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The Better Angels of Our Nature: Peter Benoist
Saying Goodbye to Two Friends, Part II
As I wrote about in my tribute to my close partner and friend, Mayor Mary Louise Carter, “better angels of our nature” is a phrase that speaks to the more praiseworthy traits within us all that exist alongside our less-noble traits. Though we all are born with them in equal measure, only a few rare people can manage to hold on to these traits as they progress through life.
Mayor Carter was one of these better angels in my life. The other was Peter Benoist.
Like Mayor Carter, Peter graced my life as a partner and friend for the last 27 years. His passing earlier this year, along with Mayor Carter’s recent passing, has left a void that will be difficult, if not impossible, to fill.
Peter passed away from a rare autoimmune disease on February 26th of this year, shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic. I have wanted to mark his passing and pay tribute to him for many weeks. Since COVID-19 hit, however, our organization has been consumed with helping the residents of the 24:1 Community weather the storm. It’s only now, after the passing of Mayor Carter, that I have paused to come up for air.
As with Mayor Carter, my relationship with Peter also began in 1993, after I joined the Ecumenical Housing Production Corporation where Peter, who was on a fast rise in a long and successful career in the banking world, was a member of the board.
In 1995, Peter became board chair and remained in that position for three years. This meant that for three years, once every two weeks, I got to spend an hour or more with him. I cannot fully explain what these three years meant to my evolution and growth as a leader, husband, father, and friend. My time with Peter was always spent discussing the mission of our organization, but it meant so much more.
Preparing for our meetings, I would spend hours on the topics I wanted to cover and where I thought the organization should go. Within minutes, Peter could synthesize the information and quickly guide our conversation to the strategic end that was best for our organization. Then he would almost magically lead a conversation with his board member peers that would vet questions, ideas, and concerns. These conversations would almost always end with where he had guided me.
The result of Peter’s endless kindness prepared me to be the best leader I could be. He is a big reason why I have been able to lead our organization to an 800% growth in staff and, most importantly, a 1,000% growth in the number of individuals we serve each year.
Even after Peter left our board, we stayed in touch and met a couple times each year. He even let my family and me use his family’s beloved home in Fish Creek, Wisconsin, for summer vacations. His brilliant banking career continued, and he is viewed by many as one of the best bankers ever in St. Louis.
I never heard Peter say an unkind word about anyone, and he treated everyone just as he treated me. I remember thinking to myself how lucky I was to be mentored by this wonderful man and later to be able to call him my friend.
As recently as mid-February, Peter and I talked on the phone about Beyond Housing’s strategic plan, which he helped us craft in 2019. I always wanted his input on any important decision I or my organization needed to make. He had been ill but seemed to be feeling better and, as usual, asked me several challenging questions and made me pause and think about my notions for the future. I was looking forward to seeing my good friend and continuing under his mentorship.
I am forever indebted to Peter and will try to live up to his example for the remainder of my life.
Most of us are lucky if we have one person in our lives who is supportive, who teaches us, and who makes us better. I was fortunate to have two.
As I shed tears these last several days, I have come to realize what a gift I was given to have had both of these individuals in my life for the past 27 years. I have been blessed to benefit from their guidance and friendship. Their impact on myself, our organization, and this community is immeasurable.
Mayor Carter and Peter Benoist showed us what a life of kindness and caring can look like. They gave of themselves, and, in doing so, they left the world better than they found it.
I believe it’s important to share their stories, especially during these tumultuous times, to compel us all to recognize what each of us has inside us. We are all born with inherent kindness and have the ability to care for each other, even for those we’ve never met.
As difficult as 2020 has been for all of us, it’s my hope that we can look deep within ourselves, our country, and our communities and summon the better angels within us.
If we do, I know my friends Mary Louise Carter and Peter Benoist will be smiling down on us.
I’ve been working in community development in the St. Louis area for 25 years, and I’ve been the CEO of Beyond Housing since 1993. While I’m proud of our accomplishments, I don’t claim to be an expert. At Beyond Housing, the experts we listen to are the voices of the community members we serve. I’ll be raising issues here that I believe matter to our community. I hope you’ll join the conversation. We do reserve the right not to post comments containing offensive language. To paraphrase Dr. King, we can disagree without being disagreeable.