Margaret Benjamin (née Montgomery), widow of Roy ("Ben") Benjamin, sister of Roberta "Bobbie" Hoehn (deceased), survived by her daughter, Meril Markley, and Meril's husband Michael.
The Early Years
Margaret and her sister, Bobbie, were young girls when both their parents died within a few months of each other. It was a time when children were seen and not heard, and certainly not informed of serious matters of life and death. When Margaret's mother, Agnes Montgomery, died of cancer, she simply went off to the hospital and never came home.
Fortunately, their father had contributed to a fraternal organization that ran an orphanage and so the girls had a place to live through the stock market crash and the tough, early years of the Great Depression. But their small inheritance disappeared and one of the residents stole the few pieces of jewelry Agnes left her girls.
With no money for college, Margaret moved to Cincinnati when she graduated from high school at the orphanage and went right to work, renting an apartment where Bobbie could join her when she too graduated. Her first job was at a trucking company where her organizational skills, exploited by the boss in arranging liaisons with his lady friend, made Margaret indispensable.
While living in Norwood and working nearby, she met Roy ("Ben") Benjamin, one of the few young single guys with good prospects who was taller than she was. Dating during the Depression meant the occasional movie but mostly trips to Graeter's for ice cream, paying a nickel a cone there, when less delicious alternatives were a mere three cents.
She also helped out in Ben's various businesses by keeping the books and dealing with clients in her masterful way of persuading folks to do what they were not otherwise inclined to do - and then convincing them it had been their idea all along. His long absences on business trips meant she had to learn to deal on her own with such things as blizzards, hurricanes, a car that wouldn't start (but she learned to bump start it and pop the clutch), a flooded basement, dogs that ran away, funerals for expired goldfish, a washing machine that trekked across the kitchen floor, and a fireplace that put more smoke in the living room than up the chimney.
Margaret was a stay-at-home Mom for Meril, taking on volunteer jobs related to school and helping out with the local volunteer ambulance corps and the church choir. When Meril went off to Vassar, Margaret took the opportunity to start a new career in property management, using her organizational and diplomatic skills to run an office of 15 real estate agents and later managing a complex of 300 apartments. She never lost her enthusiasm for accomplishing things and for being busy doing something useful. The day before she died, she told Meril that there was a project she feared she wouldn't be able to finish. We don't know what that was, but Meril said she'd help, and that seemed to reassure her. Margaret was focused on getting things accomplished, until the very end.
Later in life, painful things included the harsh comments Margaret heard when she learned Meril was on the way, long after she and Ben had given up hope of having children. "You'll never live long enough to raise that child; it's irresponsible to have a baby at your age," her critics scolded. She was not dismayed, even on the first day of kindergarten when she arrived with Meril in tow and the teacher demanded to know where this child's mother was, and why her grandmother had brought her? Margaret took it all in stride, and has had the last word by outliving the nay sayers.
Politics were in Margaret's blood. She loved campaigning for her husband, developing a thick skin to deflect the nasty stuff that always played a role in elections. She remained active and informed, helping Congressman Brady organize a Social Security workshop in 2005 at the apartment complex where she lived and being proud that Meril was on his staff. She would be honored to know that a tribute to her will be included in the Congressional Record when the House of Representatives reconvenes next month.
Her last election campaign was at age 86, when Michael was running for re-election to the Grogan's Mill Residential Design and Review Committee. Meril and Michael had to be out of town on election day, so Margaret took over at the polls, chasing voters with her walker, handing out leaflets, and urging folks to re-elect her son-in-law because he was doing such a great job. He won by a landslide!
Music was a constant in Margaret's life, despite a less than stellar beginning. As with most youngsters of her generation, she endured piano lessons and detested having to practice. But she loved to hear others perform and encouraged Meril to develop her singing voice and to perform at La Scala. Like Meril, she cherished especially the mystical works of Bach and the sublime music of Mozart, but also loved singing, including with the Sweethearts group in The Woodlands until age 90.
Being remarkably tall for her era, Margaret had a terrible time finding clothes that fit her, so she did the next best thing, she made her own. But it took her several years on a salary of $5 a week to save the $200 to buy a Singer sewing machine. She used it for the next 60 years to make everything from work clothes to ball gowns, curtains, slipcovers, outfits for Meril's Barbie doll, and Meril's concert dresses and magnificent wedding gown. Because Ben was so ill in 1990 when Meril and Michael got married, they had to plan the wedding by long distance. Meril drew a sketch of the gown she wanted and sent it to Margaret in Phoenix. Margaret designed and made it, flew with it to Los Angeles (fortunately, no lost luggage) where it fit Meril perfectly.
