Connect with us

Obituary

Retired Smithsonian official John Benton dies at 72

Longtime Arlington resident was supporter of D.C. Gay Men’s Chorus

Published

on

John F. Benton

John F. Benton, an Arlington, Va., resident who worked for 45 years in the management, administration, and operations of nonprofit organizations and government agencies, including the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum, died Sept. 20 at the Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington after a short illness. He was 72.

According to David Briggs, his partner of 45 years and husband for the past 10 years, Benton combined his distinguished career in Washington with a love for his friends and family and his many and varied interests, including the arts, music, and classic cars.

“Perhaps you knew John as the debonair driver who piloted his imposing, prize-winning 1971 Pontiac Bonneville convertible through the streets of Rehoboth Beach and environs,” Briggs wrote in a tribute to his husband published in the Washington Post.

Briggs said Benton was born in Hopewell, Va., and graduated from Dinwiddie High School in Dinwiddie County, Va. He graduated with honors from the University of Richmond’s Robins School of Business with a degree in business administration and economics.

“After holding increasingly senior positions in public service in Washington, D.C., he found what he would later describe as his ‘dream job’ – working for the Smithsonian Institution,” Briggs wrote in his tribute.

“In 2001, after a short detail to the Office of the Director, he became Associate Director for Management and Public Programs at the National Air and Space Museum,” Briggs states in his tribute. “For 12 years, John performed so admirably that, shortly after he retired in 2013, the Smithsonian asked him to return to active duty in high-level positions four times, including as Deputy Undersecretary for Finance and Administration for the Institution,” according to Briggs.

Briggs told the Washington Blade Benton played an early role in the renovation and redevelopment of the Air and Space Museum, which continues at this time, and he served as Interim Deputy Director at the National Zoological Park in Northwest D.C.

The Arlington Community Foundation, where Briggs said Benton provided volunteer support, states on its website that prior to joining the Smithsonian Benton held positions with the U.S. Department of Treasury, the Department of Health and Human Services, with Virginia’s state government, as well as in the private sector. It says following his 2018 official retirement, Benton devoted his time to “service on local nonprofit boards, arts and cultural institutions, and his alma mater.”

Briggs said that in addition to his involvement with the Arlington Community Foundation, Benton “devoted himself to furthering the work” of the Science Museum of Virginia, the Arlington Free Clinic, the Signature Theatre, the Arlington Commission for the Arts, and the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, “as well as many more community and arts organizations.”

As if all this were not enough, Briggs said Benton enjoyed “both listening to and making choral and organ music” and loved to sing. He became involved with singing groups that traveled to England, Australia, and New Zealand, Briggs said.

“John connected with people, whether over a dinner table, over a board table, or over a cold drink in a theater lobby,” Briggs wrote in his tribute to his husband. “Once he made a connection, he kept you in mind and in his life, helping to connect you with others,” Briggs wrote.

“With family and friends alike, those connections remained strong across distances and years,” Briggs continues. “John treasured his many friends, celebrating their lives generously and with style.”

Benton is survived by his husband, David Briggs; his uncle Terry Turner of Dinwiddie, Va.; his niece, Vickie Bright, of Enid, Okla; Brigg’s sister, Elaine Briggs, of Bentonville, Ark; Brigg’s brother, Corey Briggs, of Quincy, Mass; and many cousins, friends, former colleagues, and community members in Arlington and the metro D.C. area.

Services celebrating Benton’s life were scheduled to be held on Oct. 28 at 2 p.m. at First Baptist Church of Washington, D.C., at 1328 16th St., N.W; and on Nov. 11, 2023, at 2 p.m. at River Road (Baptist) Church at 8000 River Rd. in Richmond, Va. Benton said his husband’s ashes will be interred in River Road Church’s columbarium.

Contributions in lieu of flowers in John Benton’s memory can be made to the Benton-Briggs Endowed Fund for the Arts of the Fund for Arlington Arts at the Arlington Community Foundation, according to Briggs. Briggs said he and Benton created the Fund for Arlington Arts “to support and advance the welfare and missions of the nonprofit arts in Arlington.” Donations may be made by mail or through the foundation’s website at www.arlcf.org.

Advertisement
FUND LGBTQ JOURNALISM
SIGN UP FOR E-BLAST

Obituary

Pioneering transgender computer scientist Lynn Conway dies at 86

Early supercomputers pioneer fired after she transitioned

Published

on

Lynn Conway (University of Michigan faculty headshot by Charles Rogers and Xerox photo by Margaret Moulton)

BY ERIN REED | Tuesday, news broke that transgender woman and computer pioneer Lynn Conway passed away at the age of 86. Her story is nothing short of remarkable.

