manage LivingSocial’s growth without losing its focus.

No more.  I’m ditching LivingSocial and sticking with Groupon. Why, you ask???

Losing focus is the least of LivingSocial‘s worries.  They’ve lost their corporate conscience.

On Thursday, October 27, 2011, I was stunned to open my email and discover LivingSocial’s daily deal:

Full-Day Deer-Hunting Expedition with Guide, Lunch, and Transportation

“Of all of man’s vices, none is more relaxing then grabbing a gun, going out with an old friend, and firing off a few rounds. Get ready to lock and load with today’s deal from <redacted>. Shell out $359 to be the second in command as a guide leads you on a full-day deer-hunting expedition with gun rental and ammunition included (a $849 value). Situated on 4,500 rolling acres just an hour outside Atlanta in <redacted> will set sportsmen up with field transportation, lunch, and the chance to take down an eight-point buck. Steady your aim and pull the trigger on these 58%-off savings to spend a day at one of Georgia’s finest hunting outfitters.”

The principle of corporate social responsibility is important to me.  I will not be a customer of – or do business with – a company that has no corporate conscience.  LivingSocial promoting the slaughter of innocent animals is a bad thing.

32 people purchased that deal to kill deer – offered and promoted by LivingSocial.  That’s 32 heartless assholes who were sufficiently turned on by LivingSocial‘s macho bullshit ad to “lock and load” and “steady your aim and pull the trigger” to purchase the deal.  That’s 32 chances to slaughter a scared wild animal that just wants to be left alone to live its life.  That’s 32 times that a poor deer will likely experience terror, excruciating pain and death.

LivingSocial, don’t tell me you didn’t write the ad. I don’t care.  And don’t tell me that you don’t discriminate between types of deals.  Just because deer-hunting is legal, doesn’t mean it’s acceptable – or is a practice you should want the LivingSocial brand associated with. You promoted and sold the deal with your brand’s massive reach, so your brand now owns it.

To me, the LivingSocial brand used to represent innovative marketing and cool technology.

Now the LivingSocial brand represents killing innocent animals for fun.

When I think LivingSocial, I associate words like horrible, disgusting, shameful, and cruel.

LivingSocial, you obviously have no corporate conscience, so I won’t be your customer any more.  Cancel my membership, and don’t send me any more deals.

If anyone else out there would like to tell  what they think, here are the email addresses of LivingSocial’s senior management team:

Tim O'Shaughnessy
CEO and Co-Founder

Val Aleksenko
CIO and Co-founder

Aaron Batalion
CTO and Co-Founder

Eddie Frederick
President and Co-Founder

Eric Eichmann
Chief Operating Officer

Steve Case
investor (AOL co-founder)


Posted in Adventure & Outdoors, Animal, Animal Protection, Ruby & Rails | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Hey Kids! Learn To Program!

Programming is creative expression. It enables you to communicate your ideas to others – giving those ideas life by wrapping them into a digital user experience that can be tried and shared.

Programming endows your creativity with value. An idea by itself is worthless, as any seed-stage venture capitalist will tell you (the people who specialize in investing in ideas). But if you express your idea through a usable app, and you’ve just created something from nothing. That’s value creation – and potentially wealth creation, if enough people agree that it’s useful.

So learning to program doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to be a professional programmer. You may just be trying to express yourself – to share your great ideas with the rest of us. Your day job or school studies may have nothing to do with technology.

Or maybe you want to be an entrepreneur.  Unless your startup idea requires no digital component (very rare these days), you’ll need tech skills – for marketing, for distribution, for services, for something.  The first thing non-technical entrepreneurs often must do these days is to find technical partners that can actually execute that great idea.

