Feature > Chuck Bennett's Memory Lives On

Chuck Bennett's Memory Lives On

Chuck Bennett's Memory Lives OnChuck Bennett's Memory Lives On

By Mary Southall for Marinscope Newspapers. Reprinted with permission.

Mount Tamalpais is a mighty landmark in Marin County, but like most landmarks, Marin residents tend to take it for granted. They’d only notice it if it was suddenly gone.

So it is with the legacy of Charles Walton Bennett, known to almost everyone as “Chuck,” who died March 19 after a short yet brave fight against cancer. He would have celebrated his 70th birthday in July.

“Chuck was a soft-spoken guy who was a complete powerhouse in the community, and not just the business community,” said John Williams, managing director of Sperry Van Ness in Novato and a past president of the Novato Chamber of Commerce, one of many civic posts also once held by Bennett. “Schools, hospitals, people in need, all across the board his attitude was, ‘We’ve got to help out here,’” Williams said.

Bennett was never one to crave the spotlight. His friend Dietrich Stroeh, a founding partner of CSW/Stuber-Stroeh Engineering Group, remembered once working with Bennett for months on an enormous presentation for the Novato City Council, only to discover that Bennett didn’t want to appear before the council. “He didn’t want to be in the limelight,” Stroeh said.

Widely known for his ability to encourage people to work cooperatively to solve problems, Bennett served on uncounted boards and civic organizations. “He was the single best guy I ever met who could identify a problem and put together the necessary manpower to help fix that problem,” said Williams.

Civic leaders around Novato recalled Bennett’s influence during their meetings, saying he would sit quietly while everyone discussed an issue and argued their individual agendas. Then Bennett would quietly say what he thought, and suddenly everyone agreed: What Chuck said is what should be done.

“But the decision was never made merely because Chuck wanted it,” said Clark Blasdell, CEO and president of Northbay Family Homes. “He was always thinking about what would be best for the community.”

In his professional capacity, Bennett spent 45 years in the title and escrow industry. Starting as a clerk in 1962, he eventually joined California Land Title of Marin as vice-president in 1970 and eventually worked his way up to CEO.

After he sold the company to Stewart Title a few years ago, he was a sought-after specialist who could analyze and resolve difficult title issues. He joined the board of the California Land Title Association, the nonprofit statewide trade organization representing the entire title industry in California, and served as its president, working to reduce the onerous paperwork now involved in every title transaction.

A dozen years ago, Northbay Family Homes led the residential construction at Hamilton Air Force Base southeast of Novato. “Chuck and Cal Land Title were responsible for the transfer of title for each and every parcel of land at Hamilton Air Force Base from the federal government to each public or private local owner, homebuilder or agency,” Blasdell said. “After the transfer to local ownership, he and Cal Land employees transferred title of each home to each home-buying family. It was incredibly complex.”

Through 25 years of friendship, Blasdell called Bennett “my best buddy in addition to being my boss.” Blasdell was referring to Bennett’s place on the board of directors for NFH and Suburban Alternatives Land Trust, where he served for 14 years, five of them as board president.

California Land Title was a constant sponsor or donor to the Novato Youth Center, Novato schools, Novato and San Marin High School Boosters, Novato Summer Concerts in the Park, Novato Rotary, the North Bay Children’s Center, the Novato Human Needs Center, and the Marin Community Food Bank, among many others.

Known everywhere as a quiet man with a dry sense of humor, Bennett was named the Construction Industry Person of the Year in 2006 by the Marin Builders Association and Novato’s Citizen of the Year in 2002. The Novato Chamber of Commerce named California Land Title its Large Business of the Year in 2003. His profile appears in the 2006 book “100 Faces of Marin,” an assemblage of famous residents that includes Isabel Allende, Thom Johnston of the Doobie Brothers, Michael Pritchard, comedian Don Novello (“Father Guido Sarducci”) and other activists, politicians, artists, and movers and shakers.

“My father used to say there are men in this world, and there are gentlemen; and Chuck Bennett was a gentleman,” said Stroeh.

Bennett is survived by his cherished wife, Patty, and daughter, Cathryn. A memorial service will be held April 14, at 1 p.m., at the Presbyterian Church of Novato.

Contact Mary Southall at msouthall@marinscope.com.