Christopher Benchley wore outrageous hats and crazy wigs to parties, shorts and t-shirts to night clubs, and three-piece suits to the gym.
“You couldn’t help but laugh,” said friend Chris Davis, who shared his favorite memories of Benchley yesterday with the several hundred people who gathered at Nassau Presbyterian Church to mourn the loss of the Princeton native, the youngest son of former borough councilwoman Wendy Benchley and the late Peter Benchley.
Benchley, better known to friends as “Bench”, died Dec. 29 at the age of 24 from injuries sustained in a late-night golf cart accident while vacationing in Montego Bay, Jamaica.
Childhood friends and classmates from Princeton Day School filled the pews of the church yesterday, some of them close friends with Benchley since they were kindergarteners. He met many of them on the field while playing youth soccer, and in honor of that bond several friends who attended the funeral sported orange soccer club t-shirts and orange socks under their suits.
Benchley’s friends all joked about his fashion taste during the service to illustrate how he liked to entertain friends and do things his own way instead of following convention.
They described Benchley as a very competitive athlete, adventurous spirit, and fun-loving prankster who enjoyed entertaining neighborhood kids who came to the door at Halloween, and thought nothing of heading out late at night to go rafting on the Stony Brook. “He lived life to the fullest,” Davis said.
Friends said his loyalty was one of his most admirable traits, and that he was willing to do anything to support a friend. For example University of Miami classmate Ara Basmajian described how Benchley once suggested that he register to take the bar exam, despite the fact that he never set foot in a law school, just so he could be there to provide moral support for the Basmajian, who had to sit for the bar.
The Rev. David Davis, head pastor of Nassau Presbyterian Church, said Benchley easily crossed social barriers when it came to building friendships. “It didn’t matter what section of town you lived in, what your father did, who you hung out with at school,” Davis said.
Friends also described Benchley as a seeker who asked questions, challenged the status quo, and was on a quest to find his calling in life.
His father, author Peter Benchley, author of the novel Jaws, sparked his son’s love for the ocean. Friends said the son took that loved and made it his own, To pursue that passion, he eventually transferred from the University of Pennsylvania to the University of Miami to study marine affairs at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.
Even though his childhood friends went their separate ways, off to college and on to other endeavors, they would all reconnect when Benchley came back home, gathering in his family’s kitchen, just like old times.
“We all caught up and it was as if time hadn’t passed at all,” Chris Davis said. “He’ll be in our hearts forever.”