Amherst Magazine

Benjamin E. Haller '38

Deceased September 18, 2008
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Benjamin E. "Ben" Haller

Some in our shrunken ranks will best remember Ben for the retirement years he devoted to chronicling our joys, sorrows and, alas, many deaths. But long before he became Class secretary, he was known for his brave and worthy deeds, not least the fathering of six children.

Unhappily, he was stricken by Alzheimer’s in his 80s and died Sept. 18, 2008, in Montclair, N.J., aged 91 years old. With the onset of the disease, he had moved with his wife, Margaret, to New Jersey from rural Massachusetts to be near a daughter, Dr. Kate Haller.

In a sketch of his life, Margaret told of how he had barely begun a law career in his native New York when, with Pearl Harbor, he volunteered for the U.S. Army Air Force.   He rose to the rank of captain and piloted a crew of 10 on 51 Italy-based bomber attacks against one of the war’s major and highly dangerous targets, the Ploesti oil fields in Romania, and also against industrial complexes in Germany.  

Margaret recounted Ben’s role as a French-speaking attorney representing the French government in the famed oil spill suit against the Amoco Corporation.  Ben had learned French in early schooling in France and also had specialized in maritime law at Columbia, where he got his law degree in 1941.

The Amoco Cadiz tanker ran aground along the coast of Brittany in 1978, causing the then worst oil spill to reach land.  The French claimed beaches and villages were devastated and tourism badly hit.  After years of legal battles in New York and Chicago, Amoco was ordered in 1990 to pay France $120 million.

From 1968 to 1989, Ben was a partner at Hill Betts & Nash in New York, specializing in both insurance and aeronautics.  His knowledge of aircraft and flying also enabled him to defend Boeing in a number of cases. Earlier he was a partner of Purrington & McConnell.

Ben was closely linked to Amherst through his father, William ’08; an older brother, Bill ’36; and his maternal grandfather, Benjamin Emerson, a geology professor at the College. Ben’s father authored a book, still in print, entitled The Rise of Puritanism, or The Way to the New Jerusalem as Set Forth in Pulpit and Press from Thomas Cartwright to John Lilburne and John Milton, 1570-1643.

“Ben always spoke happily of his four years at the College,” Margaret said. “His sports were soccer and swimming. His greatest splash, however, was as organizer of the New England Model League of Nations, where he chaired the realistic squabbles of students enacting the roles of fascist, communist and neutral countries.” His major was economics and his fraternity Delta Upsilon.

In retirement, he served as Class secretary for eight years, 1993-2001.  During that time nearly one-fourth of our Class, 46 alums, died, and he wrote In Memory pieces that told of their lives.  The filing cabinet he turned over at the end of his term was notable for folders on each classmate to which, for easy remembering, he had attached a youthful photo from the Olio Class book.

During Ben’s working years, the Hallers lived mostly in Port Washington on Long Island, starting with a houseboat in Manhasset Bay. For many years he was active locally in the Port Singers and the Play Troupe. When he retired, they moved to family property in Holland, Mass., 30 miles from Amherst. He served a term as selectman and then as head of the zoning board of appeals. On his bicycle, he toured the whole town to map the terrain for 9-1-1 calls.

Besides his wife and daughter Kate of Montclair, Ben left five other children, ten grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. The children: Richard of Holland, Mass.; Barbara Makowski of Uncasville, Conn.; Peg Haller (Schneider) of Brooklyn; William of Williston, Vt., and Thomas of New York City.

Ben was one of our earliest bridegrooms, marrying Margaret “Miggie” Ekern (Smith ’38) during final exams of their senior year. This despite Smith objections to marriages during a school year.  As Margaret put it, “After all, the schools were only seven miles apart and such a union might set off a trend.”

George Bria ’38

 

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