by Henry Lane Hull
In the days before we had a local hospital, in times of health crises residents of the lower Northern Neck had to rely on the local rescue squads to transport them to Richmond, Williamsburg or Tappahannock hospitals if they were unable to get there by other means. We had no helicopter service and no surgical care in the area.
In the 1970s, a group of governmental and business leaders as well as retirees got together to plan for a regional hospital in Kilmarnock. Ben Humphreys was one of the spearheads of that movement. Coming from a family with long-term roots in the Northern Neck, he could see the need for a local hospital. He labored tirelessly to achieve its establishment.
Ben was a native of Ocran and was reared, as he put it, at “Westlawn,” the stately home one passes on entering Heathsville from Burgess. Gifted academically, he graduated from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, after which he returned to the Northern Neck following military service with the U.S. Army. He had a mind for figures, which talent he brought to his family menhaden industry, Standard Products, where he served in many capacities over the course of his career.
Ben was a raconteur par excellence. He was enthralled by the study of history, and he never forgot a single fact or date that he came across in his prodigious study of the past. He was a living repository of genealogy, architecture, politics and religion as they affected the Northern Neck.
When I moved home to the Northern Neck, one of the first people to contact me was Ben, inviting me to a welcome home dinner with him at The Tides Inn. I sat for three hours listening to his every word, amazed at what he knew and how enthusiastically he embraced the past. A typically good scholar, he was driven to share his information with others. He did not want what he had learned over the course of his lifetime to be lost once he was gone. He also relished a good joke or amusing story, all of which he interspersed with his emphasis on what we should remember from the past.
In any conversation with Ben the topic of Rappahannock General Hospital was bound to arise. He was devoted to the institution and to the staff who gave of their talents to provide us with high quality health care. As a layman, Ben was amazingly current on the latest medical practices and procedures, and he could discourse on them at length when asked.
The hospital was literally “his baby,” and good father that he was, he liked to brag about it, without expecting credit, but delighted that his years of work had paid off successfully for the community. He did not micromanage, but he was involved intimately in what was happening, especially during his term as chairman of the hospital board.
As the years passed Ben began downsizing, first by moving to Heatherfield in Kilmarnock, and then ultimately to Richmond to be near his son, Ben Jr., and his family. Last week Ben died at the age of 83. Although not in our midst in recent years, his legacy remains. Every patient and every medical professional at Bon Secours Rappahannock General Hospital is the beneficiary of his vision and his ceaseless efforts to bring a fine health care facility to the Northern Neck. Quite an inheritance for a man who spent most of his life in the fishing industry.
Benjamin Raymond Humphreys, September 14, 1936 – October 2, 2019. R.I.P.