Ewing remembered by colleagues as ‘a real gentleman’

DOVER — Colleagues and friends on Wednesday praised former state Rep. J. Benjamin Ewing, who died Tuesday at age 84, as a good man, a mentor and “a real gentleman.”

Mr. Ewing, a Bridgeville Republican, was struck by a car on Federalsburg Road in Bridgeville around 5:15 p.m., Delaware State Police said. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Ewing, Ben 2008 by .

State Rep. J. Benjamin Ewing, R-Bridgeville, gave a thumbs-up to his fellow House colleagues on June 30, 2008, his last day of service in the General Assembly. (Delaware State News file photo/Dave Chambers)

Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, said Mr. Ewing was in front of his house at the time.

A former Delaware State Police lieutenant colonel, Mr. Ewing served in the General Assembly from 1987 to 2008, when he retired.

He was known as “Gentle Ben,” a nickname friends in the legislature said was fitting.

Rep. Dave Wilson, R-Bridgeville, who succeeded Mr. Ewing, praised him as a “mentor.”

“He was always a real gentleman,” he said.

A former U.S. Marine, Mr. Ewing was heavily involved in public safety while in the legislature, according to colleagues. In his final two years, he introduced 21 bills or resolutions, including legislation dealing with school bus drivers, child pornography and the Division of Motor Vehicles.

House Speaker Peter Schwartzkopf said Mr. Ewing did not let politics stand in the way of progress and was quick to befriend other members of the General Assembly.

Even though he is a Democrat and Mr. Ewing was a Republican, Rep. Schwartzkopf said the veteran lawmaker took him aside and explained how the chamber worked when he was first elected in 2002.

Like Mr. Ewing, Rep. Schwartzkopf is a former state trooper from Sussex County. He represents the Rehoboth Beach area, where Mr. Ewing grew up, and said the Republican often would joke Rep. Schwartzkopf should take good care of the people in the district.

“He was just a good man. He was a nice man,” Rep. Schwartzkopf said.

Rep. Wilson said he sometimes handed out “hug coupons” to people as his way of a greeting.

Sen. Pettyjohn announced to the Senate Tuesday that Mr. Ewing had died, prompting gasps and looks of shock from several members. A moment of silence was held in his honor, and legislators planned a tribute.

In 2008, after announcing his retirement, Mr. Ewing said he would “miss the camaraderie here. I know it’s difficult for people to believe, but everyone is friends up here.”

He opted not to run for a 12th term because he was battling cancer, he said at the time.

Former U.S. Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., praised him on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2008.

“Ben was instrumental in identifying the need to renovate and develop the new visitors’ center in Bridgeville, Delaware, as a combined State Police barracks, paramedic unit and service center, and as a result it now bears his name,” he said. “His commitment to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, NRA, American Legion and his Scottish heritage is without question.”

Rep. Danny Short, R-Seaford, said Mr. Ewing always had good advice. He was wearing Mr. Ewing’s legislative lapel pin, given to him as a gift in 2008, on Wednesday.

“When I called, he would pick the phone up,” he said. “It never went to voice mail.”

In a statement, Gov. Jack Markell called Mr. Ewing a dedicated public servant who cared deeply about his community.

He will be missed but not forgotten, Rep. Schwartzkopf said.

“Ben was universally liked. I mean, he was liked by everybody,” he said. “He loved to play practical jokes on people and make people laugh.”

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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