John Moore admits he was a bit intimidated, if not afraid, the first time he met Robert “Doc” Benjamin.
That was in 1991. Moore was a new lawyer at Williams Parker in Sarasota. Benjamin had been there since 1988. But more than a few years of firm seniority, Benjamin brought serious legal chops. He had previously practiced law for 15 years in New York City, where he was also an adjunct professor at the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law.
Moore’s fear soon gave way to admiration for Benjamin, who, using a combination of wit, wisdom and a "yes we can" work ethic, became one of the most prominent business attorneys in the Sarasota-Manatee region for three decades. “He was a wonderful, wonderful guy,” says Moore.
Benjamin died Oct. 2 following a brief illness. He was 73.
“It’s a great loss for all of us,” says Williams Parker President Ric Gregoria, who, like Moore and Benjamin, attended the University of Virginia. A mentor and confidant to many at the firm, Benjamin, amid Gators and Seminoles, particularly looked after the UVA Cavaliers at the firm, calling them his Virginia mafia. “He was bigger than life. Our halls will be somber here for some time.”
Robert “Doc” Benjamin was born in a small upstate New York town, Brocton. He earned a JD from the University of Virginia School of Law and a master’s of laws in taxation from New York University School of Law. (While on a summer visit home from law school, on a blind date, he met his future wife, Susan Garvin; the couple married in 1969 and had one child, Jessica.)
Benjamin practiced law in New York City for 15 years, where he was also an adjunct professor at the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law. He moved to Sarasota and joined Williams Parker after becoming reacquainted with his college friend and roommate, John “Jack” Cannon, who was with the firm.
Benjamin cherished Sarasota, according to his official obituary. He loved living a few minutes from the office — and being freed of the New York bustle. (Though he did retain at least one thing from New York: a passion for the New York Yankees.)
At the firm, Benjamin was an inspirational mentor. Moore would sometimes drop a brief he had drafted, late in the afternoon, to get Benjamin’s advice. By 8 a.m. the next morning, Moore recalls, Benjamin would greet him with an edited copy and a box of muffins. Then they would chat about the changes.
Benjamin was involved in the community outside of work, including the Sarasota Opera, which he called a labor of love. He also helped launch the Sarasota chapter of the Association for Corporate Growth, and was actively involved as the chapter’s programs in town.
Both Moore and Gregoria say Benjamin, in addition being a great storyteller, had a brilliant legal mind, one that stood out even in a workplace of high achievers. But it was ability to break down complex problems with an everyman articulation — not condescending — that made Benjamin standout.
A big lesson Moore learned from Benjamin? Use your ears more than your mouth. “He taught me that a client meeting is first about listening,” says Moore. “Too many people, especially young lawyers, think they are there to give the client advice. But often what the client really wants is for you to listen. I learned that from Doc.”