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Ben Crane, prominent attorney, active in fight for Brooklyn Bridge Park, dies at 92

February 23, 2022 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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The world lost a giant figure in law practice last week when Ben Crane, 92,  a former corporate partner of Cravath, Swaine and Moore, died at his home in Brooklyn Heights. But Brooklyn also lost a skilled and key supporter and advocate of numerous civic accomplishments, including the world-famous Brooklyn Bridge Park. 

Indeed, it can be said that Ben Crane’s authoritative confrontation of the Port Authority in a public meeting in the 1980s laid the groundwork to block the PA’s plan to build housing on the piers below Brooklyn Heights. Such a development, particularly a Port Authority plan for high-rises and waterfront sea-level promenade, had one particularly destructive element:  the public view plane of the PA’s waterfront promenade would negate the protected view plane of the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, enabling construction of high-rises. 

Ben Crane’s courage and foresight to bring a copy of the Port Authority by-laws to the public meeting, and issue a fierce, credible challenge to their plans, brought immediate clarity to the determination of Brooklyn Heights to fight them — and to prevail.

Crane, whose full name was Benjamin Field Crane, of Brooklyn and Cold Spring, N.Y., as well as Santa Fe, N.M., died peacefully in his sleep on Friday, Feb. 18. He was born on May 5, 1929, in Holden, Mass., and grew up in Sterling, Mass.; Canon, Georgia, and the Bronx. This included a stint at Leake & Watts children’s home (now Rising Ground), where he and his brother Fred lived in the orphanage’s dormitory while their mother worked as its dietician (they visited her on Sundays).  He attended Creston Junior High School and the Bronx High School of Science. 


After one semester at the University of Iowa, he enlisted in the Army in September 1946 at age 17. When his service as a radio announcer in Livorno, Italy ended, Ben returned to Iowa and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in May 1951. He worked as a DJ, reporter, home football game announcer and a member of the Central Party and Entertainment Committee, which brought bands led by Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie and others to campus. 


After a debating tour in England, Scotland and Wales for the English-Speaking Union, he attended NYU Law School on a Root-Tilden Scholarship, graduating cum laude in 1954.  Ben was a lawyer with the aforementioned Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP for 40 years, from 1954-1994, working on corporate financing transactions and mergers and acquisitions for major global corporations. He was in charge of the firm’s Paris office in 1965-66. 


Ben genuinely enjoyed his career, his colleagues, and his clients at Cravath, according to family members. One of his favorite charitable activities was sending children’s books to a library founded by his sister-in-law Catherine in Kumbo, Cameroon. He also helped many relatives with their education, as he believed his life had been forever changed by his educational opportunities. 


He took part in many other civic activities over the years. He and his wife Sally had wonderful friends in each of the places they lived and had an incredibly busy social life (he said he had been an introvert, but Sally changed all of that!). Ben collected Native American pottery, textiles, and prints; Japanese prints and art from the Pacific Northwest; Hudson River School paintings; and many books and antiques. 


Ben also had a fabulous sense of humor, a sharp mind and deep empathy for others, family members said. He and his family traveled all over the world (he didn’t want to take vacations anywhere close to NYC and risk being called in to the office), and he reveled in learning about other cultures.


He is survived by his son Michael (Kate); daughters Betsy and Susan (Karen); grandchildren Cameron, Benjamin, and Harrison Crane; Noah, Alexander and Elsa Mushkin; and Lily Crane-Newman, as well as his sister-in-law Catherine Molloy, CND, his longest-standing pal Peter Leavy, cherished friend Marcia McHam, and many more family members and friends. 


Ben’s life during the past eight years was enriched by Melissa McHam Green, a dear friend who provided wide-ranging experiences and all aspects of his care, as well as special caregivers Henrietta Cassie and Lorna Gillett. He was pre-deceased by his beloved wife of 52 years, Sally Molloy Crane, and his “smarter than I am” brother Fred.  


Inspired by Sally’s example, Ben wrote his own memoir several years ago. He was continually amazed, humbled by, and grateful for how his life evolved. He was greatly loved by his family and friends. While he will be hugely missed, he will have a lasting impact on all who knew him and he is finally reunited with his greatest love, Sally. 


A celebration of Ben’s life is being planned for later this spring. In lieu of flowers, donations in his honor may be made to the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy, Planned Parenthood of Greater New York, or the Santa Fe Opera. 

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