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St. Paul police officer, mayor's security chief dies

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St. Paul Police Officers Chris Stark (left) and Benny Williams. Williams was taken to the University of Minnesota Medica Center on Sunday night. He died the next day. Williams was 59.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News 2013

Updated 3:43 p.m. | Posted 12:47 p.m.

St. Paul police are mourning the loss of a 27-year department veteran who died suddenly Monday.

Police say Benny Williams was taken to the University of Minnesota Medical Center on Sunday night after falling ill and was admitted to the hospital with an unidentified ailment. His condition deteriorated and he died the next day. He was 59.

Williams had been a member of the St. Paul Police Department since 1992. He worked as a patrol officer and later as an investigator for the department's missing persons unit. He and his partner, Chris Stark, were part of an initiative to fight sex trafficking of runaway teenagers.

Stark retired three years ago, but remained in touch with Williams, who he considered nothing short of a brother. Stark said Williams recruited him into the missing persons unit and taught him how to deal with families coming apart.

He said the St. Paul native just "loved everybody."  Stark said Williams was always fair with everyone and counted friends among the law breaking and law abiding alike.

"He knew how to talk with the kids. He knew how they felt. Him and I, we both were raised by our mothers, and a lot of these children are from one parent families. It took a special person like Benny to feel their pain and understand why they were running," Stark said.

Most recently, he'd been the driver and chief of security for Mayor Melvin Carter, often serving as a liaison while they were out in public together.

Williams was also a regular on the Twin Cities marathon route. He was known for cheering on runners as they passed him.

"Benny always had a warm smile and charming demeanor that could put anyone at ease," said Mike Ernster, a police spokesman who worked with Williams for many years.

"This news is a shock to us all," Police Chief Todd Axtell wrote in an email to members of the department. "Benny was a beacon of positivity for our department and community. His energy could light up a room, his smile could make your day, his kindness could warm your heart. He loved his family, his job and his community. And he poured himself into making St. Paul a better place for everyone."

Stark, the former partner, said Williams' death came as a complete shock. He said they talked about retirement. Williams told him that he wanted to be a shoe salesman after he retired. Stark remembered his friend told him he once didn't have shoes for school.

"I think in his heart, maybe he was gonna be that shoe guy that was going to give some shoes to a little child so that they wouldn't have to go to school without a pair of shoes that fit," Stark said. "What other humble way can you be on your knees to another human being than to put shoes on somebody's feet. That's the kind of servant he was."