Charles Benjamin McKinney Obituary – Florida Times-Union


Charles Benjamin McKinney (Ben) joined the Lord’s Angelic Choir on December 4, 2021. Born September 1, 1923 in Atlanta, Georgia to Pulaski Hugh McKinney and Sarah Ruth Johnston McKinney as the second son of eventually four children—Hugh, Jr., Ben , Sue and Akey. Ben would often say he was not “raised” but he was “dragged up.” His father owned a haberdashery and his mother was a brilliant seamstress. After the economic crash of 1929, Hugh lost the business and Sarah earned a nickel a piece, turning cuffs and collars.

Ben earned excellent grades attending Tech High School in Atlanta and was part of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps his senior year. In November 1942, he became an Aviation Cadet then an Ensign United States Naval Reserve in March 1944. In August 1945, Ben earned the title of Lieutenant JG He was active in the service from January 1943 to December 1945 and in the Naval Reserve Atlanta Naval Base Air Station from December 1945 to 1949. He was a brilliant pilot flying F6F Hellcats from the USS Manilla Bay, CV-61 in the Pacific Theater of WW II. He used to say he flew by the seat of his pants because sometimes the instrumentation would fail. He learned to use the stars to help navigate. His awards included: Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, Air Medal with 2 stars, Navy Unit Commendation Medal, and several campaign medals.

After the war, he met Mildred Lee Cantrell at Cascade Baptist Church where he lead the singing in the Buddy’s Sunday School Class. They were married in the same church on June 12, 1948. At that time, Ben was a “rambling wreck from Georgia Tech and a heck of an engineer” and graduated with a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering in March of 1950 at age 27. After. securing a job with the telephone company, Ben and Mildred moved to AT&T’s southern headquarters in Jacksonville, Florida. Ben and Millie had three beautiful girls.

In 1959, the family moved to New Jersey so Ben could study at Bell Labs (Bell Telephone Laboratories). Ben helped invent a solenoid switch, the first underwater telephone cable, an artificial larynx, a noice canceling switch, the WATTS telephone line. He and his fellow designers/engineers invented/worked on the transistor, radio astronomy, the laser, and the photovoltaic cell. AT&T transferred the family to Maitland, Florida so Ben could work on Telstar, the first telecommunication satellite launched in July 1962 from Cape Canaveral. AT&T often sent Ben to various places to learn the latest electrical engineering technology and then he would return to teach his fellow engineers. They sent him to Iowa State where he earned a master’s degree. Returning to Jacksonville, the McKinneys were members of Lakewood Methodist Church, San Jose Country Club and Deerwood Country Club. Ben lived in New York City for a year in 1972 after divorcing Mildred.

Ben married widow Minnie Merle Smith Ray in July 1975. AT&T moved their headquarters to Ft. Lauderdale in 1977 and Ben and Merle moved to Sea Ranch Lakes. Ben retired from AT&T in September 1980 at age 57 after 36 years of service. Ben and Merle bought Compass Travel and took tours of people all around the world many times. Ben would photograph their travels, take detailed notes, collect ephemera and create “Travel Logs” to entice friends and family to travel with them.

They moved into John Knox Village in December 1991 into a beautiful lakeside villa. Ben and Merle had a happy life traveling, giving parties and attending Christ Methodist Church. Ben sang with The Villagers the JKV all male choir. The third Sunday of every month, Ben would sing a solo at the non-denomination church on the JKV campus. Merle died in April 2021 and Ben passed of complications from Parkinson’s disease in December. Ben was survived by children, Nancy M. Whittington (William R. Whittington), Atlantic Beach, FL; Deborah S. McKinney, Jacksonville Beach, FL; Diana C. McKinney (Kevin Crysler), Columbia, MD; draining Taylor W. Van Nortwick, Chicago, IL; Jonathan M. Levine (Marian S. Levine) Los Angeles, CA; and great granddaughter, Emma Grace Levine; his step-children, James Guil Ray, Jacksonville, FL; Peggy R. Sichveland, Memphis, TN; and Lesa R. Truax (David) Addison, TX; and his sister, Barbara M. Bardin, McDonough, GA. Creative throughout his life, Ben wrote many letters including stories to his great step-grandsons, Jack and Thomas Heath.

From a letter Ben wrote to his grandson, Jonathan, where he listed 8 points titled Words to Live By #8: “Make the choice to Be Happy and to enjoy everyday of your life, and above all else—never give up. Happiness is an attitude not a condition of health.”

Print lieu of flowers, donate to the American Parkinson’s Disease Association:

Posted online on March 31, 2022

Published in Florida Times Union

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