We Remember John Dragat
John Dragat, our Senior Vice President of Development, passed away on Dec. 20, 2017, from a brain tumor diagnosed a year before. His loving family was at his side. We are all deeply saddened by his loss.
At Benchmark, we remember how John touched us with his sparkling personality, intellect, humility and the deep and lasting contributions he made to our personal and professional lives and our company.
When we were a much smaller company, we outsourced property development and hired Northland Investment Corporation to develop three of our early communities. And so began our relationship with Northland’s John Dragat.
“When we talked to John about joining Benchmark, he thought of himself as a ‘real estate guy,’” says Chairman and CEO Tom Grape. “He didn’t get the softer side of our business. Once he understood our mission and our purpose, he was deeply moved. The real estate guy went from developing properties to creating communities and spending time with our residents. John deeply loved his role in touching people’s lives. It made his big heart even bigger.”
Two weeks after joining the company, John attended his first annual leadership retreat in Florida. “There was a coach at the leadership retreat,” says Tom. “And these coaches can get real personal with people. John’s wide eyes asked, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’ But he soon opened up and got warm and comfortable.”
John went on to build Benchmark’s development team and was at the center of the design of our communities. He was a key designer and champion of The Branches model, the first of which opened in November 2017 in North Attleboro.
John’s last leadership retreat was just before his diagnosis in January of last year. “He was hurting, but his big heart pushed him through,” says Tom. “He was in good spirits throughout the retreat. We went bowling and had a great time. As always, everyone relished his company.”
As John’s illness progressed, he had difficulty speaking. He asked to move into The Commons in Lincoln where he experienced life as a resident in a community he developed. “He was deeply proud of his creation,” says Tom. “And he was touched by the associates, who were honored to have John in their care. It was a very moving time.”
Senior Vice President of Capital Sarah Laffey co-led the Investments Group with John for six years. “John was a great teacher and mentor to those who were privileged to work for him,” says Sarah. “I wouldn’t be in my position today without his guidance and wisdom."
“John was a true gentleman and a true friend. He made me laugh every day,” she says. “I trusted him and knew he had my back. When I was down or shaken, he’d boost me up. You couldn't ask for a better partner.”
John adored his wife, Pia, and their three daughters, Giuliana, Marielle and Carissa. When his oldest, Giuliana, left for college in Scotland, John was teary-eyed. When he visited her, they played golf every day on lovely Scottish courses. “He raved about that trip,” says Sarah.
A passionate sailor, John was captain of the Vado Pazzo III, which means, “going crazy” in Italian, and so named because he and Pia decided, with joyous abandon, to buy a sailboat and learn to sail.
John once wintered his boat in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. When Benchmark leaders attended a conference there, John invited Sarah, along with her husband and son for an afternoon on the water. “His boat looked too big for one man to handle,” she remembers, “but he expertly sailed the boat. Oh, how he loved to sail.”
At the helm of big and sometimes rough development projects, John had a great calm about him. “He believed that patience was key to being a successful developer,” says Director of Development Eric Gardner.
“We were proud to work for John,” Eric says. “He was the gold standard—the development professional we aspire to be. He led by example and empowered us to take responsibility for our work and to make meaningful contributions to Benchmark and our industry. People were attracted to John’s intellect, sense of humor and warmth. He was a great friend and mentor to everyone on the team.”
“John set the benchmark for developing senior living communities,” says Tom Grape. “His life was the model for our mission to Elevate Human Connection. As long as we strive to follow his example, his beautiful legacy lives on at Benchmark.”