It is with great sadness that the TDN family announces the passing Friday, Nov. 1 of Ben Massam, the TDN's News and Features editor, after a year-long battle with cancer. He was 31 years old.
Massam is survived by his parents, Brad and Barbara. Funeral arrangements are pending.
Massam joined the TDN team in 2014 as an assistant editor, and was promoted to News and Features editor in 2017, where he was responsible for overseeing the TDN's editorial content and managing the contributions from freelance writers.
Massam was a longtime New Jersey resident who fell in love with Monmouth Park when he was young. He graduated from The College of William and Mary in 2011, where he was a Division I track and field and cross country athlete, winning a national championship and several state championships. He received his Master's Degree in History from Drew University in 2013.
But it was racing that was his true love. Editor-in-Chief Jessica Martini recalled the office's first impression of Ben.
“Five years ago, I had just sat down at my desk in the TDN offices when Sue Finley found me and said, `There's a kid coming in for an interview. We don't really have anything for him, but let's talk to him just in case. Maybe we can find a spot for him.'
“It was Breeders' Cup week and there was a fair bit going on, so I wasn't completely sold on interviewing some kid for a non-existent job. And of course, Ben walked in just as news hit that Wise Dan was injured and out of the Mile. An inauspicious beginning. I steeled myself for a perfunctory interview and a quick `Thanks for coming in.'
“Ben's passion and knowledge of racing was readily apparent, but I'll admit my mind was elsewhere for the first part of the interview. But then there was this moment. The moment I asked, `So, tell me an up-and-coming sire.' And, without hesitating, this kid who had never had a job in racing said, `Kantharos.' That was the moment Sue and I looked at each other and I know we were both thinking the same thing. He's one of us. And he was. He totally was. Maybe the best of us. His passion and his commitment were so genuine, his loyalty unshakeable.
“Ben's desk is next to mine. The stack of 10 empty mint containers sits right where he left them. Still no idea why.
“It's Breeders' Cup day, but something is missing at the TDN.”
“I had the pleasure of working closely with Ben on a day-to-day basis, particularly since his promotion to News and Features editor in 2017,” said TDN Publisher Sue Finley. “It was characteristic of his personality that when he came in to discuss the promotion with me, his major concern was whether or not his colleagues would think he was letting them down by giving up the work he had been doing. He insisted on continuing to be the one to put out the paper on Sunday nights so that nobody would have to work an additional late night. That was vintage Ben. Other people always came first.”
His coworkers are devastated to lose such a close friend and colleague.
“It really hit me earlier this week while handicapping the Breeders' Cup,” said the TDN's Racing Editor, Brian DiDonato. “Ben and I would go over who we liked every week, and shared plenty of nice hits and bad beats together. It's crushing to know that back and forth has come to an end. He was one of the smartest people I've known, and as selfless as anyone I've met–almost to a fault. Even as he'd gotten progressively sicker, he'd still apologize for not responding to a text right away because he was in treatment or seem more concerned with how things were going on your end. The last piece he wrote for the TDN back in August was so good–I don't know how he mustered the strength to write it, but I know it was a nice escape for him back into what he loved. He was as big a fan of racing as anyone, especially Monmouth Park, of which he knew every piece of trivia and had every handicapping angle mastered. We never got to take the camping trip to Assateague Island that we decided one night at a bar would make for a good story, and we never had our match race (Ben was a world class runner and I, most assuredly, am not) because we couldn't agree on a distance or the weights. But every time I crack open a set of past performances, or go to Saratoga or Monmouth, or see anything mango flavored (his favorite), I'll miss my dear friend.”
That sentiment was a common one in the TDN offices Saturday.
“It was my distinct pleasure to work alongside Ben for the last five years and the loss we feel today, as a publication, but more than that, on a human level, is immeasurable,” said the TDN's Managing Editor, Alan Carasso. “Ben literally never had a cross word to say about anyone. He was the proverbial beacon of light, surrounded by an aura of positivity. A smile, his trademark infectious laughter.
“On a personal level, I will miss dearly discussions that had little to do with racing, but with life and with sports. We recently exchanged texts about the Chicago Cubs and Chicago Bears. It was good to talk about nothing at all, really.
“On a professional level, Ben was the consummate pro. Articulate, thoughtful, driven and, most of all, passionate. He lived and breathed Monmouth Park, he could rattle off details about the most obscure Jersey-bred around, his knowledge was that encyclopedic. And he was one hell of a handicapper.
“Ben was also a storyteller, his writing eloquent and alluring. When Ben wrote something, you didn't just want to read it–you had to read it.
“The story to which my colleague Brian DiDonato refers is how I will remember Ben. He took us back to his Virginia roots in this truly excellent piece about the return of racing to the Commonwealth. His love for the sport, his love for his trade pour right out of it.
“To his family and to those who knew Ben best, my deepest sympathies on the loss of a truly remarkable young man who had the world at his doorstep and has been taken from all of us entirely too soon.”
Christie DeBernardis cited his genuine, caring nature. “There is no one who was more passionate about Monmouth Park or New Jersey racing than Ben Massam,” she said. “On his days off during racing season, he could always be found trackside or at his favorite spot beneath the trees in the paddock that he loved so much. There was no fact or trivia related to New Jersey racing that was too obscure for Ben, though that applied to much of racing in general. Ben not only loved the sport of racing, but also just loved horses and always strove to learn more about them. He was one of my favorite people to talk racing with and life in general. You would be hard pressed to find a more genuine, caring or kind person than Ben. I am honored to call him my friend and will miss him dearly.”
Heather Anderson also recalled the story of his hiring and his compassion for others.
