KING BENJAMIN B. KING The world lost a bit of history and a lot of wit when Benjamin B. King, an intelligence officer for the British Royal Air Force during World War II and a long-time employee of the World Bank, died peacefully at his home in Washington, DC, on February 27, 2016, a few months short of his 100th birthday. Ben King was a person of sharp intellect and a dry, sometimes scathing sense of humor. He was greatly admired by family, friends, and colleagues for his insights and writing ability. He was a world traveler, a fierce card player, and enjoyed sending his children mathematical puzzles to solve. Ben was born on September 24, 1916 in Richmond, England. He was first scholar at Winchester College and then attended Cambridge University, where he studied mathematics. After World War 2 broke out in Europe in September 1939, he joined the British Royal Air Force as s a "penguin" who could not fly because of eyesight problems. He was assigned to Coastal Command at the airbase in Wick in the very north of Scotland, which provided defense for Britain in the North Sea, engaging the Germany Navy and Air Force. After his stint at Wick, Ben was transferred to the vital but vulnerable British base at Gibraltar off the coast of Spain, where the British monitored German and Italian military operations in the Western Mediterranean. While in Gibraltar, one of his tasks was to listen to Luftwaffe radio communications and track the movement of German and Italian airplanes. After Gibraltar, Ben was called back to Britain and assigned to the secret British code-breaking operations at Bletchley Park in England, which played a critical role in the Allies'' war effort by monitoring and decoding German military communications and ultimately breaking the German Enigma code. Ben was privy to "Ultra," the British effort to intercept and decode encrypted German military communications. The Ultra designation came about because its information was considered even more important than the highest British security designation of "Most Secret." He closely guarded the Ultra secret for more than 30 years until after it was finally declassified by the British Government. In late 1944, Ben was again transferred, this time to Washington, D.C., as a British liaison officer to the Pentagon, where he had the odd role of serving as an indirect conduit of sensitive information between two branches of the U.S. military (the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Army) which were not communicating well at the time. By the end of the war, Ben had risen to the rank of Wing Commander and was awarded the U.S. Legion of Merit in March 1946. After the war, Ben went back to England, only to return to the United States to join the newly established International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank) in 1947 as an economist. He would spend the next 34 years serving the World Bank in a wide variety of capacities. He participated in economic missions to Iraq and Spain and was a member of the Bell Mission, which conducted a comprehensive study of India''s economy during the mid-1960s. He was the World Bank''s chief economist from 1968-69 and served as an economic adviser to the Canadian Government in the 1970s. He served as director of the Development Economics Department from 1978 until his retirement. He returned briefly to the World Bank in 1987. Ben is survived by his second wife Georgia King, son Nicholas (and partner Jennifer), and two sons by his previous marriage: Richard (and wife Maria) and Jonathan (and wife Betsey). His grandchildren Jonathan, Graham, Camille, and Iris also mourn his passing. Cremation arrangements have been made though DeVol Funeral Home of Washington, DC, 202-333-6680. A memorial to honor Ben''s life will be held at a later date.
Published in The Washington Post from Mar. 4 to Mar. 6, 2016.