Friends and family of John Bennett, who died over the weekend of Jan. 4, held a memorial of his life on Sunday, Jan. 19 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, with hundreds in attendance and several speaking about their friendship with and admiration for John.
The Salt Lake Men’s Choir also sang in praise of the well-loved man and champion for LGBTQ rights in Utah.
Wesley Brady, a friend of John’s and co-member of SLMC said, “I have been a member of The Salt Lake Men’s Choir for over 37 years. I first met John when he joined the choir as our accompanist, as you all know he was an excellent musician and he brought not only his fabulous musical abilities to our choir, but his compassionate soul and very unique sense of humor. I have many fond memories of him and our choir adventures, but, mostly, I remember his compassion for others, not just through his many activist activities for the LGBTQ community but for his caring interest in individual people, including me!”
Bennett held leadership roles in the ’80s and ’90s at the University of Utah Lesbian and Gay Student Union, AIDS Project Utah, Utah Pride Festival, and the Gay and Lesbian Community Council of Utah.
Bennett served as executive director of the Utah Stonewall Center, the precursor of the Utah Pride Center, from 1994 to 1995.
He was an accomplished classical pianist and was accompanist at the Salt Lake Men’s Choir for three years and, in 1993, helped found The Lesbian and Gay Chorus of Salt Lake City.
He was also former Sen. Bob Bennett’s nephew.
He was part of many other groups, including the Utah AIDS Memorial Quilt Project, and marched with the Utah contingent at the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1987. He went to several others after that first one.
“I always admired him for being so calm and composed. He was able to stand back calmly and look at the big picture and look for long-term solutions and tactical changes,” said friend and confidant Don Steward. “His opinion was one of the few I really valued because you know he thought carefully about things and incorporated all sorts of different perspectives before saying anything. He was wise and sage, like a lanky Yoda.”
John managed a senior center of Salt Lake County Aging and Adult Services from 2004 to 2013 before taking on the full-time role of caregiver for his aging parents until his mother’s death in May of 2018.
Not only did he serve the aging LGBT community, but he also attended to the young as well, having done “a lot behind the scenes for GLBT youth, especially with the Salt Lake City School District,” said Doug Wortham. “He was tireless in his efforts with school board members when advocating for GLBT youth back in a time when it was not nearly as productive as it can be today. Things are better today because of John.”
John started Bennett’s Art Glass in 2015. The name paid homage to the Art Glass Department of a former family business, Bennett’s Paint and Glass. He did custom pieces for many homes as well as Franklin Covey.
John became president of LifeRing Secular Recovery, a secular alternative to 12-Step recovery for drug and alcohol dependency, in 2017.
In November, Bennett was hired as a program manager at the University of Utah College of Pharmacy, Pharmacology Department.
Others at the memorial also put their two-cents in with great love and admiration (and a little humor): “I’m thankful he was part of my world”; “We will all miss his kind and gentle ways”; “He had a passion to change the intolerances in this world. I am a better person for knowing him.”He was a wonderful friend”; “John was an asset to all who knew him”; “He was such a visible and classy role model”; “I hope younger people will hear his story and look up to him”; “I will remember his sly smirk and quirky humor.”
Robert Hall, who organized the memorial, reminded the crowd that peace does not need to be elusive. That we can honor John and find peace every time we hear beautiful music; every time we hug a friend or loved one; every time we experience great art; every time we advocate for equality. There John is. Hall invited the crowd to hold hands as Salt Lake Men’s Choir sang “The Circle of Life.”
And on a final and real note: “We are better off today because of John Wells Bennett.”