Carolyn C. Benson

Real Estate Agent Was Credited With Being The Inspiration Behind President Nixon's 'Silent Majority' Phrase

August 02, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,

Carolyn C. Benson, a former longtime Cockeysville resident who was credited with being the inspiration behind President Richard M. Nixon's use of the term "silent majority" in a televised national speech, died July 24 of cancer at Gilchrist Hospice Care.

Mrs. Benson, who had moved to a daughter's Parkton home in 2006, was 78.

A former Democrat who worked locally on the 1960 presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy, Mrs. Benson switched party affiliation by the decade's end and became a Republican.

She also was an acquaintance of Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, former Baltimore County executive and Maryland governor, family members said.

The March on Washington and the anti-war demonstrations that swept the nation during the fall of 1969 inspired Mrs. Benson to write a letter to President Nixon supporting his policies and conduct of the Vietnam War.

In the last paragraph of the letter, she described herself as a "silent American."

Then one October afternoon, the phone in her Deer Path Court home rang.

"It was a White House operator calling, who asked her to please hold for a call from the president," said a son, Donald C. Semesky Jr., of Cockeysville.

Mrs. Benson told The Evening Sun at the time that when she heard it was the White House calling, "I almost collapsed."

Mr. Semesky said that shortly thereafter, President Nixon came on the line.

"He thanked her for her letter of support for his policies in Vietnam and told her he particularly liked the phrase in which she had called herself a 'silent American,' " Mr. Semesky said.

"He asked her if he could use it sometime," he said.

Mrs. Benson was watching a nationally televised presidential address on Nov. 3, 1969, when she heard President Nixon use the phrase "the great silent majority" of Americans.

While not exactly the phrase that Mrs. Benson had written, in the second paragraph of the speech, the president, said: "And so tonight - to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans - I ask for your support."

"She was flabbergasted," her son said.

An article published in The New York Times on Nov. 5 reported that the morning after the speech, the president had summoned reporters to the Oval Office, where they witnessed him "rummaging happily through sheafs of laudatory telegrams" that he estimated to be in the "high thousands" piled high on his desk.

"The major theme running through the messages, he said, was simply: 'We silent Americans are behind you,' " reported The Times.

In his book, Safire's New Political Dictionary, New York Times columnist and former Nixon speechwriter William Safire wrote: "The November 3 'silent majority' speech might well of had more of an effect on public opinion than any since the FDR acceptance in 1932, buying more time for the Vietnamization program."

Mr. Safire further explained that the president "wrote this speech with no help from his speechwriters," and was not "consciously 'making a phrase.' "

Carolyn Cook was born in Baltimore and raised on Eager Street, and later moved to Govans.

Her father, Gilbert C. Cook Sr., was director of the federal public housing authority in Baltimore, and her mother, Marie Codd Cook, was the first woman to become a licensed real estate broker in Maryland, family members said.

She was a 1949 graduate of Notre Dame Preparatory School and attended Notre Dame College of Maryland.

After raising her five children, Mrs. Benson followed in the footsteps of her mother, who during the 1940s and 1950s owned and operated Marie Codd Realty, and earned her real estate license.

During her 35-year career, Mrs. Benson worked in the West Padonia Road office of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn, which later became part of Coldwell Banker.

"She really hadn't retired and went to a settlement earlier this year in a wheelchair," her son said.

Mrs. Benson's work earned her many awards. She was a charter member of the National Realtors Million Dollar Association and a life member and former president of the Real Estate Million Dollar Association Ltd.

She was a communicant of St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Cockeysville, where she served on the parish council and was a Eucharistic minister.

For the past seven years, Mrs. Benson had mentored students in reading at Medfield Heights Elementary School.

A Mass of Christian burial was offered Wednesday at her church.

Also surviving is another son, Stephen P. Semesky of Randallstown; three daughters, Linda S. Woolf of Parkton, Laura M. Benson of Cockeysville and Carolanne Gooley of Charlotte, N.C.; a brother, Gilbert C. Cook of Cockeysville; two sisters, Betty Fuqua and Marie C. Cook, both of Parkton; 11 grandchildren; and a great-grandson. Her marriage to Donald C. Semesky Sr. ended in divorce. At the time of her death, she was separated from her husband, John Benson.

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