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Benedict Joseph "Joe" Semmes

October 20, 1949 ~ June 18, 2020 (age 70) 70 Years Old
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WONALANCET, NH -- Benedict Joseph (Joe) Semmes, 70, passed away at home on June 18, 2020. Joe was a resident of both Wonalancet, New Hampshire and New Orleans, Louisiana and previously of Portland, Maine. He was a lover of history, travel, the great outdoors, yoga, good food, his dogs, dancing and, most of all, his family. Joe considered himself a citizen of the world and spiritual seeker.

He was born on October 20, 1949 in post-war, Bremerhaven, Germany. He learned to love Gregorian chant while a student at the Portsmouth Abbey School. Joe’s time completing his Bachelors in Biological Sciences at Dartmouth College was punctuated by a stint serving the U.S. Army from 1969 to 1971, including one tour in Vietnam. After returning to Dartmouth to finish his undergraduate training, he then received a medical degree at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. He completed his residency in Internal Medicine at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital and a fellowship in Critical Care Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh.

Joe loved practicing emergency medicine at Arlington Hospital in Virginia and Mercy Hospital in Portland, Maine. However, his involvement with and outlook on medicine shifted following his 1997 diagnosis and subsequent lifelong battle with neuroendocrine pancreatic cancer. Later in his career, he practiced palliative care medicine and was a Founding Incorporator of the Hospice of Southern Maine and served on the Maine Health Palliative Care Working Group. He also promoted holistic medicine as Director of Research at True North in Falmouth, Maine.

As a cancer survivor, Joe was interested in how state-of-the-art medical care could be integrated with better nutrition, spiritual practices, exercise and eastern medical traditions. 

He loved walking in the woods of New Hampshire as well as playing chess and squash. He had virtual chess games going 24/7 with friends and family across the country. Joe had a wonderful sense of humor and playfulness paired with a lively, inquisitive mind. His family will miss his encyclopedic recall about history and love of language. Joe also loved a good game of charades and reading Shakespeare out loud with friends. The highlight of the last two years was spending time singing to and playing with his grandson, Van.

He found spiritual peace at his beloved Wonalancet Chapel, where he occasionally gave sermons integrating his thoughts about history, literature and God.

Joe was predeceased by his parents, Vice Admiral B.J. Semmes and Kit Ainsworth Semmes, and his sister Raphaelle.  He is survived by his wife of 29 years, Elonide Caldwell Semmes; his children, Benedict Joseph Semmes of Austin, Texas,  Eleanor Caldwell Semmes of Durham, North Carolina, Faith Cole Hall and her husband Travis and grandchildren Eugene and Kimmie of Washington, DC, Raphael (Jamie) Taylor of New York, NY and Shelby Leigh Semmes of Warren, Vermont and her husband Grady O’Shaughnessy and grandson, Sylvan “Van” Semmes O’Shaughnessy. He is also survived by two sisters, Walden Semmes (Denney) Morton and her husband David of Cape Elizabeth, ME, and Amy Gardner Semmes and her husband John Waite of Cambridge, MA, as well as numerous nieces, nephews and cousins. He is also survived by his furry companion, Chewbacca aka Chewie.


Due to COVID-19, the family held a private burial service and will delay a celebration of life to a later date.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made to one of Joe’s three favorite charities – the New Orleans food bank, the club that maintains our hiking trail system started by his ancestors here in Wonalancet and finally for his love of books, our local library.

Second Harvest Food Bank – https://no-hunger.org

Wonalancet Outdoor Club - www.wodc.org

Cook Memorial Library - tamworthlibrary.org

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