Jack L. Benson ‘63: A Retired Senior VP with Aggie Values
Jack ‘63 and Carol Benson have hiked most of Western Europe. Today, they empower other Aggies to do the same.
By Rachel Knight ‘18
After graduating from Texas A&M University with a degree in English, Jack L. Benson ‘63 was commissioned as an officer in the United States Army. He served in the 4th Armored Division in Germany during peacetime. He married Carol, his high school sweetheart, a year after joining the Army. Together, they spent the weekends and holidays traveling through Western Europe.
Jack served for two years before he and Carol moved to Garland, Texas, where Carol was a school teacher. Jack worked for Shell Oil Company for a short period of time. He left Shell to work for Merrill Lynch in Fort Worth, Texas. He finished his career as senior vice president with Merrill Lynch in the Fort Worth office when he retired in 2015.
Throughout their careers and retirement, the Bensons have continued hiking in countries throughout the world. Jack credits his Aggie background and travels with making him more successful in both life and his career. We talked to Jack to learn more about the Bensons’ dedication to upholding Aggie values and the tradition of helping other Aggies throughout their lives. This interview, which has been condensed and edited for clarity, may awe and inspire you.
Tell me a little about your childhood.
I grew up in Tyler, Texas. I was an only child. Interestingly enough, my wife Carol is an only child, too.
In high school I lettered in football a couple of years, I was in the National Honor Society, and I was president of the student council. I was a pretty active young guy. I enjoyed growing up in a city with a population of about 30,000-40,000 at that time.
How did you meet Carol?
We met through church. I attended a church meeting, and she happened to be there. We then started dating when I was a sophomore or junior and she was a year behind me in high school. We dated on and off for a few years, and then I went to Germany by myself. She’d promised her mother that she wouldn’t get married until she had graduated from college. She left after graduating from Stephen F. Austin, and we got married in Germany.
Why did you choose to study at Texas A&M?
One of the gentlemen I attended church with was an Aggie. He knew I was interested in the military and in sports. He said, “I think you ought to look at Texas A&M.”
I started surveying different colleges and decided he was right. I really didn’t have any family, acquaintances or friends who had graduated from Texas A&M. When I went down to College Station, I didn’t have a support group other than the people who were in my unit, Company B-1.
What was campus like when you were a student compared to what it’s like now?
I started in 1959 and graduated in 1963. I was in the Corps of Cadets and a member of the Ross Volunteers. Total enrollment was around 9,000. Today, enrollment is more than 60,000. Since they enrolled women and minorities, the university has really blossomed. I think we’ve had really good leadership in our university presidents. They are all very different, but they’ve all contributed greatly to the growth of Texas A&M.
How have you used your liberal arts education throughout your life and career so far?
Of course when you are in the business of talking to people about investments, you have to be somewhat verbal. Having a liberal arts background gives you the verbal skills you need to be successful in an investment career. At one time in the 60s, the chairman of the major brokerage companies — Merrill Lynch, PaineWebber, etc. — were all English majors.
I think having a liberal arts background gives you a better perspective of the world. In your liberal arts studies you deal with people like you do in the real world. I think that gives you a head start in a successful career.
Tell me about the first time you traveled abroad.
I traveled abroad courtesy of Uncle Sam. There were four armoured divisions. Two were at Fort Hood and two were in Germany. At that time, you could say in the Army whether you wanted to go abroad. I said I wanted to go abroad.
On vacations, my wife and I traveled all over Europe. On the weekend, we’d go to Belgium or Holland in the same way that you’d travel to Austin or San Antonio on the weekend from College Station. It was revealing to see how other people lived and to see their culture.
How have your travels influenced your career so far?
Career wise, it made me more aware. There are a lot of investments that are not based in the United States. Today, I think 25 percent of the worlds’ gross national product is in the United States. The rest of it is outside the U.S. Traveling in other countries taught me how to find good investments abroad.
Did your experiences traveling abroad influence your decision to support Aggies who want to study abroad?
Definitely. My experiences taught me that traveling abroad broadens the individual and makes them a better and more educated person. Being able to see how other people live and how things are done differently in other areas is invaluable. I support it and I know there are several scholarships to study abroad in the College of Liberal Arts.
Why do you choose to support the College of Liberal Arts at Texas A&M?
The faculty does a good job, and the dean of liberal arts provides excellent leadership. The college also communicates very well through bulletins and timely emails to let us know what’s going on. I think our College of Liberal Arts is well grounded and well versed. They serve the university and the state of Texas very well.
What are you reading right now?
I read a lot about investments still, because I manage the personal assets in my family. I keep up with a lot of publications like Barron’s and Forbes.
Why do you choose to give back both with your time and with your philanthropic funding?
Texas A&M has been important to my life in many different ways. It’s just my way to give back. I think you should give back to your university the same way you give back to your church and other worthy charities. It makes you a better person to share, and I am a big believer in sharing.
I am a past president of the Fort Worth Texas A&M Club. I’ve served on the board of the Association of Former Students. I’ve given back both my time and efforts, and I would encourage anybody else to do the same. When you come back to campus, there are numerous opportunities to give back through The Texas A&M Foundation, The Association of Former Students, The College of Liberal Arts, the 12th Man Foundation, and other charitable branches of the university. They all provide an opportunity to get involved and keep up with what’s going on in Aggieland.
When other Aggies think of you and what you’ve done for fellow Aggies, what would you like them to be thinking?
I would hope that people would remember my support for the school. Everyone should support their university with the funding that they can based on how successful you’ve been and your family endeavors. I believe it is also important to give money to the athletic side, because whether we agree or not, the success of our athletics program is something that people relate to how a school is doing.
I’d like to be remembered for supporting both the athletic and the academic side and that I do support Texas A&M with my time, efforts, and money. I encourage anybody who I can influence that they should also go to and support Texas A&M.