By Jay Behrke
MIDDLETOWN – Former Congressman Ben Gilman died at 94 in mid-December, but his legacy lives on at the Gilman Center for International Education, housed in the library at SUNY Orange’s Middletown campus. The library is a physical repository of much of his storied timeline while here on earth, and well worth visiting – even if you’re not interested in matriculating.
“Ben Gilman means a great deal,” said SUNY Orange’s Global Studies Chair Paul Basinski. “Especially with the passing of our 30-year congressman, we see that memorial connection Gilman has with SUNY Orange is even more important than ever.”
Gilman’s resume is extensive and impressive. An assistant district attorney under Gov. Thomas Dewey, then an assemblyman, Gilman rose to chair the House Committee on International Relations during the ’90s, serving as a Republican under seven presidents during a 30-year congressional run lasting from 1973 to 2003. A known standard-bearer for upholding human rights here and abroad, Gilman was also a highly-decorated member of the Army Air Corps during World War II who favored a vigorous national defense.
He was a local boy, born in Poughkeepsie in 1922 and graduating from Middletown High School before attending Wharton School and New York Law School.
During the 1970s, Gilman helped prisoners of war and those missing in action in Southeast Asia, then authored legislation creating a presidential Commission Against Hunger under Jimmy Carter.
On March 28, 2008, Gilman took part in the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Gilman Center, returning home in style and in perpetuity.