Retro Birthday Remembrance of Ben Hamilton

By Elaine Van Develde

They personified RFH cool. They were the sibling team of Ben and Kate Hamilton.

That team was separated with the untimely death of Ben, a gentle, sunny embrace of community spirit and friendship for many, on Nov. 21, 2015.

The two longtime Fair Havenites were very close — both growing up and into adulthood — even though Ben lived his life out in his hometown, across and down the street only feet from his childhood home at his home on the Navesink and Kate had moved to her family’s favorite vacation haven of Nantucket.

A destiny of life close to the water seemed to be a family trait from the onset. For one, all the kids at Knollwood School knew Kate had returned from that hip isle south of The Cape when she came back to school sporting that oh, so cool white rope bracelet. We all wanted one — and that braided tan mark that it left behind when the gym teacher cut it off her for class.

Now, that was a special kind of old-time school lesson in torture. It really did pain us all to witness. Oh, the pain! Who would think a little gym teacher could destroy all that adolescent coolness with one fell swoop of a snip? Uncool.

But, I digress … back to this family bond of special Fair Haven folks and cool kids in school and beyond. They were the sis and older bro duo everyone wanted to hang out with. To be invited to stand in one of their clique circles by the bushes before the start of the school day at Knollwood was a major popularity accomplishment. Though, I doubt they realized that. They were that cool.

Much cooler than that Nantucket bracelet or the clique by the bushes was Ben and Kate Hamilton’s bond. It’s a bond that remains unsullied by death, but, nonetheless difficult to bear by the one left behind when a milestone crops up. There were the holidays that immediately followed Ben’s death. Then there were the birthdays.

Kate reminded friends of her brother’s birthday on Sunday. It was her first without him.

Her birthday was the following day, Monday.

So, the Retro Pic (and slideshow) of the Day is a special posthumous heavenly Happy Birthday to Ben Hamilton and an earthly one for his grieving, yet ever so grateful sis.

There were, of course, other Hamilton siblings. We have not forgotten that. It was a close family. It just so happens that Kate and Ben were closer in age, birthdays and mindset — and, well, they are the Hamiltons this editor happened to grow up with.

Kate’s gratitude for having had Ben as a brother was a stronger sibling brand of thanks that was echoed by many of his friends when he died.

Ben was an unassuming presence. Just about anyone who’s been around the towns for years can remember the first time they met him and/or many times that he just seemed to be there — soaking up the sun, paddling, surfing or just taking life in and exhaling sincere, sunny good vibes with a smile.

Mayor Ben Lucarelli, when Ben died, remembered “my earliest childhood memory of someone other than a family member is of Ben Hamilton. His journey is now complete and he is smiling down from on high.”

I was not a close friend of Ben’s, but I, too, remember him from the time I was a child in Fair Haven. He always seemed to just be there — somewhere, around just about any corner or, more likely, down by the river.

Oddly enough, I remember the first time I saw Kate’s cool older brother at the park across the street from what was then Willow Street School, now Sickles. Everyone knew him. It wasn’t “his” season. It was fall and he had one of those really nice cable knit sweaters on. He was that quintessential cool older bro. He smiled what became his usual Ben smile at me and gave him a very shy smile back and went back to spinning around on that thingamajig in the park. You know, the whatayacallit.

Playground rides weren’t really Ben’s thing — not that I know of, anyway. It was more likely to see him riding a wave in the ocean or paddling on the Navesink over the years. Kate rode out many waves and times with her brother. On his birthday during a chilly blizzard, she remembered his warmth and his love of the sun and surf.

“Here is a picture of him doing what he loved best,” she wrote on Facebook, featuring the photo in the above slideshow of him surfing. “I hope he is continuing to enjoy an Endless Summer.”

Reflecting on a group paddle out onto the Navesink River in remembrance of Ben right after his death, Kate captured his spirit with these words: “…  As the sun twinkled and the strength of the water bearers reached out to the sea, I felt grateful. Love is bouyant, unwavering and to keep us warm in our hearts, everlasting.”

Yes. So, on this cold day, we look back and remember Ben Hamilton for his birthday that just passed on Jan. 24 with the warmth he paid forward to so many.  He would have been 57.

RIP, Ben Hamilton. Thank you for being that friendly Fair Haven face that made the community all the more special. Now, that’s coolness.

— Photos by Elaine Van Develde and courtesy of Kate Hamilton and Ben Hamilton’s Facebook page.