Virginia E. Benedict: historian, leader, advocate
Longtime stalwart of Democratic Party has been active for years
Virginia E. Benedict, historian of the Charles County Democratic Central Committee, is known for being “at the right place at the right time” — and her once-in-alifetime experiences seem like some for the history books.
Despite challenges in Benedict’s early childhood, she became an advocate for positive change in the nation and stood in front of many great leaders — former presidents, senators, congressmen, a pope and many civil right activists — who have all experienced her energy and drive to make Martin Luther King Jr.’s dreams of freedom and equality a reality for all. “My family and I came to
America from Germany as immigrants during World War II. My parents were taken from their homelands of Ukraine and Poland to work for the Nazis on slave camp farms against their will. My twin brother and I were born in Germany. He was killed during our birth and the Nazis let me live. I know what it means to be free and how it feels when your freedom is taken away from you because of what my parents went through during WWII,” Benedict said.
When Benedict came to the U.S. in 1949, she recalled being bullied at school for her accent. She said she felt like a minority as well. Benedict also witnessed her diverse group of neighborhood friends struggle with inequality, injustice and segregation laws.
“When I was younger, I couldn’t understand why I could not go to school with the kids I played with in my neighborhood,” Benedict said. “I only saw them after school or on weekends because they were not allowed to go to school with me or many other public places. Since then, whenever I see injustice being done to a person or people, I always feel the need to step in and help.”
Benedict was motivated to become more involved in politics after the Civil Rights Movement. In August 1988, she was sworn into the Charles County Democratic Central Committee.
She also loved the arts, becoming one of the founders of Mattawoman Creek Art Center in Marbury. In 1990, Benedict was asked by former congressman Roy Dyson to chair his Con-
gressional Arts Caucus for high school students.
“We held the exhibition for 13 counties, which Dyson represented as First Congressional District at that time, and the artwork would be held at the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.,” Benedict said.
“Sometimes the arts are overlooked and Virginia was tremendous at coordinating and organizing the Congressional Arts Caucus,” Dyson said. “Her energy to accomplish this was remarkable. She loves what she does and she wanted to help showcase the talent of other young people. Maybe a Michelangelo or Vincent van Gogh would come out of that, but it wouldn’t have been as successful if there hadn’t been a Virginia Benedict.”
Benedict is also a wellknown civil rights activist and supporter of the Charles County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
“As the past president of Charles County NAACP, I enjoyed Virginia’s open door policy to contact her with any issues that the NAACP felt needed community awareness or evolvement,” said Wanda Wills Woodland, Charles County NAACP youth advisor. “Virginia has dedicated her life to make Charles County a great place to live for all. As the president of the CCDCC, Benedict has worked with many local organizations to improve education, affordable housing and smart growth in Charles County. She is a very caring person who took her civil service very seriously. She truly believes in an equal sociality for all.”
At various Democratic National Conventions, Benedict met President Bill Clinton, Sen. Hillary Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, James Roosevelt Jr. (grandson of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s) and U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md., 5th).
Benedict said her two favorite people to have met are Pope John Paul II and former President Barack Obama. Although she and Obama met through a mutual friend, Benedict said it felt as though she knew the former president for years and his dynamic leadership encourages her to continue to fight for change.
W. Cecil Short, former chairman of Charles County Democratic Central Committee, said as the first black chairman of the CCDCC he has witnessed Benedict’s efforts to make the CCDCC stronger and more diverse.
“She has exceptional positive core values and compassion and dedication to serve,” Short said. “She has been a staunch supporter and leader in the pursuit of equality for African Americans. We met President Obama together and we went to Bill Clinton’s inauguration. It was awesome. We always traveled together, and she always wanted to be a person to make a difference.”
Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam (D-Baltimore) and Benedict met civil rights activists Rosa Parks and social activist Dorothy Height while visiting the Democratic National Convention in the early 1990s.
“Meeting Rosa Parks and Dorothy Height with Virginia was a tremendous experience that was over 25 years ago,” Pulliam said. “Virginia and I have remained friends all these years. People respect her and her dedication. She has left a legacy for future generations to follow in her footsteps and for them to remember that all votes count, and running to become an elected official is a great way to continue to serve your community.”
