Founding Palm Desert Councilmember and Navy Veteran Jean Benson passed away Tuesday at the age of 95, a city spokesperson confirmed.
“Palm Desert has lost a pioneering leader and passionate community advocate. We are deeply grateful for Jean’s many years of service to our community,” said City Manager Lauri Aylaian. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Jean’s family as all of us who knew and admired her mourn her passing and celebrate the remarkable life of this strong and dedicated public servant.”
Born and raised in LeGrande, Oregon, Benson's career in public service dates back to World War II when she volunteered with the U.S. Navy as a member of the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service).
Benson moved to Palm Desert in 1969. Her first venture into local politics came in 1970 when she supported a campaign to incorporate Palm Desert into a city. She was elected to Palm Desert's very first city council in 1973, the same year the community was incorporated. She was the city's very first female councilmember.
In 1987, Benson became the city's first female mayor. She would go on to serve as mayor a record six times during her 32 years on the city council.
Benson retired from politics in 2014 at the age of 90.
"I just can't thank the people of Palm Desert enough for the career that I've had. Its been great and I think we've accomplished a lot and I think that Palm Desert is really in a safe place to leave it and I hope it continues that way," Benson told News Channel 3 in Oct 2014.
Among her many accomplishments during her career, one of her most cherished includes the creation of the Jean Benson Childcare Center. The center is run by the Family YMCA of the Desert. It offers free/low-cost childcare for children ages 2-5. Benson strongly felt that Palm Desert needed to help working mothers by providing a safe environment for children.
She also played a big role in a number of issues including, women’s affairs, services for seniors, the disabled and homeless, public art and animal rights, affordable housing, environmental and historic preservation, and child advocacy.
A memorial service has been scheduled for Friday, December 13, at 3 p.m. at Sacred Heart Church, 43775 Deep Canyon Road, in Palm Desert.