Tribute to Gary Benjamin

Jan 22, 2020 | 2020 Articles, Theatre

by Nancy Holley

Gary Benjamin passed away December 29, 2019, leaving a huge hole in the hearts of all who knew him. Where do I begin to describe the impact of this honorable man on those whose lives he touched?

I first met Gary in the 1970s when I joined the Visalia Players. I was awe struck by the idea that a blind man could raise sighted children, teach in a regular school classroom, direct plays, and act in them without the audience even suspecting that he was blind. In fact, during one of Gary’s performances an audience member was overheard commenting, “I knew Gary Benjamin when he was blind!”

Gary was so exceptional at many things that it was easy to forget that he was blind. In the 1970s, Gary went to Ashland, Oregon, to the Shakespeare festival with Keith Lindersmith, Irene Morse, and me. In those days, we camped, cooked four-course meals on a Coleman stove, and each of us solo cooked when our night came around. Gary was not an exception. The only problem was that the other campers couldn’t figure out why we “made” him cook in the dark.

Gary Benjamin

Also, during that time Keith suggested that we teach Gary how to play bridge. When he called to ask me if I would agree, I said, “Do the cards still have pictures?” Gary was a very good bridge player. You could tell him the thirteen cards that were on the board, and he would remember them and play them very well.

Over the years Gary touched the lives of many blind and partially-sighted children and teens in Tulare Country as he worked with them helping them “see” that their lives could be just like everyone else, that they could be productive and successful. Many have come to acknowledge the confidence and support he instilled in their lives.

As time went by, Gary married his second wife Irene Morse, and they have a wonderful blended family of five children, and I hesitate to comment on the number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren as I might be incorrect. But Gary was loved and revered by all. He was the iron man who could do anything.

Gary also loved to travel. He and Irene made many trips aboard where guides and townspeople alike were amazed that a blind man liked to travel and seemed able, without sight, to know and understand his surroundings. In many of the European museums and historical sights, Gary was allowed to “feel” the objects so that that he could fully enjoy them.

Gary, like others who are blind, learned to use his other senses more acutely. His senses of smell and hearing were of particular note. When Gary traveled to Africa to see the Silverback Gorillas, he was able through smell to sense their presence before the others knew the animals were near. He used his sense of hearing to create wonderful sound effects for many plays at the Ice House theatre. I loved having Gary do the sound for my shows because I could depend on him to find exactly the right piece of music for a particular scene or to set the pre-show mood.

I could continue to extol the virtues of this humble, gentle man, but suffice it to say that I and many others will miss him very much as a guiding light and inspiration in our lives. Hats off to you Gary; we love you!

Nancy Holley has been involved in the Visalia Community Players off and on since the 1970s, both as a director and actor. In 2010, she retired from 25 years as a software consultant and has since expanded her role at the Players. She is now Membership Chairman and assists with the Players on-line ticketing system.


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