Margery Benson, a true trailblazer
Though this is belated, I thought it appropriate to honor and make note of the remarkable career and life of Margery Benson, a woman who certainly made her mark on local Democratic politics and the community.
As a Dispatch/Argus editorial states:
Quad-Cities women lost a trailblazer and future public servants a role model when Margery R. Benson, 76, of Rock Island died Saturday. [Oct. 8th]
She was the first woman to be elected to the Rock Island City Council, the first to be elected city clerk and she ran a high-profile, though unsuccessful campaign for mayor in 1988, another first for women.
A Rock Island High School and Augustana College graduate, Ms. Benson taught physical education in the Rock Island public school system and was later a successful businesswoman. Throughout it all, however, she remained an active community servant and volunteer. That included serving the Rock Island Planning and Zoning Commission, Martin Luther King Center Board, as an active members of the Rock Island County Democratic Party and with Illinois Women in Government.
For a time she was a political animal, and a successful one. "I'm not glib enough to say I have an answer for everything," she said during her successful city council bid. But she did have opinions and ideas. While she didn't shy away from her trailblazer status, neither did she emphasize it. For example, when ran became the first woman to run for Rock Island mayor in 1988, she told The Dispatch, "Sometimes the best man for the job is a woman," while adding, "hopefully we're at a point in time when sex is no longer a determining factor."
She once said her role models tended to be women "who have made sacrifices in their personal lives to make contributions to others." That included Eleanor Roosevelt, who resigned her membership in the DAR after the organization rescinded an invitation to contralto Marian Anderson based on her race. "She had the courage of her convictions. I really admire that," she said. The same could have been said of Ms. Benson, who besides politics also served the community through such organizations as Rock Island Junior Baseball, the NAACP, St. Anthony's Auxiliary, and the United Cerebral Palsy of Northwestern Illinois.
Though she gave up running for office after a failed bid for county board, she continued to give to the Quad-Cities and the larger community. For example, she served on the American Red Cross National Disaster Action Team after after hurricanes in Florida in 1992 and in San Francisco in 1990. Her commitment to disaster relief continues even after her death. Her family asked that, in lieu of flowers, memorials be made to the Red Cross.
She said, "I think it's wonderful when you have the opportunity to contribute to your community based on your education and experience and interests."
Ms. Benson did all that and more, by serving as a role model for future leaders, male or female. Our condolences to her family as we join them in celebrating a public life well lived.