In Memoriam: Gaymon "Will" Lamont Bennett, Jr.

(1972 - 2024)

By Gaymon L. Bennett, Sr., with assistance from Chris Jones, Lindsey Plait Jones, and Ben Hurlbut

A man with short salt-and-pepper hear and a beard wearing glasses sits against a gray wall.

Gaymon "Will" Lamont Bennett, Jr. age 52, of Tempe, Arizona, died Thursday, February 1, 2024 surrounded by family at Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona after a three-year long struggle with lung cancer. 

Gaymon was born January 31, 1972 in Nampa, Idaho, the second child of Gaymon Lamont and Evelyn Louise (Sanner) Bennett. His father and mother were professors at Northwest Nazarene University (then College). He was welcomed by his three-year-old sister, Cristina Suzanne, and they were joined by younger sister, Maria Akiko, in 1976. When Gaymon was an infant, he was dedicated in Nampa College Church of the Nazarene. 

He attended Centennial and Central Elementary Schools, where he participated in youth sports and was a member of their gifted and talented programs. At South Junior High he continued his participation in sports, competing on the tennis team, and performed in music and drama. At Nampa High School he lettered in football and tennis and played clarinet, qualifying for the All-State Band. 

After graduating from Nampa High in 1990, Gaymon enrolled at Point Loma Nazarene College. In 1993 he transferred to Northwest Nazarene University, majored in English and took philosophy courses. He graduated summa cum laude in 1995. After a break from studies, during which he worked as a roofer and served as a volunteer missionary for the Nazarene church in Montpelier, France, he moved to Berkeley, California to begin graduate studies.

In 2000 he earned an MA in philosophical theology from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific followed by a PhD in philosophical theology from the Graduate Theological Union in 2008. During this time, he worked in the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences. His interests in ethics and science led to research in the biotech industry and a second PhD in Cultural Anthropology from the University of California-Berkeley in 2011. 

Gaymon married Christin Michelle Quissell, an NNU classmate, in 2005 at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Berkeley. In 2008 their first daughter, Sanner Lucille, was born followed two years later by the arrival of their second daughter, Ruby Ava Emmanuelle. In 2011 they relocated in Seattle, Washington, where Gaymon joined the staff of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and co-founded the Center for Biological Futures. In 2014 Gaymon took a position as Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Arizona State University in Tempe. In 2017, he and Christin divorced. 

At ASU, Gaymon taught undergraduate courses and graduate seminars in religion, science, and ethics, advised graduate students, and collaborated in a variety of interdisciplinary courses and research projects. In addition to his teaching and research roles at ASU, he served as Associate Director of the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics. He was appointed Director shortly before his death but was unable to assume that work which he loved. He was a popular teacher, dynamic speaker, and sought-after author with many publications. 

In August 2019 he met Tamara Fawn Christensen in a leadership academy she facilitated at Arizona State University. Their love grew as they weathered the COVID-19 pandemic and Gaymon’s cancer diagnosis together and were married in May 2021. Gaymon warmly embraced Tamara’s son, Maxwell Shipley, and his new role as stepfather. 

Gaymon felt at home in the outdoors, especially the mountains of Idaho and Payson, Arizona, where he and Tamara bought a house on the East Verde River. He enjoyed fishing, backpacking, camping, snowboarding, and rock climbing. He rode his skateboard to campus and enjoyed running. He was obviously good with his mind, but he was also good with his hands. He was a skilled cook and baker of pies. When his roof blew off in an Arizona monsoon, he replaced it himself, and he learned to weld to fabricate fences, gates, and other steel constructions for his house.

He was an enthusiastic traveler and adaptable cosmopolitan citizen. He visited Mexico, China, most of the countries in Europe, as well as many destinations in Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Australia, Central and South America. He especially valued his times in Norway, which he considered his ancestral home. He was a faithful Christian who served his local church wherever he lived: leading worship, singing in choir, and volunteering where needed. 

Gaymon loved his family deeply and with great tenderness. He prioritized spending quality time with his children, playing games, and reading aloud, where he brought stories to life with his remarkable variety of voices and accents. As a husband, he was adoring, playful, empowering, and fully committed to strengthening his union with Tamara through all of life’s ups and downs.

He is survived by his wife Tamara Christensen, daughters Sanner and Ruby Bennett, stepson Maxwell Shipley, parents Gaymon Bennett Sr. and Evelyn (Sanner) Bennett, sisters Cristina Barnes and Maria Eisenbeis, niece Charlie Barnes, and nephews Michael and Hunter Eisenbeis.

A celebration of his life will be held on February 24th at 2pm at the Labyrinth at Trinity Cathedral (100 W. Roosevelt St, Phoenix, AZ). Attendees are requested to wear white. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to college funds for Sanner or Ruby or the Dr. Gaymon L. Bennett, Jr. Research Advocacy Program for cancer research.