In Memory

Lee Benjamin

Lee Benjamin, teacher, coach and eventually, principal of Northeast High, passed away on Wednesday, October 16, 2019 after losing his fight with lymphoma at the age of 92.

Born in Louisville, KY, Lee lived his early years in Miami, FL and after high school, enlisted in the Navy during WWII.  After his discharge, Lee met Felice, the love of his life, at the Miami Jewish Community Center.  Lee and Felice were married 59 years when their devoted marriage was cut short when Felice lost her bout with lymphoma at age 77.  In 1948 Lee attended and played varsity basketball as the team captain and leading scorer at FSU.  After graduation he went to nearby Boston, GA to coach high school basketball.

Lee began work in Pinellas County in 1954 when he took a job as a teacher and basketball coach at Northeast High School in St. Petersburg.  Sixteen years later, he became principal and led the school through desegregation.  In 1974, he became an area superintendent who oversaw 30 schools and more than 23,000 families.  He retired in 1986, but he didn't stay away for long.  He announced his run for School Board in 1990, telling reporters he was itching to get involved again with the school system.  He won a seat in 1991 and was re-elected for four more terms.  In 2013 the school district named Northeast High's gym the Lee Benjamin Athletic Center in his honor.  

Until about 10 months ago, Lee played tennis six days a week and was a formidable competitor on the clay courts at Seminole Lake Tennis Center.  He was also an avid Tampa Bay Rays fan and a life-long FSU Basketball supporter.  He will be missed for his competitive spirit, love of family, friends and sports.  He was a loving, supportive and caring father, grandfather and great-grandfather with 14 grandchildren and eight great-children.  He is survived by his five children, Terry Krassner (Al), Debbie Ramker (Allyn), Leslie Mankin (Leonard), Jill Piehl (Bill) and Jack Benjamin (Laurie).

A celebration will be held in honor of Lee Benjamin at the Notheast High School Lee Benjamin Athletic Center at 1 pm, Sunday, October 20, 2019.  In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Suncoast Hospice or Northeast High School.

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10/18/19 01:26 PM #1    

Jill Azarenok (Marie)

He was always a kind, PATIENT mentor to me when I was an unhappy teenager at NEHI. Sat with me in  the gym the day Kenney was shot.   We got to work together in the 80's in updating the Cheerleading guidelines to include them as athletes in the PCS District in the 80's.  You can fight "City Hall" if you know someone, a GREAT someone, on the inside. broken heart

10/18/19 03:57 PM #2    

Earl W. {Bill} Powers

All of my memories of Mr. Benjamin are fond ones. He was a quiet, stable, LEADER who provided solid advice and was always available. God bless him and my sincere condolences to his family.

10/19/19 02:17 PM #3    

Roger Bowers

"Where do we find such men?" Lee Benjamin was a rare example, even for the greatest generation, of service to his country, community, family and friends. Can't begin to guess how many young people's characters were positively influenced by Coach Benjamin. My character certainly needed some work, and I got it working for him at Hilltop Day Camp with his family and my pal Sterling Bacun. Great memories. Thanks, Coach. 

10/20/19 12:29 PM #4    

Marshall Ogletree


Coach Benjamin was an excellent role model for his students and athletes! He was a teacher, principal, district administrator, and school board member who believed in Northeast High School and the Pinellas County School District. 

As a faculty member, I and other teachers and coaches often met to play pickup basketball. Lee was there showing his skills even 20 or more years older than the young guys! For me, his support for teachers and students then and later when I served as Executive Director of PCTA was always foremost in his actions and service to the schools and public of Pinellas County!

His legacy endures at the Athletic Center at Northeast. Wishing his family the peace in knowing he was a giant in the history of Pinellas County Public Schools!!

R.I.P. Coach Benjamin 


Marshall Ogletree 





10/20/19 08:32 PM #5    

John Tomlinson

Friday, September 20, 2013, The Pinellas County School System honored Lee Benjamin for his outstanding service to the people of Pinellas County by Dedicating and naming the Gym at Northeast High after him. I had the privilege and honor of participating in that event. We, as speakers, were limited to two minutes to honor Mr. Benjamin. How can two minutes begin to cover the accomplishments of such a man’s career? I was directed to sit in one of the padded seats at the front of the gym. A few minutes after I was seated Lee Benjamin was escorted in and seated beside me. It was not the first time I had been seated next to him but this time it was humbling. I am sharing my attempt to honor Lee Benjamin in that brief two minutes.

