SARA visionary Benton dies

Published 1:10 am Saturday, February 1, 2014

Members of the area aviation community are this week mourning the loss of long-time South Alabama Regional Airport (SARA) Director Bill Benton.


Misty Jones, left, with Bill Benton.
Courtesy photo


Benton, 81, died Thursday.

Benton was airport director at SARA from 1988 until 2008. He liked to tell the story of how the facility was a small airstrip and a leaky building when he took over. When he left, it had become a major economic resource for South Alabama.

The field at SARA is named in his honor.

Benton was qualified in numerous rotorcraft and fixed wing aircraft, and he received the Distinguished Flying Cross for Heroism during the Vietnam War, among many other honors.

During his career, he received numerous awards, including being selected as 1999 Federal Aviation Administration Southern Region General Aviation Airport Manager of the Year. He received the first Aviation Council of Alabama Lifetime Achievement Award for contributions to aviation and airport development.

Andalusia Mayor Earl Johnson, also a licensed pilot, was a member of the airport authority when Benton took over the management.

“Bill Benton is amongst the top three or four men who have had the most influence on my life,” he said. “I’ve never met a more visionary leader than Bill Benton. I’ve never met anyone who refused to give up on something. I’ve never seen anybody who had the constitutional stamina to overcome all kinds of physical pain and suffering and other obstacles and continue to do his job at a high level than Bill Benton.”

Before his retirement, when he was being treated for cancer, it was not uncommon for him to take a treatment in Dothan and arrive later at work. He never let anyone know he was in pain.

“He was just an incredible individual, and someone I’ll never forget,” Johnson said.

“Of all the people that have influenced my life, Mr. B was among the greatest,” said Misty Jones, SARA Co-Executive Director. “Far beyond being my boss, he was my friend. I learned so much from him about life and will always cherish the countless memories and laughs we shared. He believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself, and he always pushed me to step out of my comfort zone and be better than I knew I could be.”

“He will always be the one who built this place,” Jones said. “He loved the airport, and I find comfort knowing that a huge part of him will always be here with us. His 81 years mattered, and I can only hope that my years will as well.”

“Bill Benton is one of the finest individuals that I had the pleasure of knowing,” said Jed Blackwell, SARA Co-Executive Director. “Mr. Benton defined the term ‘hero.’ His love and devotion for his country, family and community will be remembered for many generations to come.”

Funeral arrangements will be announced by Byrd Funeral Home, Dothan, Ala.