Radiant thoughts of lost ‘friend’ cut through gloom of rainy day

David Phillips
Reflections from my Notebook

After work one rainy day last week, I decided to take a run on the Root River Trail from Lanesboro despite the weather conditions. Although the trees were still bare, offering little protection, I thought the valley surrounded by bluffs would offer a little buffer from the wind, softening the blow of the light rain.

As I made my way west of Lanesboro, I spotted the Duane Benson farm. In the gray, monotone atmosphere, it looked so different than I recalled because I had always pictured it as a radiant place with the sunshine acting as a spotlight, highlighting this heavenly paradise on earth.

Part of that cheerful, upbeat image is probably because of the man who lived there. Benson was such a radiant person who made a name for himself in so many ways.

He played in the NFL for nearly a decade, operating as team captain of the Oakland Raiders in 1971 and playing in a Super Bowl. Then he served in the Legislature for more than a decade, helping craft bipartisan bills, MinnesotaCare being one, which still address key issues today.

After he left politics, he became executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership, a group of CEOs from Minnesota businesses, was a charter member of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, which oversaw construction of the state’s professional football stadium, and served in many other capacities, including initiatives to further early learning as well as college education.

Yet, it wasn’t his accomplishments that touched me.

My memories aren’t of his time in the NFL, the state Legislature or state boards. Instead, I recall the brief moments we connected — on a school bus riding to the start of the Trout Trot race in Preston, when we sat across from each other during lunch when he was a guest speaker at a service club or at a foundation banquet when he bought me a drink before the dinner, where, again, he was a guest speaker.

Those encounters probably happened about a decade apart, yet it always seemed as if we had talked just the day before. We weren’t close enough to be considered friends, but he treated me like a best friend every time I saw him.

Those memories flooded my mind as I ran past his farm, which didn’t have the radiance on that wet day last week.

The gloomy appearance wasn’t just from the gray skies overhead. My perception was colored by the fact that I also knew Benson would never be returning to the farm — a place he enjoyed, even preferred, while he was out in the world making a name for himself — because he died earlier this year after a battle with cancer.

He was 73 years old at his death, which is shorter than the average lifespan of Americans today. Yet, his life was far above average in what he brought to the world.

Sometimes we focus on the length of our lives rather than the quality of our lives. However, the key is what we do with our years rather than how many years we exist. Benson packed a lot of living into his years on earth.

His life is also a good reminder that the important things aren’t necessarily what we accomplish. What lasts is how we treat people, something many of us forget in the daily rush to keep up with all our worldly commitments.

I’ll never see Benson’s smiling face in the physical world again, but I’m sure memories of his thoughtfulness, humor and warmth will pop back into my mind at times. Even if I’m in a gloomy, rainy funk, those images of Benson in my mind will always exhibit that radiance as if the sun is shining down from heaven on him.