Derek John BENHAM was born in Enfield on 20 November 1952. As a child he had an amateur radio license, and a large aerial at the bottom of the family garden. His father’s work at the Johnson Matthey gold refinery in Royston may explain Derek’s professional interest in metals. After Letchworth Grammar School, he spent a year travelling and working around Australia, and then went to New College, Oxford to read Physics. As President of the Oxford University Business Society, Derek chose and invited visiting speakers, on more than one occasion impressing them enough to receive a job offer. After New College, Derek joined C. Tennant Sons in New York with the intent to transfer to Brussels; he elected to remain in New York, where he married Joan Marinelli in 1978.
Derek left Tennant to help start the New York office for F.W. Hempel, for which he later became President. When the Hempels closed their New York operation, Derek joined S.G. Keywell until in 1996 he started BenMet NY, a metal trading company, which he sold to ThyssenKrupp in 2013. A member of the London Metal Exchange Cobalt committee, Derek was one of the first western traders to work closely with Jinchuan, China’s major nickel and cobalt producer at the edge of the Gobi Desert. Through BenMet, Derek established the market for their cobalt products to aerospace alloyers throughout the USA and Europe.
Derek’s even temper and dry humour belied, even to some who knew him, enthusiasms in many areas. One of his quiet passions was to encourage young people; Derek was a Fellow of the Duke of Edinburgh Awards, and he and Joan generously supported New College’s outreach to talented young people who might otherwise not consider an Oxford education. Derek was very pleased that one of his former employees at BenMet, Jay Le, came to New College to study for an MBA at the Saïd Business School.
Derek served as Secretary and then President of the Oxford Alumni Association of New York, and Board Member and Secretary of the American Friends of New College. He hosted several New College alumni dinners at the New York Athletic Club (NYAC). In 2011 he became a Distinguished Friend of Oxford, in recognition of his support for New College, the Saïd Business School, and Physics at Oxford. He will be commemorated by the Benham Collaboration Area in the Physics Department’s Beecroft Building.
A gracious and generous host, Derek loved to entertain friends from around the world, and strove to connect friends to one another whenever he sensed a common interest. Having rowed at New College from the novice crew to the schools eight, Derek continued to scull wherever he could, including the NYAC’s Travers Island and Western Australia’s Margaret River. Derek maintained life-long interests in amateur radio and astronomy, and never lost his love for Australia. He and Joan built a house close to the Margaret River, harvested olives and marron (freshwater crayfish), and hosted a telescope for the Oxford University Global Jet Watch project. For many years, Derek bravely and discreetly fought prostate cancer. After a short hospitalization, he died on January 7th, 2018. His wife Joan survives him. Anyone wishing to contact Joan, should email the MMTA at firstname.lastname@example.org.