George R. Benson Jr., founder of Benson Motor Cars Ltd. and trustee emeritus of McDaniel College whose philanthropic interests included education, medicine and the arts, died Sept. 25 in Annapolis after a long illness. The Marco Island, Florida, resident was 83..
An exact place of death was unavailable, according to family members.
George Russell Benson Jr., the son of G. Russell Benson, vice president and member of the board of Union National Bank, and his wife, Caroline Foutz Benson, a homemaker, was born and raised in Westminster.
Mr. Benson was a graduate of Westminster High School who attended the University of Maryland before entering the United States Air Force, according to a McDaniel College profile.
“George Benson got his start in the auto business selling cars before and after school in Carroll County,” reported The Sunday Capital in a 2009 article.
Mr. Benson began his automotive career in 1957 when he went to work for Eaton Chevrolet Inc. in Washington, where he rose to become vice president and general sales manager. In 1965, he joined the Gladding Organization, where he was general manager of Gladding Rolls-Royce.
In 1971, Mr. Benson and his wife, the former Patricia Rodgers, his high school sweetheart whom he married in 1959, purchased Erickson Motor Co. Inc. in Annapolis, an American Motors dealership. He subsequently sold Mercedes-Benzes and changed the name to Benson Motor Cars Ltd.
Mr. Benson was named a finalist in the 1999 Time Magazine Quality Dealer Award as one of the top eight auto dealers in the nation, “which recognizes outstanding new car dealers for exceptional performance in their dealerships and distinguished community service,” The Capital reported.
Mr. Benson sold the Sixth Street dealership in 2000 to a Baltimore-based chain that renamed it Mercedes-Benz of Annapolis, and retired.
His professional memberships included the National Auto Dealers Association, Import Auto Dealers Association and Maryland Auto Dealers Association.
Mr. Bensonthoroughly embraced the automobile business. He “believed that if your job is your passion, you will never work a day in your life. He was passionate about automobiles,” according to a biographical profile furnished by his family.
The former resident of Fairwinds in Severna Park who later moved to Annapolis had long been active in community affairs. When Mr. Benson was on the board of Anne Arundel Medical Center Foundation, where he was chair from 1993 to 1995, he also chaired the medical center’s Celebrate the Future Campaign, which raised more than $8.5 million, resulting in the building of the Rebecca M. Clatanoff Pavilion for women’s health care.
He was a member of the Severn School board from 1977 to 1986, and in 1995 was named to the board of trustees of Western Maryland College, now McDaniel College, following in the footsteps of his father, who had served on the board in the 1950s. As of 2016, he was a trustee emeritus.
“George was truly one of the most generous and kindhearted individuals that I’ve gotten to know on the board,” said Roger N. Casey, president of McDaniel College.
“He deeply loved the college, even though he did not go here — his daughter did,” Dr. Casey said, as did other members of his family. “But he associated with many friends who had. His affinity for it always remained strong and he generously gave his financial support and time. He was a great supporter of scholarships and wanted nothing but the latest technology for our students."
Dr. Casey, who was on his way to China, called Mr. Benson several days before his death.
“He was having difficulty breathing and talking, but his first question was, ‘How are things at the school?’ ” Dr. Casey said. “I knew it was the last time I would ever speak to him. We’re going to miss George greatly.”
A lifelong Rotarian, Mr. Benson was a former president of the Rotary Club Foundation of Downtown Annapolis and was a founding sponsor and honorary member of the Parole Rotary Club. For his community work, he was presented the Rotary Club’s Paul Harris Fellow award.
Because he had undergone a quadruple heart bypass, he became an active member of the board of the American Heart Association. He also had been a member of the association’s Heart of Gold Club and a sponsor of the Bogeys and Birds Golf Tournament. In 1998, he was the chairman of the association's annual Heart Ball.
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Mr. Benson also had served as a member in the 1990s of Annapolis Bank & Trust, and was a member of Calvary United Methodist Church in Annapolis, where he served on the capital campaign committee.
Described as being a “humble man” by The Sunday Capital when he was named Volunteer of the Week in 1998, Mr. Benson told the newspaper, “I consider myself fortunate and hope I’m doing right for the community.”
In 2000, he and his wife, who died in 2009, moved to Marco Island, Florida, where they were members of Wesley United Methodist Church, Marco Island Rotary Club and Hideaway Beach Club.
He enjoyed collecting vintage cars, traveling and driving his motor home to NASCAR races.
A memorial service for Mr. Benson will be held at 5 p.m. Sunday at Calvary United Methodist Church, 301 Rowe Boulevard, Annapolis.