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Bill Benjamin, former ChemE instructor, has died

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Inez and Bill Benjamin
Inez and Bill Benjamin

William J. "Bill" Benjamin, 88, a former instructor in the UC Berkeley Department of Chemical Engineering, died in his sleep at his home in Rossmoor, CA, on Feb. 22.

Benjamin was born on Aug. 20, 1920, in Kelly Lake, MN. He spent his career with Shell Oil and Development Co., where he was a process engineer. He was an instructor in the chemical engineering department from 1980 to 1983. "He was a generous donor to the college for 25 years and served as a volunteer on our first capital campaign advisory committee," says Assistant Dean Jane Scheiber.

Benjamin earned a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from the University of Minnesota, where he met his future wife, Inez Steenson. Upon graduation and the start of WWII, he enlisted in the Navy and she enlisted in the Women's Army Corps. They were quickly married before he shipped out for 2½ years of sea duty aboard a destroyer in the South Pacific.

After the war, they moved to Iowa, where he received his doctorate in chemical engineering from Iowa State University. In 1949, the couple relocated to the Lafayette/Walnut Creek area and he began his 30-year career with the Shell. After their three children were raised, Bill and Inez were transferred to Houston, TX, where they lived for 7 years before he retired from Shell in 1979.

Benjamin specialized in process design and became an expert in the design of plants for making ethylene oxide and ethylene glycol. He authored technical papers, patents, and operating manuals for the plants, and he traveled around the world advising on the design, operation and improvement of more than 30 such plants.

Bill was a mentor to a generation of young engineers. Late in his career at Shell, while based in Houston, Bill supervised waste remediation and environmental projects for many of Shell's chemical plants and refineries.

After Benjamin's retirement, the couple moved to Rossmoor, CA, where they became active in duplicate bridge, hiking and fishing. They took many domestic and European tours with Elderhostel. They especially enjoyed excursions that involved hiking and being outdoors.

From 1980 to 1983, he taught part-time at UC Berkeley as a member of the chemical engineering faculty. "Bill did much rebuilding and modernization of our undergraduate chemical engineering laboratory," says Jud King, emeritus chemical engineering professor, former Dean of the College of Chemistry, and former UC systemwide Provost. "He loved to work with his hands and took great pride in these changes."

Inez, his wife of 65 years, died in August 2008. Benjamin is survived by three children, James Benjamin and his wife Joanne of Los Gatos, CA; Elaine Benjamin of Blue Lake, CA; and Mary Goodfellow of Jackson, WY; and six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

The family held a private memorial ceremony.

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