Conway helped pioneer early supercomputers at IBM but was fired after she transitioned. She went “stealth” and had to rebuild her career from the ground up, starting as a contract programmer at Xerox with “no experience.”

Then, she did it all over again, pioneering VLSI — a groundbreaking technology that allowed for microchips to be made small enough to fit in your pocket, paving the way for smartphones and personal computers. In 1999, she broke stealth, becoming an outspoken advocate for transgender people.

Conway first attempted to transition at MIT in 1957 at 19-years-old. At the time, the environment was not accepting enough for trans people to do so. She would have faced enormous barriers to medical transition, as few doctors were knowledgeable enough to prescribe hormone therapy a the time. Like many trans people seeing enormous barriers to care, she spent the following years closeted.

Eventually, she was hired by IBM where she helped develop the world’s fastest supercomputer at the time on the Advanced Computing System (ACS) project. The computer would become the first to use a “superscalar” design, which made it capable of performing several tasks at once, dramatically improving its performance and making it much faster than previous computers. Despite her pivotal role in the project, she was fired when she informed her employer that she wanted to transition.

What she did next is nothing short of remarkable. Realizing that as an openly trans woman in 1968, few companies would hire her, she went “stealth” and pretended she had no significant prior experience in computers.

She quickly advanced through the ranks and was hired by Xerox, where she famously developed VLSI, or Very Large Scale Integration. This groundbreaking technology allowed for thousands of transistors to be packed onto a single chip, revolutionizing electronics by making cell phones and modern computers possible through miniaturization and increased processing power.

Conway didn’t stop there. After gaining fame for her computer innovations, she came out in 1999 to advocate for trans people. She was among the early critics of Dr. Kenneth Zucker, an anti-trans researcher still cited today by those working to ban gender-affirming care.

Conway slammed Zucker for practicing “reparative therapy,” a euphemism for conversion therapy. Notably, Zucker’s research continues to make false claims that “80 percent of transgender kids desist from being trans,” numbers based on his clinic’s practices, which closely mirrored gay conversion therapy. That clinic has since been shut down over those practices.

Often, those opposed to trans people paint a picture of gender transition as something new, unique, or unsustainable. Similarly, many who transition are told they cannot be successful as trans individuals.

Such claims are often weaponized by anti-trans activists like Matt Walsh, who once mockingly asked, “What exactly have ‘transgender Americans’ contributed?” Conway’s life was a resounding rebuke to these attacks. She attempted to transition at a young age in the 1950s, revolutionized computing twice from scratch, and made the cell phone Walsh likely used to post such a question possible.

Perhaps more importantly, Conway’s life gave trans people another gift: A visible example that we can grow old, and a reminder that we have always been here. In a world where so many of us have had to hide in silence or stealth, where representation has been denied, and where we are told that our lives will be too dangerous to live, Conway proved that one can be trans and live a long, fulfilling, and proud life.

******************************************************************************************

Erin Reed is a transgender woman (she/her pronouns) and researcher who tracks anti-LGBTQ+ legislation around the world and helps people become better advocates for their queer family, friends, colleagues, and community. Reed also is a social media consultant and public speaker.

******************************************************************************************

The preceding article was first published at Erin In The Morning and is republished with permission.

Continue Reading

Obituary

Joe Lieberman dies at 82

Former senator, vice presidential nominee championed ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal

Published

on

Then-U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) being interviewed in his Hart Senate Office Building suite in February 2012. (YouTube screenshot)

Former U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who had served first as a longtime Democratic senator and then declared himself an independent winning reelection in 2006, died Wednesday at New York-Presbyterian Hospital due to complications from a fall. He was 82 years old.

The announcement of his death was released by Lieberman’s family and noted “his beloved wife, Hadassah, and members of his family were with him as he passed. Senator Lieberman’s love of God, his family and America endured throughout his life of service in the public interest.” 

Lieberman, who nearly won the vice presidency on the Democratic ticket with former Vice President Al Gore in the disputed 2000 election and who almost became Republican John McCain’s running mate eight years later, viewed himself as a centrist Democrat, solidly in his party’s mainstream with his support of abortion rights, environmental protection, gay rights and gun control, the Washington Post reported.

The Post added that Lieberman was also unafraid to stray from Democratic orthodoxy, most notably in his consistently hawkish stands on foreign policy.

Lieberman was first elected to the U.S. Senate as a Democrat in 1988. He was also the first person of Jewish background or faith to run on a major party presidential ticket.

In 2009 he supported the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which was passed as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 on Oct. 22, 2009, and then was signed into law on the afternoon of Oct. 28 by then-President Barack Obama.

Lieberman, who served in the Senate for more than two decades, alongside with U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), were the original co-sponsors of the legislation in the successful effort to repeal the Pentagon policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which barred open service by gay and lesbian servicemembers in 2011.

