As a followup to some other posts, I thought I'd share this.
It is with deep sorrow that we say a loving goodbye to our dear companion, Mac Benford. We are genuinely grateful for the time we shared with him. He led an uncommonly rich and fulfilling life, as a devoted father, husband, musician, social servant, steward of the land, and cherished friend. We’d like to give many thanks and much love to everyone who reached out to our family during these past few days. The overwhelming outpouring of love and support has been a great source of strength.
Mac is survived by his wife, Kay Benford, his sons, Wade Benford and Jake Benford, his daughter, Jocelyn Benford, his grandchildren, Nate Dennis-Benford and Emily Ahn, his sister Susan McCoy, and her children Amanda and John. Mac is mourned by an incredibly loving and supportive circle of friends, extended family, and community.
Mac was born in Camden, NJ, on April 18, 1940 and died peacefully at his winter home in Crescent Beach, FL, on February 15, 2020. He praised modern medicine for the gift of 3 years lived to the fullest after a lung cancer diagnosis in 2017. Mac attended a Quaker high school, Penn Charter, in Philadelphia, and he felt the Quaker tradition helped form his ethics and sense of integrity and justice. He went on to graduate from Williams College, where he began to develop his keen intellect, creativity, and curiosity about the world.
Mac has been a leading figure in the preservation and performance of traditional Appalachian stringband music for nearly sixty years. He began playing clawhammer banjo in 1960, while a student at Williams College. Moving to California’s Bay Area in 1967, Mac began his professional performing career, honing his skills on the street corners of San Francisco
and traveling to old-time fiddler’s conventions in Virginia and North Carolina. His love of playing old-time music with kindred musicians led to the development of the now-legendary Highwoods Stringband. It was written of the Highwoods that “more than any other band of their time, they were responsible for drawing a legion of new, young fans into old-time music by the force of their musicianship and the fact that they were having such a good time at it.” Eventually, Mac settled in the Finger Lakes region of New York, an area that fosters a burgeoning old-time music community. Spanning the years, Mac continued making music with a wide variety of bands and numerous renowned musicians, sharing his love of this unique style of music far and wide, and inspiring many subsequent generations of players.
For 20 years, Mac served as the Director of Medicaid for the Tompkins County Department of Social Services. A colleague of Mac’s said that he was the guy that made things happen when people were in deep trouble. After this rewarding career in service to his community, Mac was able to savor his well-deserved retirement for more than 10 years.
Mac was a devoted steward of the land. He and his wife restored and lived in an 1840s farmhouse in Mecklenburg, NY for 42 years - a place they referred to as a “Greek Survival” house. During that time, he developed and tended this beautiful piece of property, where his abundant garden, orchard, and barnyard brought him great joy and were an inspiration to others.
Through all these years, Mac’s wife, Kay Benford, stood by his side, enjoying his dear love and companionship, and taking pride in their accomplishments and the rich life they built together in their beloved Finger Lakes community. They worked hard, but they played hard, too. They were always up for new adventures, took frequent opportunities to travel, and they loved to host memorable celebrations with their friends and family. Many people in
their community viewed Mac and Kay’s bond as the kind of deep and abiding relationship to aspire to. So much so that several young couples asked Mac to officiate at their marriages. Mac spoke these heartfelt words during one such ceremony: “At this special moment, we should all focus our hearts and minds on love – that powerful, magnificent force which seeks to bring together and give unity to all the seemingly separate and isolated elements which surround us. Love is the energy which brings sweetness, goodness, and harmony to our lives, and to the world in which we live. It is, quite simply, the human expression of that divine spirit which flows through all the living universe.”
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the American Cancer Society.
Thank you, Paul, for sharing this moving memorial.
Bill Rogers (Moderator)
A truly accomplished life that touched and helped many. It’s funny how we never think of our musical heroes as having real lives outside of playing music. Mac’s was surely one well-lived.
Edited by - Bill Rogers on 02/21/2020 13:54:19
Yes, Mac's was a life well lived. His support to the music community, to people like Richie Stearns who was just a pup when Mac was in his hayday, was astounding. And his service to the community and those less fortunate all a testimony to his belief in the goodness of humanity. One hundred years from now, old timey players will still honor his contributions. God Speed, Mac. God Speed.
My heart is glad to read your words. My best experience with Mac as a musician is the amount of hours I spent listening to his Half Past Four CD that plays Ed Haley tunes clawhammer style. Mac’s music brought much joy and inspiration and his smile is ingrained in my memory.
'Singing the Blues' 5 hrs
'1 year banjo' 8 hrs
'Redwing' 8 hrs
'Recording King RK-35' 9 hrs
'10,000 posts' 9 hrs