“Ben was always classy and positive and I'll never forget in his hiring interview how the first sire to trip off his tongue was Kantharos when asked who he thought was a sire to watch out for,” said Anderson. “I remember thinking, 'This guy knows his business.' I was fortunate enough to share a love of running and the great outdoors with Ben. I'm from out West, and somehow he always seemed to know when I was a bit homesick and we'd discuss the national parks we'd both been to and where we were going to check out next. In typical Ben fashion, even though he was seriously ill, he somehow found the time to send a sympathy card when my father-in-law died suddenly. He had his own major issues to deal with and he found the compassion to help me deal with mine. That was Ben and I will miss my friend.”
Rachel McCaffrey recalled Ben as `the blue-eyed guy with the big smile.'
“When I first met Ben, some of the most notable things about him were his big blue eyes, sharp intellect and a wide, toothy grin,” she said. “They were aspects of him that I always noticed–going over projects at work, hanging out with a few friends at the Dublin House, watching the races at Monmouth Park, even when we visited him at the hospital. He was upbeat, positive and appreciated a good joke. Despite the hand he was dealt, he was that incredibly smart, blue-eyed guy with the big smile. I am glad that even through the end, he never lost those things. That is how I will remember him, always.”
Advertising director Alycia Borer sat directly across from Ben. “I can honestly think of only positive things to say about Ben,” said Borer. “He was one of those people whom everyone truly likes. He was incredibly nice, thoughtful, willing to help with whatever anyone needed, and was always so quick to laugh. This is such a terrible loss in every way. We will all miss Ben so much.”
Added advertising assistant Alexa Reisfield, one of Ben's closest friends in the office, “Ben was the first co-worker that befriended me when I started at the TDN 3 years ago. He was one of those people that was naturally easy to get along with, he had a wonderful upbeat personality no matter what was going on. He was one of the most selfless people I have ever met, always putting others before himself. Monmouth Park was one of Ben's favorite places, and we enjoyed many days at the races poring over a form, only to end up betting by the seat of our pants. I hit the exacta having Ben as not just a co-worker, but also as a friend. He is going to be incredibly missed.”
Like the rest of the TDN staff, Senior Vice President Gary King struggled with how to sum up the loss. “It's very difficult to put something like this into words,” said King. “From the very start it was clear that Ben was gifted and dedicated to his chosen craft. He had the unique ability to be a quiet leader, and someone we all sought advice from. Most importantly Ben was a remarkable human being, and had the respect and admiration of everyone he met. Inside and outside of the office. The TDN was a far better place with him and he will be sorely missed by all.”
Social Media Director Justina Severni recalled Ben as a dear friend. “Ben wasn't only one of the best people I've ever known, he was what horse racing is about. His love of racing, especially Monmouth Park, was contagious. His knowledge of racing and his adoration of Jersey-bred runners was unparalleled. In our last conversation, Ben told me he would start looking at Breeders' Cup pre-entries after he had finished handicapping the Meadowlands card, which is so perfectly Ben. I lost one of my dear friends, and racing lost one of its biggest champions, but we are both better for having known him, even briefly. I will remember Ben every Haskell Day and put a few bucks on the local horse in his honor.”
Said Customer Service Director Vicki Forbes, “Ben was an instant TDNer, on day one. He was a most-welcomed member to the team, and his relaxed, easy-going manner was wonderfully contagious. I loved him, and he'll be so sorely missed.”
TDN Associate Editor Joe Bianca remembered Ben from Santa Anita, where he covered Breeders' Cup weekend and said: “There are so many things that made Ben such a wonderful person to know and be around. The first is his generosity. He was the second-newest person at TDN when I started and he showed me the ropes. We barely knew each other, but his obvious kindness and empathy made me trust him entirely, and he was always there to answer any question I had. He was an extremely loyal person. His unwavering support of his home track of Monmouth, and his devoted fandom of the Chicago Bears and New Jersey Devils through thick and thin showed that. He was a hard worker, who took our newly created news editor position and ran with it, the only downside of which was that he had less time to write, because he was an absolutely brilliant writer. One of the best in the business. He was incredibly witty and made me laugh basically every day. But the most important thing to know about Ben is he was one of those people who you literally couldn't picture flying off the handle or being nasty or mean, ever. He did everything the right way and we are all devastated that this could happen to him. I am so sorry to his family and everyone who loved him, which includes everyone at the TDN. He deserved so much better than this unbelievably tragic hand he was dealt, but because of how he spent the time he did have, he'll never be forgotten by any of us.”
Christina Bossinakis, who has recently re-joined the TDN, said, “I cannot say that I knew Ben as long or spent as much time with him as most others in the TDN family, however, during the time I did have the opportunity to work alongside him, it quickly became clear the class and quality person I was dealing with. When I left my full-time post at the TDN several years ago, Ben was the one who ultimately took over my 'old' desk, and I always found it both amusing and endearing that he chose to leave a picture of a $400,000 auction-purchased homing pigeon watching over him as it had done for this one-time pigeon fancier. His kindness, graciousness and generosity was only surpassed by his wit, intelligence and passion for racing, and of course, Monmouth Park. Saying that he will be missed is an understatement of enormous proportions. The TDN was better for having known Ben and it will never be the same without him.”
Senior Editor Steve Sherack was also in L.A. covering the Breeders' Cup when he was given the news. “Whether it was a day off at the races at Saratoga, a night out grabbing drinks to watch a game at the Dublin House, or a long day in the trenches in the office, there wasn't a better guy to be around or work with than Ben,” said Sherack. “All of racing and anyone whoever crossed paths with him lost a great friend today. I know I did. Nothing but winning photo finishes and wins by the Bears from here on out, buddy.
“RIP, Big Ben.”