EWC Community Saddened by Passing of Center's First Leader, Longtime Arts Coordinator


The East-West Center community is saddened by news of the recent passing of the Center’s first leader, Murray Turnbull, and longtime arts and exhibits coordinator Jeanette "Benji" Bennington.

"Murray Turnbull was the father of the concept of bringing the young people of the Asia Pacific region together, and the East-West Center was established because of him," said EWC President Charles E. Morrison. "And Benji was an incredible, invaluable resource during her decades of service at the Center. She embodied the EWC spirit, and her legacy remains with us all.”

Art professor Murray Turnbull was assistant dean of the UH Manoa College of Arts and Sciences when he first proposed the idea of an international education institution in 1959, which eventually led to the establishment of the EWC. A Pacific War veteran originally from Iowa, he served as the Center's first interim director and then as Acting Chancellor from 1959 to early 1962. He then returned to the UHM Art Department, retiring as professor emeritus in 1985.

"The East-West Center has been conceived and established not to erase differences between people, but to make possible respect for the ways in which we are unlike and the recognition and acknowledgment of our similarities, that we may join in the construction of a dynamic and fruitful but peaceful life for all," Turnbull said at the Center's groundbreaking in May 1961.

Turnbull passed away on Aug. 22 at the age of 95. A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Sept. 27 at the UH-Manoa Art Department Auditorium. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in Murray Turnbull's name to: Friends of the Library of Hawaii, 690 Pohukaina St., Honolulu, HI 96813.

Benji Bennington joined the Center's Housing Office in August of 1962 as a UH master’s degree student, and during her four decades with the Center served in the Public Affairs and Alumni offices and as Exhibits Specialist in the Institute of Culture and Communications and the Office of External Affairs.  She retired in 1989 and then signed on as consultant to the Arts Program.  In 2004 she retired again with the unofficial title of "East-West Center Historian."

"People talk about a melting pot, and we're not a melting pot...  We're a tossed salad, because we keep our own ethnic background or backgrounds -- celebrating different parts of our identity at different times,” Bennington said in a 2005 oral history interview. “From day one, the East-West Center has never been color blind … it's celebrating differences."

Bennington passed away on Aug. 30 in Minnesota, where she had been living near family.