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Celebration of Richard Beneville’s Life, Tenure as Nome Mayor, to Take Place July 10

Richard Beneville
Photo of former Nome Mayor Richard Beneville. KNOM file, 2014.

Family and friends of the late City of Nome Mayor Richard Beneville will gather Wednesday, July 10 to unveil a headstone in his honor. The event will take place at the Nome Cemetery where Richard Beneville, who served as Mayor from 2015 until his passing in 2020, is laid to rest.

Richard Beneville was a beloved figure in Nome, known for his charismatic personality and unwavering dedication to the community. Members of his family have traveled from New York, California, and Oregon to celebrate his life and legacy. 

Richard Beneville’s nephew, Michael Beneville, said they’re finally making good on a promise to put up a honorary headstone. 

“It’s long overdue,” Michael Beneville said. “He passed away during COVID so it was difficult, obviously, to align things. This was the stars aligning. We promised him.”

The headstone unveiling ceremony is set to begin at 5 p.m. Michael Beneville, along with fellow nephew Derrick Beneville and niece Susan Beneville will deliver speeches. 

Following the celebration at the Nome Cemetery an informal open reception will be held at Old St. Joe’s Church. There, Derrick Beneville hopes to give members of the community the opportunity to share their memories.

“We’ve heard of all these different people and we want to get to know them and see their faces and pass on stories,” Derrick Benneville shared.

Richard Beneville
Longtime Nome resident and active community member Richard Beneville, a Story49 featured interviewee from February 2014.

Richard's Journey

Richard Beneville’s life began in Mountain Lakes, New Jersey. He pursued a career in theater in New York City that was marked by both successes and challenges. Richard Beneville struggled with alcohol addiction and sobriety for most of his adult life. On top of that, he was often ostracized as an openly gay man. He suffered abuse in New York City, an experience that Susan Beneville believes built up his ability to stand his ground. 

“It took a long time for him to get comfortable with it. In New York, he got gay-bashed a couple times. I think he felt incredibly vulnerable when he first got here. I think he later found a toughness he didn’t know he had,” Susan Beneville recalled. 

Richard Beneville sought a new beginning in his 40s and moved to Utqiagvik, then known as Barrow. There he worked at Alaska Commercial Company for a few years. He was worried about fitting in, a woe that was quickly dismissed following an invitation to go polar bear “hunting”. 

Click the play button below to listen to Michael Beneville tell the story of Richard’s polar bear hunt.

A New Life in Nome

Richard Beneville later moved to Nome in 1988. He worked at Alaska Commercial Company in Nome for some time before pairing his heart for performance with his love for the region to create Nome Discovery Tours. The company is still operational to this day and serves as an integral component of the local tourism industry. 

Richard Beneville eventually found sobriety in Nome. In a 2014 KNOM Story49 feature he credited attending Alcoholics Anonymous with reshaping his outlook on life.

“The biggest change in Nome hasn’t been a change in Nome at all, it’s been a change in me,” Richard Beneville recalled. “To live in the past is to live in anger. To live in the future is to live in fear. What you have is today, one day at a time.”

In 2015 Richard Beneville ran for Mayor of Nome and won with over 60% of the vote. Upon hearing the results he admitted it left him speechless, something that doesn’t happen often. 

Michael Beneville believed that through his time in Nome, his uncle had the opportunity to evolve as a person. 

“His greatest accomplishment was that he found himself. And once he found himself he had the time to reinvent himself several times. He died young in my opinion, and yet at the same time he died complete.”

A bouquet of flowers mark the Mayor's seat in honor of the late Mayor Richard Beneville.

A Lasting Legacy

While serving his third mayoral term, Richard Beneville died on May 11, 2020 following a bout with pneumonia. He had suffered a stroke just three months before. Governor Mike Dunleavy ordered flags be set at half-staff throughout the state to recognize the loss. 

Just before passing, Richard Beneville made one final request to his nephew. 

“He said ‘Derrick, I want to be buried where I can see the planes fly by and be buried fit for a queen’. When he passed away, I went online and bought him a purple coffin with pink velvet in it,” Derrick Beneville said. “And of course, the cemetery is right there at the end of the runway. That was really important.”

His life ended over 3,400 miles from where it began. Richard Beneville’s impact on the people of Nome, however, was immeasurable. 

The headstone unveiling at the Nome Cemetery will begin at 5:00 p.m. and reception at Old St. Joes will follow soon after. Both events are open to the public. The Beneville family is encouraging residents to join and share their stories. The reception is scheduled to conclude around 7:00 p.m.

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