He was one of the good guys in the world – fair, easy to talk to and known as the guy who got the job done.
Such were the tributes paid by Chenango County leaders, friends and colleagues about the life and legacy of the late Sheriff Joseph Benenati Jr. yesterday as they learned of his death at age 97.
Most acknowledged that Joe Benenati was one of the greatest public servants they had ever known, having spent 24 years with the New York State Police and 22 as Chenango County Sheriff on top of a distinguished five-year career in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Second World War.
“His whole life was dedicated to helping people. There’s no greater tribute to him than the service that he did in this county and for the country,” said Chenango County Sheriff Ernest Cutting.
Cutting’s predecessor, former Sheriff Thomas J. Loughren, said Benenati was the most influential person in his life outside of his own father. He was a mentor, teaching Loughren the ins and outs of public service beginning from when he was a cadet, and later, encouraging Loughren to run for sheriff. Benenati remained a sounding board and friend to Loughren up until his death.
“Let me tell you something, he was tough. But most of all, he taught me how to treat people,” said Loughren. “He put the people and the community first, always. I didn’t realize it at the time, but there’s not a lot of leaders who actually talk the talk and walk the walk like he did.”
Loughren’s isn’t the only one whose career Benenati influenced.
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him,” said Norwich Police Chief Joseph Angelino, who credits the former sheriff with giving him his own start in law enforcement.
He described Benenati as “bigger than life,” not only in stature, but also in experience and the respect he commanded.
“I think he was 10 feet tall,” Angelino said, smiling at the thought of the man who was his mentor and, in later years, friend.
He remembers with great pride the time when, as a 20-year old deputy sheriff, he heard someone refer to him as “one of Benenati’s men.”
“That was the highest complement,” he said. “I would only hope to be half the man he is.”..