“Benedict is hardworking and she’s served on [the] CCDCC for so many years,” said Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton (D-Charles). “She helped pull the Democratic Party together and she’s been incredible at getting people out to vote. With her leadership she made a lot of people become actively engaged in the election. She’s always out at events in community. You can always count on her to be out there supporting the Democratic Party.”
Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Charles, Calvert, Prince George’s) said Benedict has a gentle personality and is known for being a tenacious worker for the Democratic Party. “She works well with all segments of society and promotes kindness and brotherhood. She is a great role model for women in politics.”
“I’ve worked with Virginia for many years as a member of the Charles County Democratic Central Committee, and she has been a terrific asset to our community. Virginia has worked hard to bring positive change to Southern Maryland. I’m glad to call Virginia a friend, and I’m grateful for the years of service she has provided to Charles County,” Hoyer said.
“For it is women like Virginia who pave the way and inspire future generations of women and men to participate in their community,” said Carrie L. Dotson, former president of the Charles County Literacy Council. “Virginia is still involved in local politics and is not afraid to get out there and do the things she believes in. She is someone a person can count on and is a very respectful, dignified human.”
Her two daughters agreed, stating that their mom is their hero.
“I grew up with a mom who observes an issue, determines her strategy, and heads full force into whatever project she chooses to spearhead,” said her daughter, Laura Benedict. “Under her sweet demeanor lies a fighter, unwilling to succumb to the multitude of challenges she may face and undeterred in her pursuit of whatever goal she knows will lead to a better community.”
Her daughter, Christina Benedict, said her mother is the spirit and driving force in their family. “She’s a gem — one of those rare people who dedicates herself to a cause or a goal and strives for results until she reaches success while lighting the path with her energy,” she said.
To this day, Benedict remains active in her community.
“Virginia is consistently committed to the Democratic Party and its values,” said Charles County Commissioner’s President Peter F. Murphy (D). “She has always used her leadership positions to help others and pave the way for other people who are interested in working for the good of the party and the people it serves. I would describe her as fair, honest and kind. She has always put the good of others before herself and supported all democrats equally. She is extremely hard working and preservers under difficult situations.”
“Virginia has been a staple in the Democratic Party here in Charles County for decades,” said Abena McAllister, parliamentarian of the CCDCC. “Virginia has never wavered in her commitment to the Democratic Party or the ideals of the party. She stood firm, even when it wasn’t popular to do so here in Charles County. I admire her longevity and commitment. Beyond being a champion for Democrats, she’s also a champion for women’s rights. When I needed help coordinating the women of Charles County for the national Women’s March on Washington, I turned to Virginia. She was a great help in getting those buses full.”
In addition to attending the Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21, Benedict also attended the 50th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington in 2013, as well as the 50th anniversary of the “Let Freedom Ring” at the Lincoln Memorial in 2013.
“We have a long way to go, but I look forward to the day when we don’t call people by where they are from, rather just as our friends, co-workers and neighbors,” Benedict said. “Anyone who wants to better their life for family or friends, they need to have the freedom to do so. I keep fighting for others to have their rights and to change things. You can’t put a price on that.”
Charles County Democratic Central Committee Historian Virginia E. Benedict meets former President Bill Clinton at a White House VIP event in Washington, D.C., in 2000.
On Oct. 19, 2014, Virginia E. Benedict greeted President Barack Obama while he was campaigning for Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown at Dr. Henry Wise Jr. High School in Upper Marlboro.
Virginia E. Benedict and Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam during the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colo., in 2000.
Sen. Hillary Clinton and Charles County Democratic Central Committee historian Virginia E. Benedict at a White House VIP event in Washington, D.C., in 2000.
U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer and Virginia E. Benedict, historian of the Charles County Democratic Central Committee, during the Maryland Democratic Party Gala National Convention in 2013.
In 2016, U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings and Virginia E. Benedict during a T/K/O Dinner, where Benedict was presented the Lifetime Achievement Award for her work with the Charles County Democratic Central Committee.
Virginia E. Benedict and Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport in 2014.