Blank Blank Blank
Blank Blank Blank

Barbara Benfield

Obituary
1 entry
The Guest Book is expired.

Barbara (Brown) Benfield of Needham, age 81, an educator and M.I.T. scientist, passed away on April 10, 2013 at the Massachusetts General Hospital after a brief illness. She was not famous but she was unique in many ways and for family and friends she was irreplaceable. Barbara was the beloved wife of Attorney Peter B. Benfield with whom she shared 51 years of marriage. She recently fulfilled her wish of a lifetime by bringing her whole family: three children, daughter-in-law, five grandchildren, and in laws, 13 in all, to Hawaii for a wonderful two week holiday last December. Mrs. Benfield was a first rate molecular biologist at Harvard Medical School and M.I.T. and participated in several important advances in the field. For over 40 years she collaborated with Professor Phillips Robbins, M.I.T. American Cancer Society Professor Emeritus. She was on a first name basis with several Nobel prizewinners. Barbara was unique, notably for her great love of life and learning. Her self-confidence was infectious and attracted many to her. She loved the intellectual challenge of making new discoveries on the frontier of scientific research, never wanted to retire and only did so reluctantly at the age of 75. Barbara was also incredibly unselfish. She usually put her needs second to those of her children and husband, Peter, especially her career. Although she had known poverty as a child of the Great Depression, she didnt crave material things. If a valuable piece of jewelry was lost or stolen she didnt brood over it or let it interfere with her relationships. She would say: Its just a thing. If you have your health and a profession you have everything because you can always replace whats lost. Born in Boston, the daughter of the late Harry and Ida Gail (Finkelstein) Brown, Mrs. Benfield was raised in Brookline. She was a first generation American from a big extended family of energetic Russian immigrants with thick accents who came to Boston with the large European migration in the early 1900s. She attended the Devotion Elementary School, graduated from Brookline High School, earned her bachelors degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and her masters degree in teaching from Framingham State Teachers College. Mrs. Benfield began her career as a cancer researcher at Harvard Medical School then moved to Massachusetts Institute of Technology under Dr. Robbins. She met Peter for the first time on the second balcony at Boston Symphony Hall 52 years ago, and made an immediate impression by criticizing him. She was a great cook, and since she never followed or wrote down a recipe, her meals tended to be experiments, like in her lab, and usually didnt come out the same way twice. Barbara was savvy about people and had street smarts. She insisted as a condition marriage that her future husband, Peter, make something of himself. Your Yale B.A. and ten cents will buy you a cup of coffee, she said. She gave him the choice of medicine or law. She was disappointed that he had no scientific aptitude and was allergic to the sight of blood so it was the lower paying legal career for Peter. She made his career: after Yale Law School he became a tax lawyer with John Hancock Life Insurance Company. Barbara prized becoming a mother above all and she loved to introduce her children to new ideas and new sports. She also insisted that her children get a profession. Unlike material things they cant take your profession away from you. Daughter Susan became the doctor that Barbara wanted to be, son David became a lawyer and daughter Heather became an environmental engineer. Barbara had a great, subversive, sense of humor. She wrote stories about what it was like to grow up in Coolidge Corner, Brookline as a young Jewish girl. Once, when she was about 12, her spoiled girlfriend Marcie persuaded her parents to buy a forbidden Christmas tree. But we cant have a tree because were Jewish, her parents protested, in vain, but Marcie wore them down. Barbara went with Marcie and Marcies farther to select the tree, a great new and exciting adventure. Marcies father drove at night so he could smuggle it home in the dark. Marcie and Barbara, however, picked a l arge tree to big for the trunk, so it was roped to the roof of th e car. Just as they neared Coolidge Corner the tree fell off and began to roll down t he road. Marcies father, who was unathletic, stopped the car in the middle of traffic, dodged cars, and raced after the travelling tree. He finally recovered it and reattached it to the car. But the secret was out and the neighbors buzzed at the scandal. Barbara and Marcie didnt care and happily decorated the tree. If someone got carried away with their own self-importance, she would remind them: Youre just a grain of sand on the beach. If they were discouraged by adversity, she would say: Life is a great adventure. As her children grew and went to college, Mrs. Benfield began a new career teaching female high school students at Mt. St. Joseph Academy in Brighton. She prided herself on being an excellent teacher and mentor to the students adored her. Mrs. Benfield was a longtime member of Longwood Cricket Club, the Badminton and Tennis Club of Boston, University Club of Boston, the Association of M.I.T. Retirees, the University of Massachusetts Alumni Association, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Boston and Temple Israel in Boston. In addition to her husband, Mrs. Benfield is survived by her devoted children, Susan Benfield and her late husband Rob Sain of St. Paul, MN, David Benfield and his wife Elaina of Boston, and Heather Benfield of Los Angeles, CA. She was a loving grandmother who cherished Allison, Zachary, Matthew, Serena, and Zara, and the dear sister of Muriel Myerson and her husband Jerry of Wellesley. A service to celebrate Barbaras life was held at Temple Israel, 477 Longwood Ave. Boston on Sunday, April 14. Several years earlier, Barbara mentioned that she liked the sound of bagpipes at a funeral and she would like them at hers. At the end of the funeral service a bagpiper, in full Highland kilt regalia, piped her casket out of Temple Israel, a first for the Temple and the piper. Barbara Benfield was truly unique and her family and friends miss her.

Published in The Needham Times from Apr. 23 to Apr. 30, 2013
- ADVERTISEMENT -