Richard Thomas Benton
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Richard Thomas (Tom) Benton, the fifth of seven children, was born to Alonzo L. and Dovie Parker Benton on January 10, 1920, in the tiny town of Pocal, Mississippi. Ninety-three years of age, he and his wife Louise had just celebrated sixty-five years of marriage.
Tom grew up on a small family farm near Mendenhall, Mississippi, where he formed one of his best-known qualities - a hard work ethic which defined his character throughout his life. There were always chores, but the one he remembered most vividly required rising at daybreak, eating a biscuit soaked in a cup of coffee, and plowing all day behind a mule named Wheeler. Also formed from infancy, was the habit of church attendance, originally by way of a horse-drawn wagon.
His formal education began in Mendenhall public school; but much was learned from his father, who taught in a one-room country school where his students included his future wife. Tom graduated from Mendenhall High School, where he played both football and basketball and captained a championship team. He attended Copiah Lincoln Junior College, again playing sports.
He had already enrolled at Mississippi State when World War II broke out. He and his two younger brothers immediately enlisted, Tom in the Air Force, Al in the Infantry, and Howard in the Navy. Never having left home in his life, Tom trained briefly before sailing for parts unknown on the Queen Mary from Charleston, South Carolina. After sailing for months, he landed in Kurachi, India, part of the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations, where he served for three years.
Returning home as a Staff Sergeant in 1945, he finished at Mississippi State in two years on the GI Bill of Rights, earning a degree in Agricultural Engineering. While at State, Tom was president of the Baptist Student Union and continued to be active in Baptist churches all his life.
He met the former Louise Hancock, then a student at Mississippi State College for Women, in 1946 when she came to summer school at State to take a course in Shakespeare. The two married in 1948 at First Baptist Church in Biloxi, where Louise had been a member since moving from Texas in 1940. Their first home was in Mendenhall, Mississippi where Louise taught English at Mendenhall High School. Tom was hired as an on-the-job trainer for returning Simpson County Veterans. He was successful in helping numerous young farmers to start new ventures on family land.
Ordained as a deacon in First Baptist Church of Mendenhall, Tom served in six additional churches including Brandon Baptist Church, where he was a charter member. As a member of First Baptist Church in Oxford, Mississippi, he organized their Men's Brotherhood. With his family, by then including two boys, he lived across from the Ole Miss campus in a home designed by Louise, and all participated in college and religious activities. In Oxford as well as in other churches where he was a member, Tom served in various capacities, including choir, Sunday School teacher, and Training Union Director. He made numerous mission trips helping to build churches and related facilities. His work ethic resulted in his reputation as a "slave driver" when he was in charge of a work crew.
He joined the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a Soil Conservationist in 1949 and lived in New Albany, Oxford, McCarley, and Winona before being promoted to the state office in Jackson.
After 35 years with the SCS he retired as Assistant State Conservationist, then immediately accepted a position as Personnel Director for the Mississippi Soil and Water Conservation Commission. He finally retired in 1991 having received numerous state and national awards, including the Hall of Fame of the Southeast Regional Conservation Partnership.
Always a lover of the land, Tom produced outstanding gardens until a serious automobile accident severely damaged his right arm, weakened his legs, and limited his mobility. However, he continued to keep his interest in gardening, being adept at thinking of things "we" needed to do in the back yard plot tended by his wife…..from his wheel chair up and down a lengthy ramp built by his fellow friends at BBC. His favorite indoor hobby was making peanut and pecan brittle, which he delighted in giving away.
As a charter member of BBC, Tom was active as long as his health permitted. He continued to keep up with church business and ministered to friends and fellow church members by way of sending greeting cards designed by Louise.
Their desire to help young people wanting to enter some form of Christian vocation led them to establish scholarships at Brandon's First Baptist Church and Brandon Baptist Church in memory of their deceased children, Christopher Ray (1953-1984) and Rebecca Lynn (1955-2009).
Tom loved and appreciated all his family but was especially attached to Becky, who lived at home all her life as the result of brain damage from a required inoculation at three months of age. They were especially close as he sat beside her recliner in his wheel chair after his accident. He described her as his "life".
Preceding him in death were his parents and five siblings: brothers, Woodrow W. Benton (Elizabeth Wilson); Alonzo L. Benton, Jr. (Jean Beshell); and sisters, Thelma Benton Ponder (George); Aline Benton Myers (Showse); and Sara Almeda Benton; son, Christopher Ray Benton; and daughter, Rebecca Lynn Benton.
Surviving are his wife Louise; son, Keith R. Benton; brother, Rev. Howard Benton (Grace); nephews, Dr. Wilson Benton (Pam), Dr. David Myers (Brenda), Dr. Richard Myers (Harriet), Danny Myers (Kay), and Larry Benton (Barbara); and nieces George Ann McCann (Tommy), Joan Benton Boyd (Mike), and Ann Benton.
Funeral services are scheduled for 10:00am Wednesday, March 20, 2013 at Brandon Baptist Church. Visitation will be held from 5:00pm until 8:00pm Tuesday, March 19, 2013 at Ott and Lee Funeral Home in Brandon and one hour prior to the service on Wednesday. Interment will follow the service in Poplar Springs Cemetery near Mendenhall, Mississippi.
Please visit www.ottandleefuneralhome.com to sign the online guest register.
Ott & Lee Funeral Home - Brandon
1360 W. Government St.
Brandon, MS 39042
Published in Clarion Ledger on Mar. 19, 2013