Lieberman said the effort to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in Congress was one of the most satisfying and thrilling experiences he’s had as a senator.

“In our time, I think the front line of the civil rights movement is to protect people in our country from discrimination based on sexual orientation — all the more so when it comes to the United States military, whose mission is to protect our security so we can continue to enjoy the freedom and equal opportunity under law,” Lieberman said.

In an statement to the Washington Blade on Wednesday, Human Rights Campaign Vice President for Government Affairs David Stacy said:

“Senator Lieberman was not simply the lead Senate sponsor of the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ — he was its champion, working tirelessly to allow lesbian, gay, and bisexual people to serve in the military as their authentic selves. The nation’s first Jewish vice presidential nominee, Lieberman had a historic career and his unwavering support for lesbian, gay and bisexual military servicemembers is a powerful legacy. Our hearts go out to his family and friends as they grieve a tremendous loss.”

In September 2011, during a press conference marking the repeal of the Pentagon policy, questions emerged about how to extend greater benefits to LGBTQ service members.

In addition to the legislation that would repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” reporters asked lawmakers about legislation in the Senate known as the Respect for Marriage Act which was aimed at the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited same-sex marriage. Collins and Lieberman weren’t co-sponsors of that legislation.

Collins had left the news conference at the start of the question-and-answer period. In response to a question from the Blade, Lieberman offered qualified support for the Respect for Marriage Act.

The Connecticut senator said he had issues with the “full faith and credit” portion of the Respect for Marriage Act enabling federal benefits to flow to married gay couples even if they live in a state that doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.

“I do support it in part — I think we’ve got to celebrate what we’ve done today — I certainly support it in regard to discrimination in federal law based on sexual orientation,” Lieberman said.

That issue became a mute point after June 26, 2015, when in a landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, Obergefell v. Hodges, justices ruled that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Lieberman by that time however, had retired from the U.S. Senate. He announced he would not seek another term on Dec. 12, 2012, and left the Senate the following year. He was succeeded by Democratic Congressman Chris Murphy.

Following his retirement from the Senate, Lieberman moved to Riverdale in the Bronx and registered to vote in New York as a Democrat. 

In 2024 Lieberman was leading the search to find a presidential candidate for the third-party group No Labels to run against former President Donald Trump and incumbent President Joe Biden, with whom he had served with in the Senate. 

In a post on X (formerly Twitter) former President Barack Obama paid tribute to Lieberman:

“Joe Lieberman and I didn’t always see eye-to-eye, but he had an extraordinary career in public service, including four decades spent fighting for the people of Connecticut. He also worked hard to repeal “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and helped us pass the Affordable Care Act. In both cases the politics were difficult, but he stuck to his principles because he knew it was the right thing to do. Michelle and I extend our deepest condolences to Hadassah and the Lieberman family.”

Lieberman’s funeral will be held on Friday at Congregation Agudath Sholom in his hometown of Stamford, Conn. An additional memorial service will be announced at a later date.

Continue Reading

Obituary

William Troy dies at 69

Longtime D.C. resident worked on the Hill and in antiques

Published

on

William Troy (Photo courtesy family)

William Joseph “Bill” Troy passed away peacefully on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024, at Cayuga Medical Center with his family at his bedside, from recent medical issues after living an active and robust life, according to a statement released by family. He was 69.

Troy was born April 15, 1955, in Elmira, N.Y. to William and Shirley Troy. He attended school in Ithaca and left to attend college at the University of Rochester. He worked at the university at various positions to help pay his way through, and he graduated in 1978 with a bachelor’s degree in history. He continued working at the university and living in Rochester until he accepted an internship in the federal offices of Congressman Matt McHugh of the NY 28th District from 1978-1983. 

Troy was a life-long collector of various things, starting with coins and comics as a youngster, but in the 1980s he moved on to Art Deco lamps, disco records, antique furnishings, Arts & Crafts pottery, and a multitude of similar objects. He followed his passion of seeking antiques and used furnishings in Washington where he met many like-minded people and formed friendships with collectors and dealers.

Troy lived with his friend and partner Kirk Palmatier in Washington until December 2022 when he moved to Newark, N.Y., Palmatier’s hometown. He also wanted to enjoy his Ithaca  family more by living nearer to them.

Troy is survived by five loving sisters and two loving brothers and several nieces and nephews. His death was preceded by that of his parents, William and Shirley Troy. Troy is also survived by his friend and partner Kirk Palmatier of Newark, N.Y., and a number of D.C.-area friends and business associates from over the past years. Arrangements to memorialize Troy will be with his family at a later date. In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations to your favorite cancer or hospice organization. 

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Follow Us @washblade

Advertisement

Popular