On serving presidents and communities

Marcy Benson shares experiences from politics, volunteerism
By Staff
Marcy Benson delivers a keynote speech at CU Women Succeeding. (Photo: Casey A. Cass/University of Colorado)

Marcy Benson delivers a keynote speech at CU Women Succeeding. (Photo: Casey A. Cass/University of Colorado)

Marcy Benson has met seven United States presidents and worked for two, but perhaps the best insight she received in more than two decades working in Washington, D. C., came not from a chief executive, but from the head of the Federal Judicial Center.

Judge Alfred Murrah, her one-time boss and the namesake of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in her hometown of Oklahoma City, told Benson to “identify yourself with every good thing in the community. You cannot expect to live off of a community without putting something into it.”

CU’s First Lady shared the advice, as well as a wide range of anecdotes from her experiences in politics and community service with the record crowd of more than 300 at the 10th annual CU Faculty Council Women Succeeding Symposium, held in the Glenn Miller Ballroom at CU-Boulder.

Benson took the call to volunteerism to heart, particularly since coming to Colorado in the early 1990s. In an introduction to the talk, in which he called her “my partner in everything I do,” CU President Bruce Benson related some of her volunteer activities.

She served on the Board of Directors of The Children’s Hospital (now Children’s Hospital Colorado) for more than a decade and was co-chair of the campaign that built the new hospital at CU’s Anschutz Medical Campus. She also served as chair of The Children’s Hospital Foundation for three years and has been a member of that board since 1998. Marcy Benson has been engaged with a number of civic and cultural organizations, including the Denver Public Library Commission and the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District.

At CU, she and her husband chair the university’s $1.5 billion Creating Futures fundraising campaign, and she also serves as honorary chair of Be Colorado, CU’s wellness initiative.

In her Women Succeeding Symposium talk, she shared stories about her time working for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, both of whom she called down-to-Earth men who treated staff as well as they treated dignitaries. While working for Murrah at the Federal Judicial Center, she lived for a couple of weeks and commuted with a family friend, former Supreme Court Justice and CU alumnus Byron White, whom she called unpretentious and witty.

Her first experience with a president came at age 12, when she met President John F. Kennedy at the U.S. Naval Museum, attired in a navy blue sailor suit, which the president admired. “He shook our hands and touched me on the shoulder and just like every other woman in America, I fell in love,” Benson said.

Later, while working at the Federal Judicial Center, she said she had to fight through a “thick glass ceiling” in the male-dominated office culture. After graduate school and considering a career as an FBI agent, she decided instead to volunteer for then-candidate George H.W. Bush, knocking on doors in New Hampshire.

Bush didn’t win the nomination, but Benson ended up with a position on the committee planning Ronald Reagan’s inauguration. Her work led to a number of White House positions during the Reagan and Bush presidencies, including in the Political Office and the Advance Office. From 1987-92, she directed the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships, a leadership program in which outstanding young people from the private sector, state government and the military are selected to spend a year working as an assistant to a senior White House staff member or a member of the Cabinet. Its alumni include Colin Powell, Tim Wirth and Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Benson said she and her husband are “very fortunate and proud to be part of CU.” And as she applies Murrah’s advice on volunteerism in her role as CU’s First Lady, she said her time in politics has given her a unique perspective that applies to the world of higher education.

“Over the past 50 years I have met seven U.S. presidents, and being the unbiased and objective person that I am, I can assure you that the best president I ever met is Bruce Benson.”