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Ben Gardner dies at age 65
Local attorney was EDC founding member
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In a file photo Ben Gardner speaks to the Henry County Board of Supervisors.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

By GINNY WRAY - Bulletin Staff Writer

Benjamin R. "Ben" Gardner, a Martinsville attorney who was a founding member of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp., died at 4:50 a.m. Sunday at his home on Scuffle Hill in Martinsville. He was 65.

Gardner had worked on economic development issues since the early 1970s, when he was active in the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce while also building his law practice. In 1976, he became the chamber's 18th president.

"Ever since then, he has been an integral part of the organization," then-chamber board Chairman George W. Lester said in 2006 as he presented Gardner with the chamber's highest honor, the Heck Ford Award.

Lester described Gardner as an "individual who exemplifies ... what being a statesman really means."� Besides his statesmanship, Lester said, Gardner was honored for his "leadership, commitment and dedication."�

In 2003, the Henry County Board of Supervisors appointed Gardner to the Coalition for Economic Progress. He brought to the post his years of experience as a former chamber president, as a member of the Partnership for Progress (predecessor of the Chamber's Partnership for Economic Growth, or C-PEG) and as a member of the Patrick Henry Development Council, a county/city economic development group that disbanded in 2001.

Gardner chaired that coalition, which led to the creation of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. Throughout that process and beyond, he never lost sight of the organization's mission.

"It's one word - jobs," he said in a 2003 interview. "That's our mission in a nutshell."�

Gardner gave up the helm of the coalition in May 2004, saying it had secured funding and needed a leader with skills, time and good health he did not have. "I've never been involved in anything as important as this other than my family," he told the coalition members at the time.

He remained on the board of the coalition and the EDC after that, continuing to champion its work to help existing industry grow and other initiatives.

In addition to receiving the Heck Ford Award in 2006, Gardner was given the Ambassador of the Year Award from the EDC last May. That award is presented to a person or firm that goes beyond the call of duty in hosting new economic development prospects for the area.

Gardner was born in Henry County, graduated from Martinsville High School in 1960, received a bachelor's degree from Virginia Military Institute in 1964 and a Juris Doctor degree from Washington and Lee University in 1967. He then served five years in the Army as an officer and as a member of the Judge Advocate General's Corps, including duty as a military judge.

In 1975, he and his brother, Philip, started the law firm of Gardner and Gardner in Martinsville, which is now Gardner, Gardner, Barrow and Sharpe.

Gardner's record of service spanned the community. He served as second vice president of the board of directors of the American Red Cross, was a member of the board of the Patrick Henry Mental Health Clinic; a member of the executive committee of the Democratic Party of Henry County; and served as a substitute judge of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court and the General District Court of Martinsville, Henry County and Patrick County.

He was a member of the adjunct faculty of Patrick Henry Community College for more than 20 years, teaching courses in business law and paralegal studies.

Professionally, he was a member of the American Bar Association, the Virginia State Bar, Virginia Trial Lawyers Association and the Martinsville-Henry County Bar Association.

He also was a member of Christ Episcopal Church.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday at Christ Episcopal Church. The family will receive friends at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Collins-McKee-Stone Funeral Home in Martinsville.


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