As I set out to write something beautiful about him over the last few days, I’ve drawn a blank. Not because I couldn’t think of what to write, but because I did not know where I should start. But I’ll give it a try.
He loved his family. My last memory of him was standing in the same line with our families to see Santa. It was purely random but we were able to talk for a few minutes and I’ll never forget his laugh from that day and the joy in him while his girls waited in line. I made a crack about “What idiot stands in line a few days before Christmas to see Santa?” He shot back with, “Well you’re the other idiot with me.” It was a “had to be there” moment, but it’s a nice memory, as we wished each other well and were preparing for future battles together on behalf of the fire district and the community.
He loved his fire district and would often tell me how much he missed working with his fellow firefighters. He loved those guys and he loved protecting the community and comforting folks during their worst. He wanted to help be a voice on their behalf since he could no longer join them on calls. He was a strong advocate of three-man crews at the very worst while he advocated on behalf of the entire district to be covered fairly without favorites being played to one community versus another. He loved to share the history of the district about how it used to be, where it’s at now, and where it could be headed if it were just given some community support. He was very positive about the district and would always stop to educate folks who had questions. In a way, teaching allowed him to continue doing what he loved without the physical demands.
He loved teaching and would often express to me his ideas of how he can create a better experience for fire science and reach the next generation of firefirefighters and emergency personnel. He was always excited about his demonstrations and teachings to his students. His loss will be a huge void for the three schools and the program, as he was very gifted in reaching students.
And then there were the political conversations, where we would not always agree on how to get to a place, but we would agree on what that end place needed to be. He loved his community and wanted it to be improved for everybody. He was very selfless in this aspect and he would have been a damn good Brentwood City Council member because that is where he was headed in a few years.
He would have been good at that because it was never about him; rather, he was always was a “community first” kind of guy. He is the type of leader that is needed in today’s political realm. You knew where he stood and you had better come prepared to defend your position because he was one of the most prepared people I knew with facts and figures.
He appreciated a great debate. More than a debate, he wanted to fight the good fight for all the right reasons and I appreciate that. That is probably why we got along so well in such a short period of time.
He was a giver, not a taker. He was a man that everyone could look up to (not because he was tall) because that is just who he was. He made you want to be a better person; he made you want to try that much harder. He wanted others to succeed and would help any way he could to ensure success.
I’m forever grateful in getting to know him and learn from him. He was just a few years older than I, but I consider him a mentor in not only fire education, but in wanting to become better. He was an asset to the community much greater than I could ever put in words.
Ben Whitener will forever have a life-changing impact on my life, and I’m thankful for getting the opportunity to know him and am proud to consider him my dear friend.