George Benson sure loved his family. The Clinton man loved them so much, he sang them Marty Robbins songs, fixed their flat tires and even called them funny names.
The big man and his wife, Peggy, traveled all over, and it was during their first trip together that Peggy got her nickname, "Pinky." They were in Nevada and George had gone shopping for her. He did that kind of thing, bought her a matching set of Lapis lazuli jewelry once, and another time, a turquoise watchband.
That time in Nevada, he surprised her with a pair of black pants and a pink shirt that was just her color.
"From then on, he always nicknamed me 'Pinky' because I looked so good in pink," Peggy said.
His family had funny names for him, too. George and his niece Kerri Dale May were tight as twins, and when she was little, they'd eat junk food and watch cartoons together. Once, with Kerri Dale at his side, he called out to Peggy - "Honey" - and KD picked up her first two-syllable word.
From then on, Uncle George was "Honey," and when she got older, he was "Uncle Honey." He taught her to fish, play guitar, and shoot a gun, said Dawn May, Peggy's sister. They'd go way up Wallace Creek and set up targets, and he taught her well.
"She's never killed anything, but she's deafening when it comes to cans," Dawn said.
He'd do most anything for her, and even the things that might be the most embarrassing for a real man's man to do. Dawn has a picture of George and Kerri playing with dolls when the family went camping at Lake Mary Ronan.
"He was a big, strong, outdoors manly-man. But he was willing to play Barbies with a 6-year-old," Dawn said.
When he turned 50 years old, Kerri sang for him at his surprise birthday party. Five-year-old Kerri stood up on a chair and sang him their song, "Honey, I'm Home."
"Oh, he cried," Peggy said. "He was so happy."
He was a teddy bear of a man who'd do anything for anyone, and he had a big soft heart, too. George worked as a building inspector, and sometimes he'd see things that made him mad. He'd explode to Peggy about landlords who crammed people together.
"He didn't think it was fair because all they wanted was their money, and it just seemed like they didn't care about the people sometimes," Peggy said.
And he himself did care about people, a whole lot. When Dawn first moved to town, she was staying at a shelter for battered women. Her pickup truck had a flat, and she couldn't get it fixed. She'd just met George, but he and a friend came to her rescue even though they had to sign a lot of papers before they were allowed to reach her at the shelter.
No one wanted to disappoint George, Dawn said, and when she earned her degree, George told her she'd come a long way.
"He was proud of me. And he made sure that everybody knew that I graduated with a 3.8 (GPA) and still worked full time and took care of my daughter and took care of my mother and all those other things you have to do when you're a grown-up," Dawn said.
Last summer, Peggy and George took a glorious vacation with family. Well, mostly it was glorious. Sometimes, it was comical, but it turned out to be their last summer together.
"We didn't realize then he was going to go," Peggy said.
They traveled to the Oregon Coast and the California redwoods. Once, an attendant in a park told George she wasn't sure if he could make it to the top of the mountain in his wheelchair.
"He says, 'Watch me,' " Peggy said.
His leg had been amputated after he fell through a rotten floor on an inspection, and his health suffered afterward. But that day, he made it sure enough, and from the top of the mountain, they looked at the ocean and saw whales. They spent time on the beach, too, even though George's wheelchair couldn't roll through the sand.
His three nephews carried him and took his wheelchair onto the beach. Peggy laughs when she remembers that being carried wasn't his favorite part of the trip at all.
"He didn't like it too well. He was afraid they were going to drop him," Peggy said.
Of course they didn't. It was a breezy day, and the sun was shining, and George sat on the beach and watched his family play Frisbee. Then, they carried him back up again.
George died on March 2, on Kerri's birthday. Then 13, she sang to him again before he died, sang him the same song she did when he turned 50: "Honey, I'm Home."
His family and friends will remember him different ways. Steve Hutchings, a friend and fishing buddy, hasn't fished since George died, but he's thinking of spending his birthday on May 2 in memory of George.
"I'm thinking of going over to Canyon Ferry, which was one of our many favorite places," Steve said.
He'll fish, have a beer for George.
Peggy thinks of George's smile, his big hands, his kindness, his love for his family and friends, his laughter, his music, his singing.
"He loved to be with people. His big heart, you know."
Reporter Keila Szpaller can be reached at 523-5262 or at Keila.Szpaller@missoulian.com.