January 16, 2013 - There's an empty seat on the Oxford Village Council dais. The chair itself can easily be filled, but sadly, the man who occupied it can never be replaced.
Village President Thomas Benner, who lived in Oxford for 50 years, passed away on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013 after a valiant battle against cancer. He was 73.
"He was a very kind, concerned, conscientious, thoughtful person," said Addison resident Teri Stiles, a friend of Benner's for 26 years and former neighbor on N. Glaspie St. "He was always willing to take on a supportive role whether it was for the community or an individual."
"I just can't say enough about what a good man he was."
Benner had served on the village council since April 2005. He became president in September 2011. Prior to that, he was a councilman from 1995-98.
Stiles, who had served on council with Benner from 2006-11, had nothing but praise for his leadership abilities and decision-making skills.
"Tom did not do anything as a member of the village council without a lot of thought, without a lot of debate in his own mind," she said. "He didn't make any decisions lightly. Tom was very conscientious about how his decisions would affect individuals in the community and the community as a whole. He truly was there for the right reasons."
Even when they didn't see eye-to-eye on an issue, Stiles said Benner never closed the lines of communication between them.
"He was always willing to talk about our differences," she said. "He was always willing to look at all sides of an issue."
Councilman Tony Albensi considered Benner to be much more than simply a fellow official.
"I learned a lot working with him," he said. "He was a mentor to me on council. I will miss his leadership and guidance on council as well as the advice he always gave me."
"Tom did his job very well," Albensi noted. "He was very dedicated and loved this community so much. He'll be sorely missed."
Benner took his position as an elected official quite seriously as evidenced by the fact that when his daughter, Cheri Mulligan, passed away in 2007, he continued to perform his duties.
"The day he buried his daughter, he still went to a council meeting because he felt like that was his obligation," Stiles said.
Village attorney Bob Davis said Benner was a "regular guy," not a "politician" and as such he never let "political-thinking" trump common sense or color his opinions.
"His regular-guy approach didn't get impacted by politics," he said.
On a personal note, Stiles explained that Benner was much more than a friend, neighbor and council colleague to her.
"I met him six months after my dad died," she said. "Tom kind of took over my dad's role. He was always honest enough with me to say I was wrong and explain why I was wrong. He wouldn't buy into any excuses. He would make me see myself for the person that I was."
She feels the same way about his wife, Marilyn. "They immediately filled a void in my heart," Stiles said. "They're caretakers of the community and of people.
"It's hard to think of one without the other. I feel really bad for Marilyn."
Visitation will be on Friday, Jan. 18 from 1-8 p.m. at Lynch & Sons Funeral Directors Bossardet Chapel (39 W. Burdick St.) in Oxford. A funeral service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 19 at Christ the King Church (1550 W. Drahner Rd.) in Oxford.
Pastor Bob Holt will officiate.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.