Community grieves for woman 'warrior'.
Tevina Benedict touched the lives of many people in her 54 years.
She advocated for the homeless, the mentally ill, the uninsured. She lobbied the state Legislature, sat on committees and demonstrated for peace and against social injustice.
"She cared very deeply about people - individual people as well as society as a whole," her husband, David Barta, said. "She was a real warrior about things she believed in."
Now, her sudden death is reverberating through the communities she fought for.
Benedict died May 7 when she fell to the bottom of a rocky cliff about a half-mile from the Strawberry Hill Wayside Lane viewing area off Highway 101.
She had gone for a hike while waiting for her daughter to return from a tide pool viewing expedition with members of a University of Oregon environmental history class. Her daughter called for help when Benedict did not return to the family's truck.
Lane County deputies and search and rescue crews found her body the next morning. Investigators have said the fall appears accidental.
Barta, director of telecommunications at the UO, said he's been overwhelmed by the number of calls and condolences that have flooded into the family's Eugene home as word of Benedict's death spread.
A celebration of life is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. May 28 at Dorris Ranch Living History Farm in Springfield. Memorial contributions may be made to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.
"We're all very saddened that she's left us," said Mary Ann Holser, a community activist who knew Benedict well. "She was a hard worker in the trenches of social justice."
Benedict served on the executive committee of the Community Health Benefits Workgroup of Lane County, which formed in 2003 during the sale of McKenzie-Willamette Hospital to Triad, said Tom Holser, a work group member.
She spent a lot of her time trying to help the most vulnerable, including the mentally ill.
"Health care was her passion," said Ellen Pinney, executive director of the Oregon Health Action Campaign. "Unlike many people, I think Tevina was not afraid to ask the hard questions, and she was not afraid to make sure that the agreement we were coming to was really going to work best for the people we were serving."
Benedict also was involved with the Eugene Springfield Solidarity Network/Jobs with Justice and served on the advisory committee for Lane County Mental Health as well as the Eugene Human Rights Commission's committee on human rights and mental health.
Benedict's passion was personal. Though she was never properly diagnosed, she felt she had attention deficit disorder or bipolar disorder, her husband said. "She's fought them all her life and managed to function through depression and obsession," Barta said.
Benedict led an unorthodox life from an early age. Her father, Russell Benedict, was the son of wealthy parents, but he left that life in search of adventure, first as a merchant marine, later as a miner and prospector, and finally as an activist in Washington, D.C. He founded an organization called Waste Not, Want Not, which retrieved discarded food from supermarkets and distributed it to those in need.
Russell Benedict came to Eugene after men broke into his food warehouse and nearly beat him to death. His daughter had dedicated much of her time since then to getting him housing and care, Barta said.
Russell Benedict said he will remember his daughter's courage as a child, including a harrowing trip in which the two of them navigated down a mountain after dusk. When she was 8, Tevina Benedict played the role of impromptu midwife to a younger sister, who was born prematurely in a mining company office, he said.
Tevina Benedict went to college in New Mexico, where she helped start a low-income clinic and worked on an alternative newspaper with Barta. The couple lived in Chicago, Grand Junction, Colo., and Portland before moving to Eugene in 1990.
She earned her master's degree in public health from the UO in 1994.
Tevina Benedict fell to her death May 7. In this photo, she poses with her father, Russell Benedict.