Mr. LANGEVIN. I thank the gentleman for yielding.
Madam Speaker, I am truly honored and pleased to rise today in support of H.R. 3601, a bill to designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 7715 Post Road, North Kingstown, Rhode Island, as the Melvoid J. Benson Post Office Building.
As my colleague stated, for more than 50 years Mel Benson has been a consummate public servant, dedicating her time to educating our youth, fighting for social justice, building up our communities, and giving back to her friends and neighbors.
Born Melvoid Estes on February 13, 1930, in Jackson, Tennessee, Mel grew up in the segregated South, but that did not stop her from pursuing an education and becoming active in politics.
Her father worked for the railroad, and her mother was a teacher. According to Mel, they both instilled in her the importance of education. ``Every generation,'' they said, ``must do better than the last.''
Mel took their advice to heart and made education a priority. She graduated from high school in 1947 and went on to receive her bachelor's degree from Lane College in social science with a minor in education. Two years later she married her high school sweetheart, Arnathia ``Ben'' Benson, who joined the Navy after college.
Mel taught her first class at an all-Black school in Madison County. However, as a Navy wife, she wouldn't stay in Tennessee for long. She and her husband were eventually stationed at Quonset Naval Base in North Kingstown, Rhode Island, which would become Mel's new home and a community she would forever change for the better.
After moving to Rhode Island in the 1960s, Mel taught in the North Kingstown school system for 25 years. She educated students at Hamilton Elementary, the former Quonset Elementary; Davisville Middle School; and Wickford Middle School.
Every student she taught was touched by her wisdom and guidance. According to Matthew Leonard, chairman of the North Kingstown Democratic Town Committee, who had Mel as a teacher in the eighth grade, she possessed a wonderful gift.
Her whole focus was education and children,'' Matthew recounted. ``She believed the future is in children, and our greatest goal is to continue on to the next generation.''
She carried that belief all the way to the State house of representatives, where she became the first Black woman elected to the Rhode Island Legislature from the Second Congressional District and the second Black woman elected to the legislature from the entire State.
According to Mel, she never thought of herself as a Black woman in the statehouse. She was there to do the work of the people. That is exactly what she did, proudly representing the town of North Kingstown for 14 years.
I was fortunate enough to serve with Mel in the statehouse and she made a wonderful teammate and friend. She always spoke her mind and knew how to get things done.
As State Senator James Sheehan put it, ``Mel could be tough as bricks. When she was after something, she'd let you know it.''
It was that passion that led to some of her proudest accomplishments as a member of the Rhode Island General Assembly, including her early involvement with the planning and development of Quonset Business Park and particularly the rehabilitation of the old Kiefer Park into modern housing.
After a distinguished career in the statehouse, Mel was elected to the North Kingstown School Committee, where she served for 8 years, until 2014. At the age of 84, Mel decided not to seek reelection. But 2 years later, she still hasn't lost her spark.
Well known for her perseverance, wit, and unmistakable candor, Mel has touched the lives of countless Rhode Islanders--my own included--and people still love to regale in stories of the great Mama Mel.
State Representative Robert Craven, who has known Mel since 1974, described her as someone who just relished the opportunity to be involved in people's lives and make a difference in every capacity, as a wife, a mother, a schoolteacher, a State representative, and a School Committee member.
Beth Cullen, who considers Mel like a mother, characterized Mel's impact upon our community perfectly:
``She really taught North Kingstown a lesson that it doesn't matter what you look like. It's what you do; and she lived it every day.''
Madam Speaker, I couldn't agree more. Mel has truly dedicated her life [Page: H1067]
to public service. Whether it was at the statehouse, in the School Committee chambers, or in the classroom, she has always put the best interests of Rhode Island and its young people first.
I would like to thank Chairman Chaffetz and Ranking Member Cummings of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee for their work in bringing this legislation to the floor.
I urge my colleagues to join me in honoring Mel Benson for a lifetime of distinguished service and achievement by supporting H.R. 3601, designating the North Kingstown Post Office as the Melvoid J. Benson Post Office Building.