Saturday, February 2, 2008

In Memorium: Dr. Paul Benson

I didn't immediately recognize the voice on my answering machine. Then with clarity the voice on the other end of the line said "It's Tom MacGregor" and I got a knot in my stomach. Tommy and I were best friends through high school and college. He was best man in my wedding. He was the brother I never had. We had a falling out, however, soon after college when we tried to make a go of a pizza business as partners. He left the business, I went down in flames and though we vowed no hard feelings, we never spoke again. I dropped him a line a year or so ago with just a business card with phone numbers and the dopey saying we used as kids to greet each other "S'up?" in the hope that this goofy and clumsy act of reaching out would maybe help us reconnect. For a split second, I thought that this might be that call. Quickly, though, I learned it wasn't.

"I wish this was good news. You should probably check the Lewiston papers. It's about Paul."

Paul Benson was the third in our high school triumvirate. A true scholar athlete, though. Tommy and I were OK, but Paul was a star. He lit up the room when he walked into it. He was a friend to everyone. He was a straight A student and a solid athlete. He was active in church and community. All of this led to his appointment to the United States Air Force Academy. Paul was the epitome of an officer and a gentleman. During his stint in the Air Force, Paul attended medical school and got his MD. He moved to Lewiston/Auburn area of Maine and was in private practice there for some 15 years.

In our youth we all ran track together at Peabody High School. We would lounge around before practice and talk and laugh about just about everything. Paul and I doubled to his senior prom (he and Tommy were a year ahead of me). We all spent one memorable New Years Eve, the three of us and Scotty Astrofsky, at my house taking turns throwing up behind the shed in the backyard. Probably no need to explain why! We went to each others graduation parties, weddings, etc. All those things that you do as you pass through childhood to adulthood.

Maine was where I found Paul again - God bless the Internet. When he called me at work, that voice rang out as it did some 20+ years before. He sounded the same and seemed very happy. He had a thriving practice and was still married to his wife, Kate is her name I believe, and had two great boys. He spent a lot of time traipsing around Maine with the boys to various hockey games and seemed to be loving life. We stayed in touch sporadically after that, but it felt good to have him back in my life, even in a small way.

That wasn't the case, however. I read in the Lewiston newspaper on-line today that Dr. Benson was found in his car at the end of a street late Thursday. The sheriff's office believes that he took his own life. Each word hit me harder than the last. It's been hours since I received the news and I can't stop the sadness from wracking my body. I try. I want it to stop. It just won't. I wish he could've reached into his past and out towards...anyone, really.

Why would this happen? I don't know what could have provoked this. I freely admit that we were nowhere near as close as we had been once. But the young man I looked up to and admired would not have seen this as a way out. I heard the pride in his voice when spoke of his boys. I know he loved his wife. What I want is a God-damned answer that I know I won't ever get. How are the boys, a little older than my youngest two who are 7 and 11, going to handle this? How is Kate supposed to deal with this burden? I'm angry at him for doing this to them and conflicted because my love makes me feel guilty for the anger. Grief is a very complicated emotion.

Ultimately, I hope that Paul is remembered as the pillar of the community he became. The loving husband, father and friend that he was. The other friends of my youth - Tommy, Polack, Studsy and DiPalulu are sure to be feeling this loss deeply as well. You can be sure that when I can handle having a conversation I will be calling Tommy back. Things may never be the same, but at one time there was nothing that we wouldn't do for each other. That has to mean something.

Paul - rest in peace my friend. Wherever you are, watch over those boys and your wife. I am terribly sorry that I wasn't there for you when you needed someone. Please find the peace that you sought now. I love you, my brother.


Michael said...


I was shocked to hear the news about Paul. I went to school at the Air Force Academy with Paul. He and I were in the same squadron together for 4 years. I am having a hard time comprehending what has happended. Paul or "Peabs" as he was known to us, was everything you knew him to be and more. May God bless him and his lovely family. I just got word of his untimely death.

Michael Mercier

Anonymous said...

You don't know me, but I was a patient of the good doctor from 1999 until we were told by Gray Family Practice that he had left their company. I am still in total shock at the news of his passing, and actually came across your site when searching for the Sun Times article to confirm what my husband heard at church yesterday.
Thank you for the memoriam. I fully agree with all you said, and am pleased to have learned a bit more of the history about the wonderful doctor whom we still hadn't figured out how to replace for our medical care - even though we've been trying to figure that out since November. All my thoughts and prayers go out to you and his family.

Debi Emmons
Gray, Maine resident

Anonymous said...

Just to add to the varied nature of posters: I was called late Tuesday after noon asking if I'd seen Paul as he'd been missing all day. Of course I did not have a good feeling then... I got 'the news' Thursday morning. My family, along with a bunch of others, met at "our school" a few years back. It is a great extended family, even for those with family in the area. Outside of school functions, the guys play cards (after kissing the kids goodnight) and the ladies have "cooking club". We are a pretty tight group. It is this collection of folks that will help carry Paul's memory on in the Lewiston/Auburn area. Of course the medical community as well as the youth hockey, soccer, and rec -kids will do that too. He really had a far reaching impact. We had many card games in his 'bonus room' in their new house, which was perfect the event. The last one being only a couple weeks back. I will miss him terribly (and am pissed at him too-), but the look in Liam and Colin's eyes, and on Kate's face made me realize the tough road they have ahead. All of our thoughts and prayers go with them.

Sean "Bent" Kavanagh said...

Ted, I just received the news from one of Kate's classmates. Kate was in my squadron at the Academy and people just don't get any nicer than those two. It's been a while since I saw them (Paul was in med school) Thanks for writing the memorial, we will keep them in our prayers and I am going to write Kate. Thanks, Bent

Kim said...

