Ben Montoya was born in Indio, California on May 24, 1935 to immigrant farm workers Benjamin and Margaret Montoya. He knew only hard work as a young man in a large family, but his exceptional parents insisted their children do well in school and get all the education they could. He graduated from Coachella Valley Union High School in 1953 and attended Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, CA for a couple of years and was a superb baseball pitcher. Due to his grades and his athletic ability, Ben was selected for entrance into the U.S. Naval Academy where he graduated in 1958. Ben continued his baseball talents at the Academy and was Captain of the baseball team.
The day after graduation from the Academy he married his high school sweetheart, Virginia Cox, also of Indio, CA. Happily married for 57 years, Ben and Ginney raised five sons, Ben, Chris, Pat, Mike and Dave, and two daughters, Terri and Tasha, who blessed them with 17 grandchildren.
Ben’s naval career spanned 32 years. Beginning with two tours in Vietnam, he rose through the ranks to become Commander, Naval Facilities Engineering Command and Chief of Civil Engineers. He retired in 1989 with the rank of Rear Admiral. In addition to his Naval Academy education, Ben also received master’s degrees in engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Environmental Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology and a Juris Doctorate degree from Georgetown School of Law. The latter at night school while he held a most important position in the Pentagon.
Ben’s Navy career was full of first successes. He was brought into the Pentagon to become the Director of the Environmental Protection and Occupational Safety and Health Division. In this position, Ben literally drove the Navy into understanding the problem and taking the painful steps to begin the long correction process. The Army, Air Force and other branches of the service, as well as most federal agencies, followed suit leaning on Ben’s leadership and success. Ben was selected as the 1989 U.S. Hispanic Engineer of the Year.
A major feature of Ben’s tenure as NAVFAC Commander was the development of a culture of innovation. Although he was not personally involved in the Construction Industry Institute, other than giving addresses at workshops, NAVFAC chose to pursue its own membership rather than to participate under the DOD umbrella. Many senior officers participated. NAVFAC commissioned a number of CII studies to evaluate new initiatives, such as constructability, on NAVFAC projects. The practice of sending promising young NAVFAC officers to work on graduate university degrees and utilize NAVFAC projects to gather data for theses and dissertations was encouraged. The results were presented to key groups for possible implementation. (For example, one such presentation was in the rehearsal stage in the Pentagon a few doors away from the location of the plane strike on 9/11.) One of the participants in the program is a 2015 inductee into the Academy.
After the Navy, Ben pursued a civilian career in the utility industry, first as a Senior Vice President with Pacific Gas and Electric and then as President and CEO of PNM (New Mexico’s major utility), from which he retired in 2000. Following that Ben served on various boards, including the National Parks Foundation, the California Board of Education, NASA and the 1995 Base Closure Commission. In 1997 Ben was selected at the Executive of the Year by the National Hispanic Employee Association. Of all his many awards and recognitions, he was most proud of being nominated by his classmates and selected by the USNA Alumni Association as a 2008 Distinguished Graduate.
Ben was a leader who made every member of any task he was assigned or committee or board he was on to perform well beyond expectations. Regardless of whether he was Chairman or team member, Ben took charge and accepted only the finest performance from all members. From Chair of the U.S. Naval Academy Board of Visitors to his constant volunteering for just one more civic action group, where he played the major role in dozens of such activities, Ben Montoya’s work ethic was contagious.
Ben was selected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2001 and the National Academy of Construction in 2006. He participated in NAC activities and was asked to serve on the initial Endowment Board of Trustees where he gave guidance on investment agencies such as community foundations.
Ben will be missed by NAC, as with his family and the many others whose lives he touched. His legacy will remain forever.