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MOAB - Friends remember former Grand County Attorney Bill Benge as a brilliant, quick-witted and complex man who spent most of his adult life working to help others.
"He wasn't always by the book," longtime friend Jim Stiles recalled. " He often looked for ways to give people a second chance. Even people he prosecuted would go out of their way to say hello to him. He was just that kind of a guy."
Benge, who died Oct. 20 at 60, was first elected as Grand County attorney in 1974 when he was 28 years old, making him the youngest person ever elected to that position in the state. He was re-elected for seven straight terms, serving 28 years until he retired in 2002.
Benge's fondness for gourmet food, literature and music was legendary among those who knew him, Stiles said. His signature dish - shrimp remoulade - paid homage to the Southern heritage of Benge's parents, who grew up in small towns on the Louisiana and Mississippi state line.
"If he could have made a living at it, he would have been a gourmet chef," Stiles said. "He loved good food."
A 32nd-degree Scottish and York Rite Mason and past worshipful master of La Sal Lodge No. 30, Benge was devoted to the Masonic tradition. He visited lodges in London and Oban, Scotland, where he was installed as a member.
"He made friends with Masons all over the world. He was very well thought of," said friend and fellow Mason Jim Mattingly. "He taught me the values of the Masons, the value of being an upstanding and honest person. And that's how he lived his life."
Born July 18, 1946, in St. Louis, Benge spent much of his childhood in the San Francisco Bay area. While he was a law student at the University of California-Berkeley, he hired on in Moab as a summer river guide with Tex's Riverways. In 1972, after graduating and passing the Utah bar exam, Benge opened his first law office in this southeast Utah city. He continued practicing law until his death.
"He was the most incredibly intelligent, witty and interesting person I ever knew," Stiles said. "Every day I was around him, I learned something new. He was the person I didn't take life too seriously with. It's just a little bit dimmer out there without Bill."