St. Paul police officer Benny Williams, a veteran of the force who in recent years worked as driver and bodyguard to Mayor Melvin Carter, died Monday evening after a short hospitalization.

The 59-year-old was admitted to the ICU at the University of Minnesota Medical Center on Sunday night and died 22 hours later, surrounded by his friends and family, according to an e-mail that Chief Todd Axtell sent to members of the department. Williams' cause of death has not been made public.

In his e-mail, Axtell described his colleague's death as "a shock to us all."

"Benny was a beacon of positivity for our department and community," Axtell wrote.

A St. Paul native and Central High School graduate, Williams joined the Police Department in 1992 as a community liaison officer and eventually became an investigator in the missing persons unit. When Carter was elected mayor in 2017, Williams asked to be assigned to his detail.

Carter and his wife, Sakeena Futrell-Carter, gave an interview about Williams on Tuesday afternoon at City Hall. The two sat close, their hands clasped together and faces washed with grief.

"Sakeena asked me earlier if I was ready to do this, and the answer is no, right?" Carter said. "The size of the hole that Benny leaves in us — in our staff, in our office, in our Police Department, in our house — just can't be measured."

Carter's father, a former St. Paul police officer, worked alongside Williams. The mayor couldn't recall exactly when he met Williams — only that this kind, strong man had always been present in the community.

"We would show up places and people would get excited to see him come in," Carter said. "Sometimes he'd be taking pictures of people with me, and sometimes I'd be taking pictures of people with him."

As Carter's bodyguard and driver, Williams was the first person members of the family would see every morning and the last person they'd see at night, Futrell-Carter said.

"We could be completely revealed — and unraveled, at times — around Benny," she said. "And he just embraced us."

Williams is survived by his wife, Krystle, three daughters and a grandson, with whom he spent every Sunday.

Emma Nelson • 612-673-4509