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Idaho Loses a Friend

Posted by Rick Johnson at Oct 01, 2013 12:30 PM |

The Idaho Conservation League and the conservation community lost a true friend in Mark Benjamin.

Idaho Loses a Friend

Mark Benjamin at Wild Idaho. MB Whitaker photo.

On the evening of Sunday, September 29, Idaho Conservation League and the conservation community lost a true friend in Mark Benjamin when the plane he was piloting crashed. Mark was traveling between Idaho and California, as he often did for a weekend getaway, with his son, Luke. There are no survivors of the crash.

Mark Benjamin was a father, CEO, friend, conservationist, hiker, dog lover, amateur photographer and remarkable man. His love of Idaho cemented when he became a part-time Wood River Valley resident nearly 20 years ago. Mark talked to me about when he first came to Idaho as child by train and fell in love with this amazing place then. Since then he has made frequent trips between his home in Malibu and his home-away-from-home in Ketchum. One of Mark’s favorite things to do was pilot his jet. Just this mid-September many ICL board members enjoyed a flight from Mark when he offered to stop in Boise, Hailey, Idaho Falls and then Santa Monica, to deliver them all safely home from ICL’s 40th anniversary celebration in Sandpoint. Stories, post-flight, are ones of fun and adventure!

Mark was a committed conservationist. Invited by his friend, Elaine French, Mark joined ICL’s board of directors in 2010. He had been an ICL member since 2000 after an introduction to ICL by retired Ketchum staffer Linn Kincannon. Elaine’s husband John French and Mark had served together on the Yosemite Institute board many years ago. Mark not only added a deep understanding of conservation issues, he also lent high-level business acumen to ICL. As CEO of Morley Builders in Santa Monica, Mark was no stranger to how to run a highly successful business. Not unrelated, Morley Builders is a leader in green building.

As the chair of ICL’s governance committee Mark oversaw the recruitment of new board members. Since 2010 Mark had overseen the recruitment of sophisticated board members who brought important expertise to ICL. It was not uncommon for Mark to sit quietly at a board meeting, observing the conversations, and then calmly share a golden nugget of wisdom that would move the outcome in a positive direction. Mark’s presence and influence at our meetings and events will be sadly missed.

The Mark Benjamin Foundation focused on protecting the environment and youth programs. He generously supported many groups including Nature Bridge, Yellowstone Association, Wood River Land Trust, Malibu Foundation for Youth and Families, as well as the LA Philharmonic and Autrey Center. Though Mark was one of ICL’s largest donors, he preferred that his gift size be kept anonymous.

Those are the facts, but facts are just part of the story. There is the part about who Mark was as a friend.

ICL often wraps an evening at our annual Wild Idaho conference or at a board meeting in various social settings. It is common for ICL staff, board members and friends to gather in the evening after the work of the day has ended to share a drink and camaraderie. A sip or two of good bourbon has a way of making its way in to many of those special after-hours gatherings. These informal gatherings are often the places where new ideas spark and lifelong friendships are built. Mark was core to these moments.

Long ago at our Wild Idaho conference at Redfish Lake, after I’d finished my responsibilities at the microphone, Mark bought me a first drink, a Maker’s Mark on the rocks. He did this year after year.

I’m in Washington, D.C., right now. The federal government is in shutdown and all meetings in limbo. Last night, after talking with media and the ICL Boise office, I walked down to the Tabard Bar and bought my own Maker’s Mark. On my own, I raised a toast. Funny how that bottle has his name on it.

Our hearts go out to Mark's surviving son, Matt Benjamin.

We miss you Mark. 

Mark Benjamin and Cecil Andrus
Mark Benjamin in conversation with former Governor and Secretary of Interior Cecil Andrus at Wild Idaho. MB Whitaker photo.

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Mark Benjamin

Posted by Brett Stevenson at Oct 01, 2013 01:47 PM
Thank you for this, Rick. Mark was a remarkable person with such a generous and adventurous spirit. He will be missed.

Mark Benjamin

Posted by Roberta Crockett at Oct 01, 2013 05:27 PM
My most recent opportunity to interact with Mark was at the July Board retreat at the French's home. Mark flew over the property on his way in to the Hailey airport. When he joined the group he described the reason for his delay. He had been at a meeting for another non-profit. I was struck then at his willingness to give not just his financial support but his time to help organizations and groups he believed. He was kind, generous, and engaged fully in life. I am so sad for this tragic loss, and the loss of his son as well. All of you who knew him well were very fortunate, and my heart goes out to your grief.

Mark Benjamin

Posted by Mary Beth Whitaker at Oct 01, 2013 06:10 PM
There's no question, ICL is deeply saddened by the loss of a fine friend and conservationist. Our sympathies go to his surviving son, Matt Benjamin.

Mark Benjamin

Posted by Alison Beck Haas at Oct 02, 2013 04:59 PM
Rick, thank you for this post. I have been feeling bewildered by a sense of distance from the news of Mark and his son's deaths, having difficulty getting it square in my mind. Your remembrance of his great intelligence and generous spirit helps bring this loss home, and in a good way. Mark Benjamin knew what it meant to make a commitment and make a difference. Your blog should help us all celebrate him by following his example.

the loss of Mark Benjamin

Posted by Elaine French at Oct 07, 2013 04:36 PM
Mark will be missed by all of us on the ICL Board in countless ways. His unwaveringly cheerful demeanor, his wisdom, his remarkable skills and energy as Governance committee chair, his commitment to ICL's mission. It is hard to believe he is gone. It will take me a long time to get over the instinctive reflex of reaching out to seek his counsel on ICL matters. Thank you for your wonderful portrait of him, Rick. We all share in the sorrow of his loss.

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