Ben Sayles, a lifelong Andover resident, died in 2003 at age 81. A self employed landscaper, he was a lifelong member of the Merrimack Valley branch of the NAACP, serving on its membership committee. In his later years Ben -- or “Benny” as he was known by many residents -- was often seen downtown collecting cans for recycling and saying hello to people. He is remembered in a letter to him by his friend Bill Dalton.
Dear Ben,I miss you, not because you were a fixture in town from the 1940s until you died in 2004, but because you were Ben Sayles, a unique, interesting man.
You were one of the first people I remember in my early memories. I was 4 and you were a young man with a landscaping business, and you worked in my parents’ yard.
I looked out the window and you were the first black person I ever saw. On that hot summer day with the windows open, I yelled as loud as I could to my mother who was in another room: “Mommy, why does that man have black hands and face.” I still laugh about how much my mother was embarrassed by me. She said that everyone in the neighborhood heard me yell, including Mr. Sayles. I’m sure you heard me, but there was nothing about you, in all the 55 years I knew you, that caused me to believe that you were upset or embarrassed by a child’s question.
Over the next three or four years, I went outside and watched you work in the yard, and you talked to me and let me help you push the lawnmower. You were easy to like. You worked very hard, and sweat glistened on your face and ran into your clothes. My Dad liked you and was grateful that you could help him. I called you “Mr. Sayles,” and even when you asked to be called “Ben” I couldn’t do it for you were a man for a child to admire.