(Editor’s note: A Memorial Service for Jean Benson will be held today, Friday, Dec. 13 at 3 p.m. at Sacred Heart Church, 43775 Deep Canyon Road in Palm Desert. Reception to follow. Her former colleagues and friends, Jim Ferguson and Buford Crites wrote the following to coincide with her service.)
It is difficult for us to look at Palm Desert and not think of Jean Benson. Most aspects of what makes this City unique can be traced back to her hand. In 1973, Jean worked hard to promote cityhood and was appointed to serve on the very first Palm Desert City Council, and but for one brief hiatus, has served on every city council since then until 2014. This column is not meant to be an obituary nor a eulogy, but rather our simple attempt to share our memories of a beautiful person with those who may not have known her or remembered this incredible woman.
Much has, and will be written about Jean’s biographical data — her years in the military as a Navy WAVE, being a single mother and a career woman, her involvement in travel, becoming one of the first women in local elected office and her many terms as Mayor of City of Palm Desert. Still more will be written about what Jean did during this time: Her insistence on day care at the city’s housing developments, universities, schools and major businesses; her adamant support of travel and tourism (e.g., the establishment of the Convention and Visitors Authority, the Palm Springs international Airport Commission and the El Paseo Business Improvement District). Her devotion to animals
was shown by the founding of the Coachella Valley Animal Campus and her support of the Friends of the Desert Mountains, her support of the arts and in particular her admirable support of the McCallum Theatre.
All of these laudable things deserve commemoration by those who would chronicle the development of the Coachella valley. However, of particular note for this column is who Jean was as opposed to what she did.
First and foremost, Jean was honest. There was no distinction between Jean personally, professionals or politically. Although she wore many hats, she always conducted herself with the utmost candor and sincere forthrightness. She had very little time for obfuscation but still tolerated people with admirable grace.
Jean was even tempered. Buford once witnessed her leave the dais when a crucial vote had gone against Jean’s point of view. She knew she might cast one of her next votes out of spite or the attempt to get even. So rather than do that, she left the building.
Jean did not believe you make points by talking louder or faster than other people, and she certainly never attacked anyone personally, although she was approached in this way on more than one occasion.
Jean was caring. She always, always, always looked out for those who were at a disadvantage in caring for themselves. Whether it was her tireless devotion to the City’s low- and moderate-income housing participants, her diligent attention and concern for all animals (wild and domesticated), or her love of children and support for our clean environment, Jean was an abundance of compassion and soul. Jean always gave of herself to others: Her time, attention, resources and honest-to-goodness care and concern for the welfare of her fellow citizens. When Jim first ran for office, his estranged father took ill and he had to go visit him, thus missing a local candidates’ debate. Although Jim was technically running against her in an at-large election, Jean handed out his brochures and urged others to vote for him, even at her own peril!
Jean was a peacemaker. Jean could always find a way to bring people together. As one example, when the city was at odds with the university system in the siting of both campuses in Palm Desert, Jean played a pivotal role in the final approaches necessary to make these campuses a reality. Jean always found the best in others. Whether it was her own council, staff, or other folks in the valley, she always looked for their better side.
Simply put, Jean loved people. She would take great joy in participating in the City’s Golf Cart Parade and would always invite Jim and his children to ride with her and take part in celebrating all the elements that make Palm Desert such a wonderful place — a place where government demonstrated moral values that went beyond bricks and mortar, sales and property tax, roads and golf courses.
If all of this sounds like the beatitudes for public office holders, it is — for one person: Jean Benson. If Palm Desert is a diamond, Jean surely is the crown jewel. Government could use more people like Jean Benson. And so, we miss her terribly.
Photo caption above, left to right, Bob Spiegel, Jim Ferguson, Jean Benson, Dick Kelly, and Buford Crites.
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