by Barbara Pierce
From the Editor: It is not easy to be a part of publishing a tribute to Stephen Benson, in part because of how long we served together on the national board and as state presidents, and in part because Steve’s talents and personality are not easily captured in one article. I think that our former editor Barbara Pierce’s article is a beautiful attempt. Since Steve had more than twenty articles published in the Braille Monitor, I found it difficult to choose the one to run with this tribute. Readers are encouraged to search back issues to enjoy the writing, experience, and perspectives of our departed friend. Here is what Barbara Pierce has to say:
I must have met Steve Benson in 1975 when I attended my first national convention. He was the host affiliate president, so he was a busy man at that convention, and I really don’t remember meeting him. In fact, it seems as if I have always known Steve. At that time, he was teaching Braille at the Hines Veterans’ Hospital. He had to walk a careful line as a Federation leader not to be seen to show preference for the NFB’s philosophy. His solution was to live what he believed and offer friendship to his students. He also quietly passed along names of the veterans who were interested in the NFB to Federation leaders in their states.
Steve was a wonderful traveler. He wrote a manual on cane mobility, and he made a point of traveling everywhere with his long white cane. I remember Dr. Jernigan telling me this after a meeting he had with Steve in which they were planning the 1988 National Convention, which was in Chicago. The Jernigans made arrangements to meet Steve outside the restaurant. Mrs. Jernigan spotted Steve striding along about a block and a busy intersection away. She reported to Dr. Jernigan that Steve came to the intersection just as the light changed so that he could cross the perpendicular stream of traffic without ever stopping. A blind walker can do this if he or she is listening ahead and gets clear cues that the parallel traffic is accelerating. Sighted people do this all the time, but one has to be a good and confident cane traveler to pull it off and make it look easy. Mrs. Jernigan reported the crossing to Dr. Jernigan, and he filed it away in his facts about Steve. We all had a list like that.
David Andrews wrote to me with one of his memories that parallels my story about Steve’s incredible mobility. Dave said:
Among other things, Steve may have been the best totally blind traveler I ever walked with. He was very smooth and always knew where he was in relation to his environment. He and I were going to lunch in downtown Chicago one day. He said let's go to such and such, I don't remember the restaurant, but, being relatively new to Chicago, I just said sure. We walked down a long block, and he stopped, turned in—and walked straight to the right door. I asked him how long it had been since he had been there, and he said “Oh, about ten years.”
Steve was a fine Braille teacher and an avid Braille reader. When he worked for the Chicago Public Library, he hosted an interview program in which he interviewed authors. He loved that task. He wrote lots of press releases for the library, and he brought that skill to the Federation. I worked long and hard with Steve doing press for the NFB. He was charming and articulate in interviews, and he was always ready to pick up the slack and write when we needed articles.
Steve was what my mother called a “spiffy dresser.” I could always count on Steve to appear impeccably dressed and groomed. He wrote several grooming articles to help parents of blind boys. These appeared in the Braille Monitor, but I have always been sorry that we did not put together the book for parents of blind children that I dreamed about doing. Several of the pieces that Steve wrote were scheduled for that book.
When Steve fought his battle with lymphoma, he made a point of sitting down with each of the people in the Federation with whom he was close. He told us each how much we had added to his life and how much he loved us. These were very meaningful conversations. Steve was modeling for us how to build and nurture friendship. He kept his friends for a lifetime, and he taught us how to tend our friendships. Recent months have been difficult. Steve was necessarily living in the past, and in our conversations I could see him disassociating himself from politics and current events, which he loved. It makes me smile to picture Steve catching up with Dick Edlund, Betty Niceley, Don Capps, and Dr. Jernigan and getting to know Dr. tenBroek. Rest in peace and joy, my friend.