Our quote may be off by a word or two — it is based on memory — but its meaning is not. The popular DJ was spot on in his kind words. Benjie Riggs truly was a civic-minded soul who was small in physical stature, but who wore the smile of a giant and the heart of a lion.
A dedicated volunteer with Bradley County Fire & Rescue for more than 40 years up until his unexpected passing, Benjie was laid to rest last Thursday by an array of family, friends and fellow volunteers who knew him best for his love of community, photography and his Democratic affiliation.
Yes, this humble little man stood down to no one when it came to politics. In Bradley County anyway, he operated in the minority as a dedicated Democrat who devoted his time, energy and personal talents to local elections and to the Bradley County Election Commission. His was a familiar face at the polls in early voting and on election day working as a dedicated volunteer.
Benjie’s death on Memorial Day came with sad irony. Having been born into a military family, Memorial Day was a cherished time for the longtime Bradley Countian who settled here after his father’s retirement from the U.S. Army. Benjie was a senior at Bradley Central High School and he quickly became involved with the annual staff.
It came as no accident. Benjie had a love for photography that dated back to his early elementary school years. An infatuation with this creative hobby led him as an adult to establish his own professional business, Benjie’s Photos.
As any business should, it brought income, but Benjie used it as well to expand his own volunteerism. He joined the former Civil Defense organization which at the time was led by the late Morris Greene, himself a fixture in the Cleveland and Bradley County community who is remembered today as much for his civic commitments as his longtime State Farm Insurance business.
As a Civil Defense volunteer, Benjie used his photography skills to better the cause of the local organization. Later, he would work closely with local ambulance operations and Bradley County Fire-Rescue.
One who recognized Benjie’s value to the organizations is Troy Spence, executive director of the Bradley-Cleveland Emergency Management Agency who is currently serving in a dual capacity as Bradley County fire chief.
“Benjie took many of the photos and videos we used to analyze and study various scenes we have worked,” Spence told our newspaper. “His photography was used to train many, many rescue personnel as well as document the scene in a professional manner.”
Volunteer service. Emergency service. Photography service. Political service. People service.
All best describe the work, the talents, the passion and the love that Benjie Riggs held for all endeavors and any initiatives in which he had a hand.
Yet, of 60 years’ worth of anecdotes pointing to the size of this little guy’s heart one of the most enlightening is told by his sister, Debbie.
“A rescue crew including Benjie rolled onto a scene and all the men were of large stature except for Benjie,” Debbie reflected. “The car had flipped and the person was trapped. Benjie crawled into the car, stabilized the driver and began much needed life-saving treatment.”
It is a story of heroism, but Benjie would never have agreed to be tagged with such a lofty title.
Like the finest in salt-of-the-earth America, Benjamin “Benjie” Riggs was a common man who bore an uncommon outlook on life.
He will be missed.
But his spirit will be remembered by any, and by all, who were blessed to have known him and to have walked the path of life with him.
And thank you for reminding us of the truth in that dear old adage about a book and its cover.