And there’s never been a better time to learn how to program.  There are so many resources online to teach yourself with – instructional websites, YouTube videos, ebooks, etc.  Whether it’s iOS 5 (iPhone/iPad), Android, HTML5 & JavaScript, Ruby on Rails, PHP, Python, Java, or C# (and many many more), there are an enormous number of choices available to you at little or no cost.
Recently, I’ve chosen to focus on HTML5/JavaScript, iOS 5 (iPhone/iPad), and Ruby on Rails – but that doesn’t mean there are right for you.  Pick whatever suits you.  If you have no idea where to start, then it’ll be hard to go wrong with HTML5 and JavaScript in the years to come.

Posted in Apple iOS, HTML5 & JavaScript, Ruby & Rails | 1 Comment

Foursquare Addiction – 3 Steps To Recovery

I am a recovering Foursquare addict.  For a couple of years, I “checked in” everywhere I went, attempting to become Mayor of each new location, or defending my own existing Mayorships.  It was a game – much like a video game – but expressed through social networking instead. The recovery process took months, and though it didn’t require 12 steps, it did require three.

First, I had to decide that I wasn’t going to check into EVERY SINGLE LOCATION – only the high value locations.  What’s a high value location?  Locations that are significant (subjective, I know) and desirable (objectively determined by ongoing active competition for the Mayorship).

Second, I decided that I’d only rarely check into new significant locations, and only defend a handful of my existing Mayorships.

Finally, I decided to quit competing for Mayorships altogether.  I just check into significant locations that I’d want to share with my friends on Facebook and Twitter.  I probably only do that about once a week now.

As I venture forth, I no longer feel pressure to whip out my iPhone, and plant my Foursquare flag onto new shores.  I’m the wandering gypsy, rather than the campaigning conqueror.  And I feel much better now.

Posted in Humor, Social Media | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Whit Benson

This is the speech / eulogy I gave one week ago today in honor of my father Whit Benson at his memorial service on Wednesday, October 12, 2011.  He had died a few days earlier on Saturday, October 8, 2011.  Large parts of it are based on the article I had previously written about him for the newsletter of the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club.

My father Julian Whitfield Benson – known to his family and friends as Whit, Dad, or Grandpa – lost his long battle with pulmonary fibrosis early Saturday morning – a few months shy of his 80th birthday. It was a terrible illness that slowly stole the breath from his body, and forced him to endure 7 years of suffering.

And yet even as he journeyed slowly towards his own fate, Whit Benson and those closest to him were graced with a gift that few families are ever privileged with. He knew that he was dying. We knew that he was dying. I had 7 years to get to know my father in a far deeper way than most sons ever know their father. After he was diagnosed, we spent thousands of hours together, and I estimate that we enjoyed well over 500 walks together. We walked until he could no longer walk, and we talked until his very last day on this earth. Dad taught me how to be a man of integrity, and he instilled in me a love for nature so strong that it can never be broken.

It was miraculous that either of us lived to enjoy such a close relationship. We nearly died together in the summer of 1993 when Dad and I went on an overnight backpacking trip to Cumberland Island, the southern-most island off the Georgia coast. After a day of hiking along the beach, we decided to go swimming before turning inland to find a campsite.

Being a very strong and fit triathlete, I didn’t think twice about the strong rip currents, and played joyfully among them as they swept me to and fro near the beach. I was a 22 year old kid who wasn’t thinking about consequences. My father – so strong in many other ways – was not a strong swimmer, and he entered the water unaware of the dangers therein.

Moments later, I looked around and was unable to see my Dad in the deep surf. When I finally spotted him about 50 feet away, he was in the clutches of a rip current that was pulling him out to sea. My father was drowning.

With a burst of speed, I swam to him, and when I reached him, he was terrified and tried to climb on top of my body. As he pushed me under, I grabbed his hips and swiveled his body, coming up behind him with my arm around his neck – holding his head out of the water. I yelled into his ears, “Dad stop! I’ve got you! Stop! I’ve got you!” To my amazement, he stopped fighting and placed his life in my hands. I yelled “Kick! Kick! Kick!”, and still holding him, began side-stroking as hard as I could towards the ever-receding shore. Despite our best efforts, we were being swept out to sea, and I made a conscious decision that even if I could have saved myself, that I was going to stay with my father and that we would die together.

