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Cape Cod fishing crowd loses unique voice

Free-spirited angling columnist Molly Benjamin was a coastal ‘character’ and marine advocate

Free-spirited angling columnist Molly Benjamin was a coastal ‘character’ and marine advocate

Long-time Massachusetts commercial fisherman and Cape Cod Times columnist Molly “Benjy” Benjamin died Dec. 13 after a short battle with liver cancer. She was 60.

Described by her friends and family as a free spirit, unique and larger than life, Benjamin made a strong impression on the staff at the Cape Cod Times.

“For a fishing columnist, she was straight out of central casting: A former commercial fisherman who was a real character in a world (the OuterCape) made notable by characters,” Cape Cod Times editor Paul Pronovost says in an e-mail to Soundings. Benjamin wrote for the paper for 25 years, her columns appearing in the “Sports and Outside” section.

“Her writing was real and from the heart and I swear you could wring the salt out of her tales,” Pronovost, 37, continues. “She was a free spirit, which is stressful to the folks working to produce the paper and wondering when her column would arrive, but she so accurately captured such an important part of life here, she was worth the worry.”

Benjamin was born and grew up in Seaford on New York’s Long Island. She studied zoology at the University of Colorado and later ran a landscaping business in Boulder, Col. Benjamin and her daughter, Molly, spent some time in Wellfleet, Mass., and moved to Provincetown, Mass., about 30 years ago, where she struggled, at least initially, to earn a living as a fisherman.

“Even nowadays, you don’t hear about many women in fishing,” Sheila Miller, co-owner of Canal Bait and Tackle at the Sagamore end of the Cape Cod Canal, says in a Cape Cod Times news report, calling Benjamin a pioneer in a male-dominated fishing world.

Benjamin, who was given the name Bonnie at birth, changed her name to Molly — in honor of her daughter.

She had to wear and eye patch after a fishing accident took her left eye. “The eye patch, of course, made her recognizable in the community because people saw her mug in the paper and that was an obvious attribute,” Pronovost says. “But for those who knew her, it was her voice and unmistakable laugh that first caught your attention.”

More than 500 people reportedly turned out for a raffle to help raise money for Benjamin’s cancer treatment less than a week before she died. Former Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries director Phillip Coates, who attended the raffle, called Benjamin an “advocate of both commercial and recreational fishermen,” according to the Cape Cod Times report.

Editor Pronovost will always remember running into Benjamin at the Wellfleet (Mass.) SeniorCenter. “She was there with her mother,” he explains. “I remember walking up to her to say ‘hi,’ and she had a ‘do-I-know-you?’ look on her face. So I introduced myself and she was awash with non-recognition, quickly turning to her mom and saying, ‘This is my boss. Didn’t recognize him out of an office.’

“It made me laugh,” Pronovost adds, “because, really, I wasn’t Benjy’s boss. Nobody was. She wrote about fishing because she loved fishing and loved to write. She wasn’t concerned about the rest of the stuff that typically consumes the rest of us.”