Sad day for Chenango County, as one of its most iconic leaders, Joseph Benenati Jr., passed away this morning at age 97. Back when she left The Evening Sun in 1999, Kathy O’Hara wrote a tribute for Sheriff Joe, one of her oldest and dearest friends, and implored me to use it upon his death. I swore that I would, never suspecting that Kathy herself would predecease him by nearly a decade.
Fishing that out of the files this morning brought back a lot of memories – not just of Joe, but Kathy too. Although as disparate as you could possibly get in their physical stature, Mr. Benenati and Ms. O’Hara were largely cut from the same cloth – both had an unwavering commitment to God, country and community.
Sheriff Benenati’s tenure ended shortly before I began at the paper, but his presence was still looming – figuratively and literally. He was an imposing figure, a man of great physical strength tempered by an even disposition. When he spoke, people listened. When he called and ask me to do something in the paper, I did it. I heard someone today describe him as the John Wayne of Chenango County, and that he was. He engendered that kind of respect and loyalty – especially among his law enforcement protégés, Tom Loughren and Joe Angelino, two men I and many others came to respect in their own right and in whose careers Mr. Benenati’s legacy shines.
And then there’s Kathy O’Hara, my dearly departed friend and longtime colleague. I spilled some ink on my relationship with her when she died, long before her time, ten years ago, but this morning, putting her byline on the front page of The Evening Sun one last time, brought it all flooding back. And reading her tribute to Joe (there’s another one, by Melissa deCordova, with current quotes from the Sheriff’s friends and colleagues, in tomorrow’s edition) … well, The O’Hara always could turn a phrase. I hope I did her proud in carrying out her final wish.
Kathy and Joe, one of a kind and two of a kind at the same time – Chenango County misses you both.