Storyteller, relationship builder, deal maker, purveyor of knowledge. Born April 29, 1949, in Kamsack, Sask., died July 23, 2013, in Penticton, B.C., of a complication of myelofibrosis, aged 64.
Photos from Ben’s childhood in Saskatchewan show big brown eyes, a shock of black hair and a smile with lots of teeth, though some were lost as hockey became “his game.”
He honed his natural sensitivity and creativity looking for pictures in clouds during long road trips to Winnipeg, and on winter nights standing in the snow with his housecoat-clad father and siblings watching the Northern Lights shimmer across the sky.
His storytelling skills were no doubt inspired by leisurely Sunday breakfasts, listening to his parents’ stories from the past.
Ben attended the University of Saskatchewan and later moved to Manitoba, where he developed an interest in accounting and spreadsheets that continued throughout his life. After leaving a job at Manitoba Hydro for Vancouver in 1973, he began his real estate career with J.G. Morris Realty and met his first career mentor, Jim Morris.
Emulating Jim’s teachings, Ben developed into a wise, caring guide for many newcomers in the real estate field as he continued to build his career in commercial real estate with Colliers International.
In his work and personal life, he helped friends who had hit bottom and provided sage advice to others he mentored.
In 1975, Ben married Laurie. They became famous for their Halloween and Christmas parties, barbecues and “tacky tours” bus trips with bag lunches. They learned to ski and spent years at Whistler, tearing up the mountain with a group of friends.
Extensive travel sometimes combined with old-timer hockey tournaments in California, Europe and Mexico. As devoted fans of the Vancouver Canucks, they travelled to New York for a Stanley Cup round and more recently to San Jose to cheer on their team.
Moving to Penticton in 2002, Ben started his own business, its name – Bridgemaker – reflecting his credo. His true legacy was the relationships he built with his wisdom, inspiration, humour and trust. He was a straight shooter, but his words were always tempered with compassion.
When he first developed myelofibrosis, he learned as much as he could about it and the changes it would bring. He participated in clinical trials to find new treatments and travelled to conferences to learn about the latest research. He deplored melancholy, and wanted to go on living life to the fullest. He continued to sail, golf, host parties, work and travel.
He was teaching a young friend to drive in February this year when she showed up for a lesson and saw he was tired. She said she would come back another day, but Ben replied, “All my days are the same, so let’s do it now.”
Six years earlier, she had come to Canada from a refugee camp. She remembers his patience and how he taught her she could do whatever she wanted if she never gave up trying.
Ben cherished his friends and family. He seized the day and found joy in what he did. He made our worlds better.
Janet Wees is Ben’s sister.