I could not let him die. It would have been a tragic and premature end to a truly remarkable life.

Born in Atlanta on May 1, 1932 during the depression and raised during World War II, my father’s family moved to the mountainous countryside just outside Ashville, North Carolina just after the War. At the age of 13, young Whit fell in love with the outdoors and spent as much time as possible hiking through the backcountry. He lived there for less than a year, but when he left to return to Atlanta, he took with him a newfound passion that would last a lifetime.

He joined the Boy Scouts, taking every opportunity to hike and camp, and eventually earned the highest rank of Eagle Scout. Along the way, he finished high school and began his undergraduate studies in Electrical Engineering at Georgia Tech. In the Explorer Scouts, he began hiking with his friends Frank Gordon and Norman Batho. The three Explorer Scouts were finishing up an 80-mile hike in September 1949 from Wesser Bald in North Carolina to Tray Gap in Georgia, when they met up with a hiking party from the GATC led by Jim Proctor that was hiking from Dick’s Creek Gap to Tray Gap. The Explorer Scouts were a perfect fit for the GATC, and soon thereafter Jim Proctor asked my father to join the GATC. Young Whit was only 17 years old, but he said that nobody ever asked him his age. He quickly acquired a reputation as a hard-worker and a tough hiker.

1950 started off with a bang as Dad and the others that were known within the Club as “the younger contingent” rebuilt the Tray Mountain shelter over a period of weeks. This was followed in June 1950 by a work trip that lasted nearly a full week. The work party, consisting of Dad Benson, Norman Batho, Jim Proctor, and two guests, left Lake Winfield Scott and hiked up into Slaughter Gap. From there they headed north on the AT doing trail maintenance the entire way. They eventually made it to Addis Gap where they decided that they’d had enough and ceased operations, hiking out to Dick’s Creek Gap.

Larry Freeman had been GATC President from 1947-1948, and was credited with rebuilding the Club after its near-demise during World War II. Today he is best known as the namesake of the Freeman Trail around Blood Mountain, an honor he richly deserved as one of the giants in our Club’s history. In 1951, Larry asked Dad to join him on a hike in the Smokies from Davenport Gap to Newfound Gap. During that excursion, Larry and Dad became the best of friends and remained so for 19 years until Larry’s death in September 1970. In the years since, when asked to recount his experiences with Larry through the 1950s and 1960s, a curious half-smile would come across Dad’s face and he began by noting that, “Larry was a bit eccentric…” He would go on to recall that Larry was an extraordinarily secretive person who never let anyone know where he lived, and was only reachable via a post office box; no telephone number or home address. They would arrange by mail to meet each other at various locations to depart for their excursions. Once complete, Larry would have Dad drive him into Atlanta and drop him off on an apparently random street corner – each time a different place. This was simply the normal modus operandi with Larry.

In 1953, Dad and Larry produced the first GATC yearbook in the basement of my grandmother’s home.

Dad graduated from Georgia Tech with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering and entered the U.S. Navy as an officer in February 1954. In the Navy, he had the opportunity to work with several early computers. These experiences would lead to an entire career working with and programming computers as an engineer.

During his time in the U.S. Navy, he was stationed at various locations outside of Georgia, and was therefore unable to participate in GATC activities. However, he and Larry would arrange excursions to various places while Dad was on leave.

About this time, Dad met Dorothy McCaleb, a mathematician, and they were married in October 1955. A year later, their first daughter Julia was born. After 4 years of service, Dad was honorably discharged from the U.S. Navy as a Lieutenant in June 1957 and moved back to Atlanta. He started a career with Lockheed Georgia Company as an aeronautical engineer that would span over four decades. He programmed computer simulations of real-time flight conditions for the C-5 Galaxy, the C-130 Hercules, and the F-22 Raptor.