Thank you for this area to vent, and express our thoughts. As a fellow medical professional and as a patient Paul touched our lives in more ways than obviously he will ever know. He diagnosed problems other MD's had missed, in our family. He called me at home several evenings when he heard I was diagnosed with cancer. His support and genuine qualities have left "footprints" in our lives that will never be forgotten. We as patients have been struggling since his departure of his Gray practice in October. Although respect and privacy are understood and respected its frustrating as patients/friends not to have the answers we so desire-why? And would that letter or stopping by his home to visit have made a difference to let him know how much we loved and miss him in practice and now forever. Thanks Paul for being who you were.I will for ever remember my last visit in October and the laugh/chuckle we shared over something silly!!!
Prayers and support to your family and friends, may they carry on with the "footprints" you have left in our lives and on our hearts. The Murray Family-Windham Maine

The Dunn's said...

Everyone loved him and was touched in so many ways by his presence. my family and myself myself were patients of his since 2002 until he left his practice and our children play hockey together. He genuinely cared about his patients, family and friends. This is a confusing blow and I only wish that someone/anyone could have known what he was going through. We will forever remember you Paul. Love the Dunn's

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your stories about Dr. Benson. It has been a help to me to know a little bit mpre about what happened to him. I was a patient of Dr. Benson's from 2001 until he left his practice in October. Ironically he became my physician after I had very little help from my former Dr. and I ended up in Spring Harbor on suicide watch. I wish I could have helped him the way he helped me. I am sorry all of you lost your friend, but coming from the stand point of someone who has felt the way he did to do what he has done-when a person is determined-what I'm trying to say is don't blame yourselves, short of locking him up, there was no way to stop him. Suicide is essentialy a very selfish act and I loved Dr. Benson for telling me those very words. I don't understand why he didn't heed them. I will understand if you choose to remove this from your sight, I just wanted you all to know you cannot blame yourselves-he knew better, which I suppose is why I am so angry right now. My heart goes out to his wife and children who will suffer for his action. To those of you who know his family give them all the support you can, they need it.

Anonymous said...

Another unknown friend of Paul's...I did my residency with him in Lewiston. I once went to the brink of that dark place and Paul was one of the sweetest beacons of hope for me at that time. I so deeply regret I could not have done so in return. I moved far away and didn't really stay in touch although i was looking forward to seeing him at the residency reunion this summer.

I am angry at him, but more so at all of us (friends, colleagues, fellow physicians) for not being able to help him and thus being complicit in the tragedy that has left a young woman a widow and 2 boys without a father. My prayers go out for them.

Anonymous said...

It is amazing to me that we ALL live our lives in "pieces," childhood, school, college, etc...and get to know people like Paul in different contexts. I knew Paul in residency, as did the prior poster, and also remember the caring, supportive, "senior" that we all looked up to as a "role model."

Even though all of use knew Paul at different times in his life, we still all have the same reactions to his death---shock, anger, grief, wishing we knew how he got there and wishing we could have done more. The unfortunate reality is that now we are left to do the only things that we can do. To reconnect with people from our pasts that we used to be "close" to and reestablish those relationships. To support those around us that knew Paul at the same time as each other. And MOST IMPORTANTLY to support Kate and the boys in whatever ways we can.

Kiss your loved ones and call someone you haven't talked to in 20 years.

Robin said...

I knew Paul since childhood. My best friend dated Paul so I really go to know him. He was an extremely bright individual and we all knew, even back then, that he would do great things with his life. Becoming a doctor was just one of them, he was a son, brother, uncle, roommate, collegue, husband, father and friend!! He was one of the nicest people I knew and always had a big smile on his face. I wish he knew just how incredible he was and how many lives he touched along the way. WE will miss him dearly. My prayers go out to his wife and children.

Dan O'Connor said...

Hard to believe. Paul was a year behind me at USAFA. I've never forgotten right after graduation ceremony I was walking across the Academy grounds and Paul was the first person who saluted me as a newly commissioned officer. Paul was coming out of Mitchell Hall and his face lit up in a huge grin as he saluted. Seemed like he was as happy for me as anyone. I can see him in that moment like it was yesterday. Life at the Academy could be difficult at times, but I never saw him with anything but a smile on his face. It was always good to see Paul. Dan O'Connor

Mr. B said...


I was Paul's chem teacher in hs. Paul stands out as a student and person.

Mr. B

Ren Michele said...

I had put out to search for one of the Drs I loved working with. I worked at Gray Family Health for a couple of years back in 2006 - and Dr. Benson was always one who would make me laugh or even show genuine concern if I was going through one of the many trials of being a single mom raising 2 boys on my own.

I just can't wrap my mind around this. I'm really sad for his boys (who are about the same age as my own) who have to walk this earth without the guidance of their father.

Its been 3 years since his passing - but I feel like its just happening. I had no idea...I'm so sorry to hear.

Anonymous said...

I was a patient of Dr. Benson's....I was so shocked when I heard that the man that saved my life twice and the PCP I thought I would depend on for the rest of my life...was gone...I still cant't beileve it. I really miss him as my doctor...he was good at what he did...the first time he saw me he walked up to me and put his finger on the bridge of my nose and said "that has to come off, cause I know what that is". He was right for 5 years I had a growth on my nose...other doctors had dismissed as a mole....he knew it was cancer and he was right and it was removed...Thats all it took...he was my doctor! I also had a dark period and had thought more once about ending my own life....he helped me get through that and I will never forget him for that. Peace be with you!