“Good evening. My name is John Tomlinson and I am a Northeast alumnus, Class of “65”. I also was a teacher for the Pinellas County School System for over 37 years. Lee Benjamin was my P.E. Coach at NeHi. I wasn’t an outstanding athlete but Coach Benjamin always treated me with patience and respect, as he did everyone. I never heard an unkind or disrespectful word about Coach Benjamin. That is truly special. I am sure there will be much said about Lee Benjamin, as a great coach, and he was. There will be much said about him being a great school administrator and Board Member, and he was. But I want to commend Mr. Benjamin for being a great teacher and human being. He modeled honor and respect for all of us throughout his life. He made people feel important.

As I began my career as a teacher, Mr. Benjamin had recently assumed the position as Area Superintendent. He made a decision that adversely affected our school, and the faculty asked him to come speak with us. He did so. He realized that a mistake had been made in the decision making process. Mr. Benjamin accepted full responsibility, apologized, and promised to make things right as soon as possible. No blame shifting, no excuses, and no ducking the problem. Mr. Benjamin has always conducted himself as a man of integrity and honor. Those words are frequently used far too casually. For me, Mr. Benjamin has aligned himself with those terms to a level that has caused me to try to emulate that level of honor as a man and a human being.

I mentioned the respect that students, my classmates, held for Mr. Benjamin. I need to say that I found that same respect reserved for Mr. Benjamin by my colleges throughout the school system. I was politically active in my teaching career so I was in a position to hear more than a little negative feedback on administrators in the system. Trust me when I say I heard more of that than I ever cared to. Lee’s name never came up in that context. Never! Again, how special!

My heart is happy and I am proud that Lee Benjamin’s name is going to be placed on this Gym. There is no better name to be chosen. The story of this man deserves to be told and his values need to be shared with the generations that follow. Thank you, Lee, for sharing who you are with all of us.”

I turned, to return to my seat, and I saw Lee standing, waiting for me, and I expected that he would shake my hand. That did not happen. As I walked up to him, I saw a tear coming down his cheek. He put his arms around me and gave me a bear hug, whispering, “Thank you, John”. His daughter, Terry, also a colleague and friend, had come up behind me and gave me a kiss on the cheek. She had tears, as well. It was emotional and a memory I will treasure for all of my life. We seldom get to thank the people who influenced and guided our life. I am so thankful that I got to give Lee Benjamin his well deserved thanks.


10/21/19 11:24 AM #6    

Erna Fox (Messenger)

One rainy day in 1963 the gym had been turned into a practice area for Mrs. Foster class. We were having fun with high jumps.  As a chubby Junior High kid I was enjoying being thinner and able to run without bouncing, after my “baby-fat” disappeared over the summer of 62.  After clearing 4.8 feet…I was eager to try 5 FEET! However, the tip of my sneaker tapped the triangle steel bar, causing my untied shoe lace to wrap around the bar, taking it cross my shin along with a lot of skin.  My fall to the ground was sloppy, and painful.  As I slide across the floor toward the pushed back bleachers my back twisted so that my left arm was behind me as I hit them.  The noise was deafening.  Lying on my side the only thing I could see across the gym floor was Mr. Benjamin racing in slow motion towards me.  Everyone was concerned about my arm, but it was my back that hurt…and all that blood on my leg.  Mr. Benjamin carried me upstairs…do to my fussy memory at that time that is all I recall.  He and my dad took me to our car. I spent several months in physical therapy with no serious damage.  The thing is, only Mr. Benjamin ran to help!?  After that, every time I saw Mr. Benjamin, anywhere, he’d stop me. “How are you?”  “Erna, are you doing ok?” “Anything I can help you with”…. Until graduation! 

10/22/19 02:31 PM #7    

Jill Azarenok (Marie)

We all were certainly blessed by this man.

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