Margaret never lost her interest in fashion or her belief in being well groomed. That meant doing her hair and putting on her make-up every morning, whether or not she felt up to it. Local volunteers delivering meals-on-wheels to Margaret's neighbors would often see her out walking in the morning - hair done up and make-up on. "I always get dressed every morning, because chances are someone will call me to do something and I want to be ready to go," she told them.
Margaret loved to travel. In her early years with Ben, this meant cross-country trips on rutted roads in their Model A Ford.
While she loved his family dearly and they went often to visit his aunt and uncle on their farm outside Falmouth, Kentucky, she never grew used to the hardships of farm life in the 1930s - no indoor plumbing or central heating. But she loved sleeping under a goose down featherbed and learning from Aunt Josie how to make the pies that Ben expected for Sunday dinner throughout their married life.
Once Margaret had experienced air travel, she was ready to go anywhere. She especially loved going to Europe, visiting Meril when she lived in Vienna and, later, Meril and Michael when they lived in Paris. The Paris trip held especially wonderful memories for her since it coincided with her 77th birthday which they celebrated with lunch at the Jules Verne Restaurant in the Eiffel Tower. Margaret was not about to let a detail, such as not speaking French, keep her from having the adventure of a lifetime. Armed with a card explaining in French who she was and where she was staying in case she got lost, she explored on her own their neighborhood full of fashion houses and boutiques, disarming even the most tourist-weary Frenchman with her captivating smile and a toss of her fluffy white curls.
Margaret was never one for "roughing it." Her idea of camping was Motel 6, a rule enforced when Ben decided they should spend their retirement roving the west in a motor home. As with all the vehicles he acquired throughout their marriage, it simply arrived in the driveway one day, unannounced. But Margaret put her foot down. The way she saw it, traveling in a motor home meant she had the same chores as she did at home, but with fewer conveniences. So, when they moved to Arizona, Ben ended up driving there and she flew to meet him. And they lived in a house affixed to solid ground.
She loved Arizona but gave up the desert to be near Meril and Michael in The Woodlands. As her hearing failed, she had more and more trouble understanding soft-spoken Michael, insisting it was his strange Texas accent! Debby Thornton tells of one of her last conversations with Margaret, who asked where she was? "Why you're in Texas." To which Margaret responded, "oh no!"
Margaret enjoyed a lifelong love affair with food, although never too much, since she weighed 132 pounds her entire adult life (except for the few months before Meril's arrival). Until the end, she enjoyed her weekly treat of a chocolate-peanut butter malt from Culver's.
Michael, the chef-de-cuisine of the Markley household, remembers well her fondness for potatoes. When she was living nearby and Meril would call to invite her for dinner, Margaret's first question was always, "are there potatoes involved?" If so, the next question was inevitably, "would they happen to be garlic mashed potatoes?" Usually, the answer was yes and Margaret would show up a few minutes later. Since Margaret had "retired from cooking" some years earlier in favor of Stouffer's frozen dinners, Michael's home cooked meals were a welcome respite.
By the same token, there were some things she detested, such as broccoli. When asked by the nurse on one of her many visits to the hospital, if Margaret had any known allergies, she always offered up "broccoli." While this allergy was probably new to the annals of medicine, she hoped it would ensure none arrived on her tray.
She loved teasing the hospital workers who were used to dealing with elderly patients and their tendency to misplace their dentures. When they would ask her where her "teeth" were and if she'd left them on the meal tray, she would say, "they're in my mouth, where they've been for the last 90 years."
Margaret had a love of animals, especially cats and dogs, but most of all dogs. And they loved her, sensing a kindred and indulgent spirit. Before Meril and Michael got Mischa, their miniature schnoodle, Margaret hinted around considerably about how nice it would be if they had a pooch. When Mischa arrived on the scene as a 2 1/2 pound puppy, Margaret became his special friend and babysitter. She enjoyed having all the fun and none of the responsibilities - after all, chasing after a puppy while relying on a walker was not a recipe for success. When Margaret came to live with Meril and Michael after recuperating from a fall, Mischa would go to bed with her every night, laying under the covers with her until she had fallen asleep, and then jumping down to resume his other activities.
Not numbered among her favorite creatures were bugs, especially the big tree roaches native to Southeast Texas. Her relentless crusade against them led to a nasty fall late one night when she was heading to the kitchen. Chasing the bug with her walker, she lost her balance and fell, fracturing her pelvis. But not before she whipped off her slipper and squashed the miscreant. And that's how Meril found her, unable to get up, but happy to have dispatched her nemesis.
Meril once asked Margaret why she didn't seem bitter or resentful about the events of her childhood. She said she was, at the time, but decided she did not want to live the rest of her life that way. So she stored painful things deep in her memory banks and focused on the positive and the joyful, supported by her strong faith and her belief in the inherent goodness of people.
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