September 26, 2013 | Volume 43, Number 38

Chaplain Fairall heeded call

Ben Fairall, a retired police chaplain from Penryn, Calif., who volunteered around town after moving here eight years ago, died Sept. 11 in Kennewick, Wash., of lung cancer. He was 79.

Ben Fairall

“He never stopped serving the Lord,” said wife Ruth Fairall, including by teaching five weeks of adult Sunday school lessons from a wheelchair early in the summer. “He told me that’s something you never retire from.”

Ben Fairall was born Oct. 14, 1933, in Deming, N.M., the second of three sons born to carpenter John Fairall and wife Lois. Ben was named all-state defensive end on his high school football team. He developed a work ethic early in his life and, while in his forties, hand-dug 180 fence post holes around his three-acre property in Penryn, his wife said.

“He had a tremendous work ethic. On Elks hamburger night he would swab the floors, fill the coffee pot and look around for something else to do. He could work 10 people under the table,” Ruth said.

Ben and Ruth met through one of his brothers in 1953, as Ben was leaving for Korea with the Air Force. He served a year in Japan working on aircraft radar systems before being transferred to Travis Air Force Base. The couple was married in October 1954.

After a stint working for McDonnell Douglas and other companies, he returned as a civilian employee to the Air Force, working in electronics and communication. He retired at age 54 to enroll in Bible college, eventually earning a bachelor’s degree in religious studies and a master’s in law enforcement chaplaincy, Ruth said.

As a police chaplain in Placer County, Calif., he rode along with officers responding to calls involving murder, suicides and accidents, acting as a buffer between grieving families and police. “He’d made seven or eight ride-alongs per month. They’d call him out at all hours of the night. He saw everything. Children buried alive, cars split in half and bodies everywhere. He’d help the coroners move bodies.”

Fairall was a horseman who owned seven horses during his life and roped calves at small-town rodeos. He also led services through the “Cowboys for Christ” program, she said.

On retiring from the chaplaincy, Fairall embarked on a “Western” tour that included rodeos and Buffalo Bill museums and “every place that had anything to do with cowboys,” his wife said. “He wanted to see the Old West and where the wagon trains came through.”

Fairall suffered a heart attack before his first visit to Alaska 13 years ago, which prompted a trip to Haines instead of a longer one to the state’s more remote regions. The couple stayed at Oceanside RV Park and enjoyed it so much they came back in 2005 as campground hosts, a job they did until 2010, and would return to even after they were no longer staying there.

RV park owner Joyce Town said Ben Fairall was instrumental in getting her business up and going in the second year she owned it. He hosted Dungeness potluck dinners, including taking campers to buy crabs from commercial fishermen.

“He’d go down there with them and teach them how to clean the crab. He’d give them the whole Alaska experience, and he had a chuckle that just got you going. He would do things that needed to be done without asking… He was a big man in my life. He helped me all year long. I needed him a lot,” Town said.

Former American Legion post commander Bill McRoberts worked alongside Fairall at Legion functions – Fairall was chaplain at the Haines Legion Post – and they both volunteered at the American Bald Eagle Foundation. The two arrived in town the same year and shared a history of ranch work, McRoberts said.

“He’d read his Western Horseman magazine and bring it to me. He was a pretty good old boy. He could be sick as a dog, really hurtin’, but he’d always show up. It was never about Ben. It was always about everybody else. He was that kind of guy,” McRoberts said.

Fairall is survived by wife Ruth Fairall of Haines, by daughter Sharon Vorpagel of Kennewick, Wash., and by son David Fairall of Israel, and by six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. He also is survived by brother Jack Fairall of El Paso, Texas.

Fairall will be buried at Jones Point Cemetery next spring. Donations in his memory can be made to Hospice of Haines.