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Governor mourns loss of Newpence Benjamin, ‘our friend’

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Governor Mark Capes has joined in the tributes to Michael “Newpence” Benjamin, a popular St Helena businessman who has died aged 58.

Others have expressed their sense of loss on Michael’s Facebook page, including his son, Rob.

Governor Capes began his executive council report by speaking of his personal sadness at Michael’s death on 9 November 2012.

He said: “I want to say a few words about the sad loss of our friend and former councillor Michael Benjamin, affectionately known as ‘Newpence’, who passed away on Friday last week.

“I’m glad that I was with Michael at a social occasion on the day before he died. With his ever-sharp wit he was great company, as always.

“He was in good form and we enjoyed much laughter at some of the nonsense and rumour circulating in recent weeks.

“A big smile, sharp wit and warm friendship – that is how I shall remember Newpence on that last time I saw him.

“Michael is a great loss to St Helena. He was just the sort of individual that the island needs, especially at this time of change.  He was an energetic and imaginative entrepreneur with a positive, ‘can do’ mindset.

“To his family I extend sincere condolences on behalf of myself and all my colleagues in executive council.”

Son Rob Benjamin wrote: “You were truly an amazing man, husband, dad, and grandad, and most of all you were my bestfriend. You knew what to say at the right time, you were just so inviting and warm-hearted.

“You came into this world on the 22nd of August 1954 a simple man, and left this world the 9th of November 2012, a legend.”

Cindy Thurlow was one of several people to pay tribute on Michael’s Facebook page, writing: “You were an inspiration to all who knew you. Your passion for life will always be in our memory of you. RIP Michael.”

Newpence returned to St Helena after a successful business career overseas, hoping to seize the opportunities presented by the building of the island’s new airport. He had plans for luxury tourist developments.

He became a symbol for islanders’ dejection when the BBC described him “flipping burgers with a side order of resignation” after Britain’s Labour government put the project on hold.

But he remained an inspirational figure on the island, becoming a councillor. He had to resign his seat earlier in 2012, and found a new role as a forthright columnist in the Sentinel newspaper, urging fellow Saints to take a positive approach to the challenges presented by the airport project.

He wrote: “This is our island, and we must prepare ourselves to become a part of this exciting new economy, to reap the financial rewards of such an economy whilst protecting the social fabric of our society.

“This will not be easy, and there will be many challenges, but our isolation has turned us into a resilient race of people that are more than capable of overcoming any obstacle placed in our way.”

Michael was married, to Julia.

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