I was a young state legislator when I first met Melvoid J. Benson, and I had no idea at the time that my life and my career in public service would be forever changed. An African American woman in a white, male-dominated chamber, Mel was a trailblazer. She was a teacher, first and foremost, but she felt called to action to further serve her community. She represented North Kingstown as a State Representative, and later served on the North Kingstown School Committee, and in both roles, she put her constituents first. Mel Benson was, quite simply, a force to be reckoned with. She was bold and funny and brave and smart, and she commanded a room like no one else.
When I introduced the bill to name the North Kingstown Post Office after Mel, I imagined her by my side for the dedication. I thought about the stories she would tell and the laughs she would get, and how she would react to all the attention.
But less than 48 hours before President Obama signed the bill into law, Mel left us too soon.
Still, her presence was strongly felt as we dedicated the Melvoid J. Benson Post Office. Everyone had a Mel story to share, and while I missed her more than ever, it was a joyous occasion to hear family, friends, and colleagues speak of her indelible spirit. Speaker after speaker painted a portrait of a fearless leader and compassionate public servant; a woman who dedicated her life to helping others.
Naming the post office was a way for me to thank Mel for her service and her friendship. At the State House, on the School Committee, in the classroom, and in our community, Mel fought hard every day for what was right. To her, that’s just what you did. If you have the chance to make a difference, it’s your responsibility to do so. Mel taught me that lesson and so many others, and her legacy will never be forgotten.
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