By Donita Naylor
Journal Staff Writer
NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — A ceremony Sunday will rename the U.S. Post Office on Post Road for the late Melvoid J. Benson, a teacher, public servant, activist for social justice and trailblazer for women of color in elected office.
Among the speakers will be Benson’s niece, Elizabeth Estes, as well as the entire R.I. delegation to the U.S. Congress, Governor Raimondo and a U.S. Postal Service district manager.
Benson had known of the effort to name the facility after her. U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin, who sponsored the bill in the House, had kept her posted on its progress. He last spoke with her a few days before she died, on June 11 at age 86.
“I hoped to have her by my side when we cut the ribbon on the Melvoid J. Benson Post Office, but I’m at least grateful that I had the chance to tell Mel that it was happening,” he wrote the day after her death.
Remembered as a mentor by many leaders who served with her during her seven terms in the R.I. House, Benson counted the planning of the Quonset Business Park as one of her favorite achievements. She was often quoted as saying her parents taught her that “every generation must do better than the last.”
Born in 1930 in Jackson, Tennessee, and named after her father, who shoveled coal on trains, she was the youngest of four children. Her mother taught in a one-room schoolhouse.
Benson followed her husband, Arnathia N. Benson, to Rhode Island when he was stationed at Quonset Point with the Navy. They had two sons, Gilbert, who died in a car accident at age 16, and Estes, who played football for the University of Rhode Island. Estes died of leukemia at age 40.
“Be the Match” representatives will be at the event to help register potential bone marrow donors. Benson supported efforts to find donors for leukemia patients.
In 1997, the year Estes died, Benson offered to house then-17-year-old Lamar Odom, who had lost his mother when he was 12. The future basketball star was enrolled at URI, but NCAA rules prevented her from providing him with anything more than a home-cooked meal. He accepted.
Benson taught in public schools for more than 25 years and served eight years on the North Kingstown School Committee.
Sunday’s ceremony, with a Rhode Island State Police honor guard and singers from North Kingstown’s First Baptist and United Methodist churches, begins at 1 p.m. at the North Kingstown Post Office, 7715 Post Rd.
The event is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.