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Mom supported neighborhood with courage, love

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OBIT, obits, Obituary: Devola “Dee” Benson
By Bill Zlatos
Monday, Dec. 31, 2012, 10:26 p.m.

Dee Benson confronted drug dealers, crack addicts and rabble rousers on the streets of her beloved St. Clair Village.

“When there was lots of violence in the neighborhood, she was one of the persons who lived there who would prevent the violence, walking around, talking to teenagers on the corner, giving them wisdom, speaking to young ladies who may be involved in crack,” said her daughter, Charmaine Benson of Atlanta. “People in the neighborhood looked up to her almost as a mother figure.”

Devola “Dee” Benson, formerly of St. Clair Village in the city's St. Clair neighborhood, died Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012, of a brain tumor in UPMC Mercy, Uptown. She was 66.

She was born Jan. 1, 1946, to Addie and Cotrell Samuels. Her father died when she was young, and she was raised by her grandmother. She married the late Foster Benson when she was 16 and lived her last years with her first son, Titus Benson of Mt. Oliver.

“My mom was my whole world. I had her back, and she had my back,” he said.

Mrs. Benson lived in St. Clair Village for decades. As vice president of its citizens council, she helped distribute food to the disadvantaged, pleaded the case of tenants being evicted, passed out Christmas gifts to children and coordinated an after-school program.

Her daughter called her a “fearless” woman.

“The young men and women involved in the illegal activity would always respect her,” Charmaine Benson said. “She was the type who would confront them to their face, not close the door and call the police. She would try to take care of the problem if she could.”

Mrs. Benson fought the Pittsburgh Housing Authority, which closed St. Clair Village in 2010. She and her son then moved to Mt. Oliver.

“When they closed down St. Clair Village, knocked the buildings down, fenced it off, it's like they knocked down her heart. They took a piece of her,” her daughter said.

Her family said Mrs. Benson would do anything for them. Last year, for example, she wanted her grandson, who was 19, to move to Atlanta despite his anxiety about long car rides. As a result, she rode with him the entire way.

“She wasn't in great health then,” Charmaine Benson said. “She pushed her problems to the side to help my nephew.”

In addition to daughter Charmaine and son Titus, Mrs. Benson is survived by sons Dondi Kirby of Monroeville and Darryl Benson of McKeesport; daughter Belinda Benson of Mt. Oliver; two sisters, Lavetta Morris of Homewood and Velva Samuels of Garfield; brother Richard Samuels of Knoxville; five grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

Friends will be welcomed from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday in Timothy K. Slater Funeral Services, 425 Brownsville Road in Mt. Oliver. A funeral service will follow.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or

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