I first met Benjamin Sylvester Ruffin when I moved to Durham in April 1968 and began working as an electrical engineer with the IBM Corporation in Research Triangle Park. It was during the time of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination. Ben was one of the leaders in the community who worked tirelessly to make sure that Durham did not become one of the infernos that were occurring in many communities across this nation. I came to know him better when he was an officer at UDI Community Development Corp. Over the years, I saw Ben grow in stature and wisdom as he progressively assumed more leadership roles in the public and private sectors. It was during this time that I, as well as many others across the state and nation, became more aware and impressed with his strong leadership qualities. In all cases, he maintained his contact with those persons in the community who had made his ascent possible. He never wavered in thanking them.
Ben was not only a friend to me, he was also a friend to countless others. No matter what his position—a member of Gov. James B. Hunt's staff, a vice president at R.J. Reynolds, chairman of Mechanics & Farmers Bank board of directors, a member of the board of directors of N.C. Mutual Life Insurance Company, chairman of the UNC Board of Governors, or as a member of his church or the many other organizations to which he belonged—when you spoke with Ben, you always felt that you were speaking with the top person and you had the ear of a friend who would get things done.
As much as he was admired by many, I know that he was admired, loved and was an even greater inspiration to the members of his family. A family he loved dearly, and spoke about to me personally with love and admiration. All of us are much richer for having known Ben. His tireless contributions helped to make this a better place for all. Even for those who may not have known him personally, I can say that Ben's contributions affected you positively.
Someone said, "A good friend is like a wonderful book—the inside is better than the cover." We never know for sure why we are called from this life, but Ben has left a legacy that will live forever and I am thankful that I was given the opportunity to know and count him as a good friend.
Ben Ruffin, 64, died on Dec. 7 in Winston-Salem. The writer is the mayor of Durham and executive vice president and COO at UDI/CDC.