At the same time he started his career at Lockheed, he began his graduate studies in Electrical Engineering at Georgia Tech in the fall of 1957. He resumed his active participation in GATC activities, and quickly reestablished his credentials as a hard working outdoorsman with good instincts, and a tough hiker who frequently participated in or led backpacking trips and work trips. Over the next five years, he had two more daughters – Kathy and Holley, and earned his M.S. in Electrical Engineering. From 1964-1965 he held his first officer position in the GATC as the Club’s second Trails Supervisor.

The next few years were a roller coaster ride. Lockheed began building the largest airplane in the world – the C-5 Galaxy, and the number of hours required for his job nearly doubled. Then his wife died of a heart attack in January 1967, leaving Dad alone to raise his three young girls. A year later, Dad began dating Gale Whiten, a physicist and engineer at Lockheed, and they married a few months later in April 1968. Gale would quickly become an active member of the GATC, and soon prove herself an excellent outdoors person in her own right. They remained married for the rest of his life, and had two children together – my younger sister Alyssa and me.

After spending a year during 1971-1972 recovering from a major spinal fusion, a new side of Dad Benson began to emerge that would eventually revive his ironman image. He began holding offices on the Board of Directors, and his peers began regarding him as a knowledgeable, yet unassuming leader and an insightful administrator. He was the Membership Director in 1976, Vice President of Activities from 1977-1978, President from 1979-1980, and Trails Supervisor again from 1985-1986. He served for several years as a Director at Large. According to Joe Boyd and Rosalind Van Landingham, his 30 years of experience (by the late 70s) hiking and maintaining the Appalachian Trail in Georgia gave him a grasp of the pertinent issues that was exceptional by any standard. He knew what was on the ground – knew the entire Georgia AT so well that he was able to blend the nuances of policy with the realities of life on the Trail to the betterment of both.

During the mid to late 70s and into the 80s, Dad worked with a talented group of peers in the GATC that the rest of the Benson family thought of as his closest friends. “The Oldtimers” as they came to be called were tight then, and those that survive continue to be so. One friend in particular stood out, at least from the perspective of Dad’s family. That person was Joe Boyd, who passed away a few years ago. Joe & Helen Boyd joined the GATC in July 1975. Dad and Joe became close friends very quickly. Both were engineers at Lockheed, seasoned outdoorsmen, and tough hikers. They seemed to be cut from the same cloth, often seeming to think alike when considering various issues and problems, and Dad seemed to enjoy hiking with Joe in the same way he enjoyed hiking with Larry Freeman.

Dad, Gale, and the other “Oldtimers” have been on too many incredible excursions over the decades to name. As Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, they were literally rappelling for their lives off of the Grand Teton during a terrible lightning storm. In Glacier National Park, their group was caught high on the continental divide in a surprise blizzard. Joe Boyd managed to assist Dad out of a glacial crevasse in the Austrian Alps after Dad broke through the ice. Later in the Cascades, the group actually practiced rappelling into crevasses. There were three trips to the Bridger Wilderness in Wyoming, two trips to the San Juan Mountains in Colorado with their 14K foot peaks, and a trip across the entire Sierra Nevada mountain range that was concluded at the top of Mount Whitney. As I became old enough, I began joining my parents on some of these long backpacking treks, and they were truly magical experiences.

Dad dedicated much of the past 60 years of his life to the GATC and hiking in general. It enabled him to become an outdoorsman with knowledge and an instinct that most of us simply can’t fathom. His efforts on behalf of the Club have left a lasting legacy that will be felt for years to come. My mother and all five of his kids will tell you that it’s not possible to be a Benson without feeling a close association with the GATC. Over the years, at least ten members of the Benson family have participated in Club activities, most as members themselves.

