Our Hillsborough community, and all the communities touched by Beau Bennett — namesake and head chef for Beau’s Catering — has a hole in it the size of Beau’s heart, which was mighty big. Beau’s unexpected death due to an intracranial brain hemorrhage on October 8 has the many people whose lives he touched filled with shock and sorrow, and we won’t be the same without him.
In a small town like Hillsborough, there are people who become legendary in the community and their loss reverberates far and wide. Beau’s is one of these losses for Hillsborough, and it is remarkable that someone so young could have such a profound effect on so many.
I feel so lucky I could call Beau a friend.
I had the good fortune of meeting Beau Bennett around 17 years ago, when I was a graduate student at UNC. I couldn’t name the first time we met, but my earliest memories are from the spring of 2005, during UNC’s run for the national basketball championship. We were all much younger, more free of responsibilities, and a wee bit wilder. I don’t know if Beau and Lauren were newly dating or if I was just newly getting to know them, but I have such distinct images of the two of them together in Hell, one of the best Chapel Hill bars of all time, packed full of happy people with little care about rubbing sweaty shoulders or spilled beers, just ecstatic to be cheering on our Heels.
And from then on, Beau was my friend. We were never close, but our circles of good friends overlapped closely. But the things about Beau is – and if you’ve ever met Beau you know what I mean – because we had met, we were friends. I remember how every time I saw him from that spring up until the last time, he greeted me with the same enthusiasm and love you would with someone you’d call your best friend.
Over recent years I watched with delight as Beau and his amazing wife and partner Lauren started Beau Catering. I was proud that this beloved person was making their way in Hillsborough, getting started as one of the early businesses launching at Piedmont Food and Processing Center. I wanted so much for his business to succeed and it was thrilling to see it truly blossoming over the past year, including a coveted photo and shout-out in Our State Magazine. Beau was the kind of person you root for twice as hard because you know he is rooting so hard for everyone else. He was the kind of person who finds genuine happiness in other people experiencing their own successes and life milestones.
In January of 2021, when things were still pretty darn dark with the pandemic, I was walking along Wake Street when a car pulled up next to me. I couldn’t quite see who the driver was, but the “Hey Jenn!” in Beau’s unmistakable voice, warm with his big heart and a life growing up in Eastern North Carolina, left no mistake who it was. I wish there were a way to write it down so that you could hear it the way it resonates in my memory. He parked the car and hopped out, just so happy to see me and share with me about his new partnership with The Colonial Inn doing Sunday brunches. He was so excited and eager for me to experience it. And that wasn’t all. He was also concerned about me. He wanted to know how I was doing, what it was like being the mayor in a pandemic and whether I was doing okay. And that was Beau. Always taking time to give you a few moments of his full attention to ask how you are, and to encourage you forward. Every person’s hype man, but it never came across as hype, just pure love and sincerity.
As I read the many tributes on social media written by everyone from his closest people to those who perhaps only met him when he catered their wedding, the sorrow and love comes over me in waves. This one person touched so many people’s lives in a purely positive way. When I think about Beau, I think about how he loved Lauren, his brother Rain, and his momma (I have never met Beau and Rain’s mom, but loved the many photos he shared of her, glowing with adoration). Somehow he had room to love everybody else too – from business associates to catering clients to honest to god people he just met walking down the street.
I often say that Hillsborough’s character lies most deeply in its people, in the bonds of community the people who live and work here make with each other. I can think of few people who exemplify those bonds better than Beau did. Yes, he was a great chef and successful small business owner, but he was defined less by those things than how he related to the other people in his life.
Thank you, Beau, for showing us what is possible when we believe the best in other people, and the possibility of life.