Cathy Benson: Boots, Bullets, Butter & Beans
Rehoboth Beach resident Cathy Benson is proud to tell you that she was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, “the foothills of the Smokies.” She was the oldest of six kids—five of whom were male, and credits that rough-and-tumble upbringing with her ability to take on the “boys’ clubs” that would dominate her lifelong career.
After graduating from the University of Tennessee, she took what was to be a temporary office position with Digital Equipment Corporation in Knoxville. DEC manufactured the new leading-edge “mini-computers.” (This was the ‘70s, mind you. Mini-computers were about as big as your living room.) It wasn’t long before she was hired full-time, eventually moving with the company to Nashville.
Three years later, Cathy became financial manager at their new office in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and soon took on the duties of district financial manager in Philadelphia. She quickly realized that she could sell computers just as well—if not better—than the men on the sales team. So in ’81 she became a junior sales representative for the company’s digital government group in Landover, Maryland.
Within five years Benson was the branch manager for sales to the U.S. Navy. This was when things got sticky. As part of the process of obtaining a high-level security clearance, she was required to take a “lifestyle” polygraph test. Though she was not publicly “out” by any means, she was concerned. This was mid-‘80s Washington, after all, and gay witch-hunts were pretty much the norm.
Those of you who follow this column know that my ramblings often stray to the late gay activist Dr. Franklin Kameny. Fired from his government job in the ‘50s, he made it his crusade to noisily, and with much fanfare, challenge the government every time anti-gay bias came to the surface. (Shortly before his death, he was honored with an official apology for that unfair termination so many years before. Those of us of a certain age who pay attention understand what a huge favor the government unwittingly did for gays by firing Kameny and spurring him into action. His value to LGBT people everywhere can never truly be calculated.)
So Benson called Frank Kameny. The outspoken advocate knew the story all too well: “If you tell the truth, you will be denied,” he warned. “If you lie, you have a small chance of beating the machine. But it’s not likely.” She lied. The machine knew. She was denied.
In those days, people were denied for various reasons, and the letter from NSA contained no specifics. The respect she had earned over her many years with the company paid off, and she was simply reassigned to a different sales unit that didn’t require that level of clearance.
Things were changing in the tech world, and Cathy Benson knew that the future was in telecommunications. So in ’89 she joined Sprint Government Systems Division, still working with the Department of Defense, but from a different angle.
At that time, she was living in Laurel, Md. and was invited by Kathy Davison (now a Rehoboth full-timer, known and loved by many of us) to her retreat at the beach. Benson fell in love with Rehoboth and became a fixture at the very gay and very purple Palm (where Cloud 9 is—at least for a little while longer).
Serendipity smiled on Cathy in the early ‘90s when she met the perpetually feisty Susan Jimenez. Susan was also involved in the government supply chain, charged by Boeing Corporation to familiarize government officials with the then very new 777 Jetliner. No slouch herself, Jimenez had received the FED 100 Award as one of the nation’s top 100 federal executives. By the time she and Cathy met, Susan had left Boeing to take a vice president position with the Science Application International Corporation. Bottom line? Business powerhouse Benson had finally found somebody who could keep up with her!
In ’99 the two women bought a place in Rehoboth. It was to be nothing more than a beach house, of course, but many of us know where that ends up: Jimenez moved here full-time in 2005 and subsequently opened Guardian Property Manage-ment. Cathy took a job with SAP, an Enterprise Resource Planning Software company in Virginia. Her customers include the Army, Navy and the Defense Logistics Agency. “Boots, bullets, butter and beans,” smiles Cathy. “If they need it, we’ll get it to them.”
Susan recently sold Guardian and revels in her three adult children and eight grandchildren, all of whom love their Aunt Cathy. Benson’s eight nieces and nephews, along with her five grand-nieces/nephews visit the beach regularly. Both women are active members of Epworth United Methodist Church, and Cathy plays softball in the DE Senior Ladies’ League and the DE Shore Sharks—winning the silver medal in the recent Senior Olympics Tournament in Dover.
In retrospect, as she divides her time between Virginia and the beautiful home she and Susan share, Cathy’s happy that she didn’t take on the responsibilities of the security clearance. As with Dr. Kameny, maybe the government did her a favor, albeit in a backhanded sort of way.