Family, town mourn beloved problem-solver
Published 10:13 am, Thursday, July 31, 2014
He was known as a hard-working family man who knew New Canaan better than anyone else. But most likely, Benjamin Olmstead will be remembered as a problem-solver.
"His common phrase was `no problem,' " his daughter Lisa Weed said.
"Nothing was ever a problem for Dad," his daughter Kim Dennehy said. "If it was, he would find a solution."
He was marking the intersection of East Avenue and New Norwalk Road on the morning of July 23 when a Norwalk driver hit him with a Dodge Ram. Police Chief Leon Krolikowski said the driver likely would not be charged, but the investigation is continuing.
It's still not clear the safety measures that were in place and Olmstead's official cause of death.
The death of the 71-year-old, who lived in Norwalk his entire life, has left his family and the town of New Canaan in mourning.
First Selectman Robert Mallozzi said Olmstead was "truly a friend to all."
"This is a tremendous loss and my deepest sympathy is extended to the entire Olmstead family as well as our Town Hall family who worked with, and loved, Ben so very much," Mallozzi said last week in a news release.
When it came to solving problems, Olmstead was the go-to person.
"Every time I asked Ben to do something, he would say, `no problem.' That was always his reply," Public Works Director Michael Pastore said.
Olmstead's family described him as someone who was fun to be around and supportive. In fact, his nieces and nephews would call him "Funcle Ben."
"He was always there for any of our sporting events throughout our entire lives," Dennehy said. "My sister plays softball and he never missed a game; my daughter plays softball and he never missed a game. He was dedicated and always there ... He just wouldn't want it any other way. He just wanted to be there, no matter what."
Pastore said the only personal object he found on Olmstead's desk was a picture of his granddaughter.
He retired two years ago but continued working part time, his family said. He was an engineer and surveyor for the town, according to Pastore. In an interview on the day of the accident, Pastore likened Olmstead to an "encyclopedia" of New Canaan.
"He probably knows more about the town than anybody I know," Pastore said, adding that Olmstead was always helpful and a great asset to the department.
"Ben knew why things were built, when they were built, who built it," Pastore said Tuesday.
His family agreed.
"He knew New Canaan inside and out," Dennehy said. "He didn't need a map to tell you anything."
Human Resources Director Cheryl Jones said Olmstead's death has affected all of Town Hall.
"He has crossed paths with every one of our employees," she said. "I think this is a very difficult time for us. No one expects to lose an employee. It was just a big shock to us."
Jones said Olmstead loved his job and was loved by everyone who knew him.
"The work he did was amazing," she said. "He was always smiling and willing to help everyone."
Besides his knowledge, Olmstead also was known for constantly working. Pastore said "he had to be told to take a vacation."
"How many times have I heard, `Ben, you have to take a vacation,' " Pastore said.
Mallozzi, whose temporary office is across the hall from the Department of Public Works, said he would see Olmstead almost every day. He called him a "wonderful gentleman."
"He was just an extremely nice man. He was a taskmaster," Mallozzi said. "We're all so upset because he couldn't be nicer."
Born in 1942, Olmstead would have turned 72 on Aug. 29. Olmstead and his wife, Donna, had been married for 40 years.
He was a 1960 graduate of Norwalk High School, according to an obituary prepared by Magner Funeral Home. He also served active duty in the U.S. Army from 1964 to 1966, then served in the Army Reserves and was honorably discharged in 1970, the obituary states.
"Ben will be missed," Pastore said. "He was a terrific employee, but more importantly, he was a terrific person."
Besides his daughters and wife, Ben is survived by his sons-in-laws Neil Dennehy and Mark Weed, all of Norwalk; his granddaughter, Julia Grace Dennehy; his sister, Patricia Weaver and her husband, Wallace, of New Hampshire; and many nieces, nephews and cousins.
On Wednesday, a funeral Mass was celebrated at St. Jerome Church, Norwalk, and he was buried at Willowbrook Cemetery in Westport. Donations in his name may be made to St. Jerome Church.
firstname.lastname@example.org; 203-330-6582; @olivnelson