MARY ESTHER, Fla. – Lt. Commander James Nelson Bennett, U.S. Navy Reserve (Retired), age 77, a resident of Mary Esther, Fla., went to be with the Lord Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013, in Mary Esther, Fla.
Born Aug. 20, 1936 in Bainbridge, Ga. to Dallas and Etta Lee Bennett, he grew up in Attapulgus, Ga. and moved with his family to Ft. Myers, Fla. in 1951.
After graduation from Ft. Myers High School in 1954, he attended Stetson University in Deland, Fla. for one and a half years and in June 1957 joined the U.S. Navy. In 1958, he married Kay Hickman of Ft. Myers, Fla., whom he met and fell in love with at Riverside Baptist Church. He was trained as an aviation metalsmith and served at Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico; Pensacola, Fla. and Miramar, Calif. in VF Squadron aboard the U.S.S. Hancock during the Vietnam War. Desiring a college education, he left the Navy in 1965 to attend the University of Florida, graduating with a bachelor of science degree in 1969 and a masters of education in 1970. During his college years he joined the U.S. Navy Reserve and upon graduation became a commissioned officer in the USNR, receiving the rank of Lt. J.G. Through his reserve years, he served with the Reserve Units in Washington, D.C.; Norfolk; Charlotte, N.C.; Roanoke; Patrick AFB, Fla., and CENTCOM at MacDill AFB, Tampa, Fla. In 1989 he retired with the rank of Lt. Commander as an intelligence officer.
After graduating from University of Florida, he pursued a career as a mathematics professor, first in Virginia at New River Community College in Dublin for 12 years, then at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Fla. for 21 years, retiring in 2003. While in Virginia James became a licensed homebuilder, building several dozen custom homes and commercial buildings. He was always active in a Baptist church wherever he lived, serving as a deacon and men’s Bible class teacher.
He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Kay Hickman Bennett of Mary Esther, Fla.; daughters, Beverly Gravley and her husband, Leon, of Draper; granddaughters, Ginger Blevins and Sandi Daniels of Wytheville, LeAnn Barnes of Dublin, Sandra Pitman and husband, Jeffrey, of Mary Esther, Fla.; granddaughter, LeAnna Pitman and grandson, Aaron, and his wife, Jessica Pitman, of Mary Esther, Fla.; brothers, Earl Bennett and wife, Karen, of North Ft. Myers, Fla. and Bernard Bennett and wife, Penny, of Ft. Myers, Fla., and many cousins, nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents, Dallas and Etta Lee Bennett, and grandparents, David and Ella Belle Strickland.
The family will receive friends Monday, Sept. 9, at 9 a.m. at Calvary Baptist Church, 529 Clifford St., Ft. Walton Beach, FL 32547, with funeral service beginning at 10. Pastor Emeritus Joe Plott of First Baptist Church of Mary Esther will be officiating. Pallbearers will be Earl Bennett, Bernard Bennett, Leon Gravley, Jeff Pitman, Aaron Pitman, Brian Smith and Marty Bennett. Internment will follow at Barrancas National Cemetery, Pensacola Naval Air Station, at 2 p.m. the same day.
Memorial donations may be made to the missions program at Calvary Baptist Church, Ft. Walton Beach, Fla. Funeral arrangements are being handled by Davis Watkins of Ft. Walton Beach, Fla. To share memories, express condolences and sign the guestbook, visit www.daviswatkins.com.