Santa Monica Lookout
Probable Santa Monica Plane Crash Victim Remembered as Generous Community Supporter
By Jason Islas
October 1, 2013 -- City leaders remembered Mark Benjamin, the construction tycoon believed to have died in a plane crash at Santa Monica Airport (SMO) Sunday, as a generous supporter of education and a “mainstay” of the community.
The 63-year-old CEO of the Santa Monica-based construction firm Morley Builders and his son, 28-year-old Luke Benjamin, were believed to be aboard a twin-engine Cessna Citation when it crashed into a hanger at SMO and burst into flames, killing everybody on board.
During his decades as a leading business man in the bayside city, the Malibu resident left an enduring legacy.
A father to two children who went through Santa Monica and Malibu public schools, Benjamin lent his expertise to several District construction bond oversight committees.
His firm has worked closely with Santa Monica's leading provider of affordable housing, Community Corporation, as well as City Hall on public works projects, including the new Main Library, which was completed in 2006.
“Name a local cause and the name 'Morley' or 'Mark Benjamin' is associated with it,” said State Assemblymember Richard Bloom, Santa Monica's former mayor.
“In addition to his considerable skills as a builder and the economic development that his company has been part of, he will be remembered for selflessly giving back with both his time and resources,” Bloom said.
Other community leaders echoed Bloom's sentiment.
Mayor Pam O'Connor said, "our region has lost a talented business leader who believed in community service, leading by example."
Councilmember Bob Holbrook called the incident "tragic," adding, Benjamin "was a wonderful guy."
In 1990, Benjamin was part of the committee that oversaw the City's first bond measure passed by voters to drum up funds to help Santa Monica and Malibu schools with vital construction projects.
His expertise as the head of one of Southern California's largest construction firms made him an invaluable member of the team that guided how the funds from the bond were spent, said School Boardmember Ralph Mechur.
“It's a tremendous loss,” said Mechur. “He was really a great person.”
Executive Director of the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation Linda Greenberg Gross agreed.
“He was definitely a friend to the education community,” said Gross, who first worked with Benjamin in the late 1990s.
The Foundation was looking to honor donors with a series of bronze sculptures on the Third Street Promenade.
Benjamin agreed that his firm would install the eight sculptures, collectively called “Bells and Books of Knowledge,” around the Promenade for free.
“If you ever needed help on something, you just picked up the phone and called Mark,” Gross said.
It was through his work with the school district and the city's many nonprofits that Benjamin developed a “personal and extraordinary” connection with Santa Monica, said Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. CEO Kathleen Rawson.
As a member of Ed Foundation board of directors, Rawson worked with Benjamin on a variety of projects.
“He shared his success with the community at large,” she said.
One way he shared that success was through his firm's work with Community Corporation of Santa Monica, the city's primary provider of affordable housing.
“He really was an exceptional human being,” said Community Corporation Director Sarah Letts. “He was a very thoughtful person who had a philosophy about running a business in the right way.”
She said that Community Corporation's partnership with Morley Builders had been so fruitful -- the nonprofit's most recent three projects were built by Benjamin's firm -- largely due to Benjamin's influence.
“Mark was so influential in terms of training people to be professionals and to do the right thing for the right reasons,” she said.
As of press time, authorities were still investigating the cause of the crash. It is still unclear how many passengers were aboard and they included the Benjamins.
But a statement on Morley Builders website Monday morning said that the firm believes that the two were, in fact, on the plane.
The Thursday before the accident, the Human Relations Council for the Santa Monica Bay Area presented Benjamin with a plaque, honoring his work in the community.
The plaque features a quote by author Studs Terkle.
"Heroes are not giant statues framed against a red sky. They are people who say: This is my community, and it is my responsibility to make it better,” the quote reads.
Gross, who was at the Thursday meeting, said that the quote summed up Benjamin perfectly.
“We're going to miss him terribly,”she said. “He was our hero in so many ways.”
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