BOWLING GREEN – Judge Frank L. Benser Jr. was recalled as a pillar of his adopted community, a man who was devoted to the town of Bowling Green as well as his family, still clothed in humility while wearing the robes of the judiciary.
Benser was remembered at a funeral at a packed Bowling Green Baptist Church Sunday. A graveside service with military honors was scheduled at Mt. Nebo Cemetery in Madison County today.
Benser, 67, died at home Wednesday of last week after a brief battle with cancer.
Benser came to Bowling Green as a young man out of law school and began practicing as an attorney. He became a leader in local government and civic affairs, recalled Susan Sili of Bowling Green, who delivered the eulogy.
Benser was mayor of the county seat for 17 years until he was named the presiding judge of the General District Court of Caroline County and King George County in 2005.
As mayor, he was “like a ship’s captain fostering a calm course and steady atmosphere” at meetings of the Town Council, recalled Sili, whose mother, Nancy Medley, was business manager during Benser’s tenure and later served with him on the Town Council.
He was a “working mayor,” noted Sili. People were just as likely to see him helping to tidy up the town as well as pitching in with a crowbar to rehabilitate the town’s new visitor center. Benser helped foster business and residential growth in the town as well as various events and activities, including the town’s annual Harvest Festival, which draws thousands to the little community. He also played a key role in the town’s annexation in the mid-1990s, which doubled the size of Bowling Green.
In recent years the town has extended public water and sewer to the U.S. 301 corridor, where it is banking on business growth. “Without Frank at the ship’s helm this great potential tool, the coveted small town ‘ability to grow,’ would most likely never have been,” said Sili.
He was equally devoted to serving the community through civic organizations, noted Sili. Benser served as president of the Caroline Chamber of Commerce twice, helped found the Caroline County Library and the Dawn Progressive Association, and served as president of the Caroline Ruritan Club, the Caroline Lions Cub, and the Association of the United States Army. He was active in the Bowling Green Merchants Association and in helping promote the community to visitors for the National Boy Scout Jamboree, formerly held at Fort A.P. Hill. Benser also served on the board of directors of Germanna Community College and chaired the Caroline Republican Party.
“For me, Frank Benser will always be that enigmatic ship’s captain, a man of few words wisely and fairly steering a small Virginia town to safe passage,” said Sili. “Godspeed my friend.”
Worship without social justice is “hollow and meaningless,” the Rev. Bambi Willis, priest-in-charge of St. Asaph’s Episcopal Church, reminded the mourners. She praised Benser for his “timeless efforts” to execute justice, a responsibility he fulfilled while showing kindness to others.
Benser’s impact on his family also was expressed in the words of a granddaughter, Jessica Adkins, read by Willis. Her grandfather was an inspiration to her, she said, and taught her that even the worst of people can achieve much in life. She recalled playing with her doll with her grandfather, who helped teach her how to ride a bicycle. “He was basically my best friend.”
“I know we will miss him greatly,” Terry Southworth, clerk of Caroline General District Court, said last week. She recalled Benser as “one of the kindest, caring, fairest men I had ever worked for.”
“He was very, very intelligent,” said Southworth, but put people at ease.
“He was very good to us,” recalled Southworth. “He was concerned about things in the office and how we were treated by everybody. He just looked out for us.”
“Judge Benser was truly a soft-spoken gentleman and my friend,” said Ray Campbell, clerk of Caroline Circuit Court.
Miles Turner, a deputy for the Caroline Sheriff’s Office, recalled asking Benser to speak to a criminal justice class that Turner taught at Caroline High School several years ago. The judge gave a morning of his time to speak to the students and take questions. One asked how much money he earned as a judge, Turner recalled. “Benser never missed a beat, saying this salary was public record, and rattled off his income.”
Benser grew up in Baltimore County, Maryland in a single-parent family. He earned a scholarship to the McDonogh School in Baltimore and went on to graduate from the University of Virginia, helping pay his way by waiting on tables at a restaurant.
He was called to active duty in the Army in 1968 and was commissioned a second lieutenant, serving in intelligence. Benser was a Vietnam War and earned a Bronze Star for meritorious service in combat. After his Army service he went to the College of William and Mary law school.
When he came out of law school, Benser moved to the county seat with his wife, Sharon, in 1975 and became a partner in a law practice.