Two examples of Dad’s toughness and perseverance come to mind. Once while he was scouting a trip, he fell in a creek and cut his leg open. He was alone in the mountains, bleeding badly, dizzy, and fainting from shock, but made it the 5 miles to his car. Separately, during the annual marathon hike in 1992, Dad celebrated his 60th birthday by hiking 36 miles along the AT in Georgia, which his family felt was not bad for a senior citizen.

Both Rosalind Van Landingham and Joe Boyd have claimed that Dad had the best knowledge of the mountains of North Georgia and the Smokies of anyone, and that he seemed to “have topo maps in his head”. Joe claimed that he once heard Hillrie Quin comment that Dad was the only person Hillrie knew that “dreams in topo maps”. Rosalind noted that Dad’s hikes were always challenging, interesting, usually unorthodox, and often include lots of cross country. She went on to say that in addition to being an excellent outdoors person in every regard who could hike just about anything, Dad made it possible for others to do things they would never have thought they’d have been able to do. Over the past 35 years, our family has come to regard Rosalind as one of our own.

On one trek through Wyoming’s Bridger Wilderness in August 1983, we were camping high above treeline beside Pyramid Lake when a horrific lightning storm swept down upon us. As we ate dinner, Dad realized what was about to happen and told everyone to get in their tents quickly. “We’ve got 5 minutes”, he said. Moments later, we were huddling atop our inflated Therm-A-Rests to stay insulated from the ground strikes occurring all around our tents. Dad told me not to touch the ground directly because it could kill us. One lightning bolt hit so close that even inside the tent, we were blinded by its brilliance and deafened by its noise. Only inches away from my father, I screamed in terror, but he never heard me from the thunderous roar. Rosalind remembers Dad coming around to each person’s tent immediately after the storm to make sure everyone was alright. It was the worst storm any of us has ever experienced – before or since – and upon returning to civilization, we learned that others less fortunate had not survived it.

I saw that day how well my father handled life and death crisis, and it has served as an example within my own life ever since. And so almost exactly 10 years later, Dad and I once again found ourselves facing death together in the warm waters off Cumberland Island.

Out of options, and facing certain death, my body went into an adrenaline-powered overdrive. I let go of Dad, and pushed straight down to see how deep it was. To my surprise, it was only about 9 feet deep despite being hundreds of feet offshore. I reach above my head, grabbed Dad’s waist and launched him straight up and forward, then I took a step under water and launched him again, and again. I came up for air, and went right back down and continued. I lost all sense of time. I lost my mind. My entire universe was go down, push, step, push, step, push, go up to breath, and repeat.

Dad was yelling at me, “Chris stop! Let me down! Stop!” We had come ashore, and I was picking Dad up, and throwing him across the sand. Then grabbing him again, and throwing him across the sand once more. His words brought me back to reality, and we both collapsed on the beach unable to move for long time.

I could not let him die. It would have been a tragic and premature end to a truly remarkable life.

I learned that day that my father was not invincible. He didn’t have all the answers. Sometimes, I would have to carry the load. It was time for me to grow up – time to leave the boy behind, and be a man. That was the lesson my father taught me, and he did it with bravery, resourcefulness, integrity, and even fear.

When my father was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis at 72 years old, the doctors told him that there was a 100% chance he’d be dead within 5 years. That was 7 years ago. Needless to say, Dad’s ability to bravely endure and persevere against even the worst odds was evidenced to the very end.

Dad would not have survived as long as he did without his loving wife. A person could not ask for a better spouse. Pulmonary fibrosis didn’t just take one life – it took two. She stopped living her life so that he could live his. For 7 long years, she sacrificed nearly everything for him. She is my hero, just as she was my father’s hero. I would not be honoring my father’s wishes if I did not ask you to recognize this extraordinary woman who loved him and cared for him through the long terrible darkness. She was his angel of mercy – his reason to live. Mom, I’m speaking for Dad when I say go out and live your life again.

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