Friends and family members of the late Laura L. Bennett who died Jan. 2 at WCA Hospital in Jamestown, gathered Saturday in Randolph to remember her. She was 94.
She was a longtime public servant, serving as a deputy and Democratic commissioner in the Cattaraugus County Board of Elections, a county legislator and until last year, an election clerk in the town of South Valley.
Above all, Bennett will be remembered for her smile and her sense of humor, said former County Clerk James Griffith, her friend of 50 years.
He first met her as a member of the Young Democrats at Salamanca High School. “I have lost a true friend,” he said.
“Laura worked at the Board of Elections and at that time the Democrat Party was strictly grass roots,” Griffith said. “Laura ran a print shop at the old Democratic Headquarters on Main Street in Salamanca. Her car could be seen there until the wee hours as she printed flyers, scratch pads and posters. She always had ink on her somewhere,” he added.
“Laura coordinated hundreds of local campaigns and always had sage advice for the candidates, most of them first timers,” Griffith said.
A Steamburg resident, she served as Coldspring town clerk and town justice, when she was good naturedly called the Hanging Judge. She often gave follow-up advice to people who appeared before her. Law enforcement respected her for upholding the law.
In recent years, Bennett has lived at Randolph Manor.
“There were many who did not think that Laura could be a successful elections commissioner and she proved them wrong,” Griffith said. “And there were many who did not think Laura could get elected to the County Legislature from a very Republican district, but she proved everyone wrong and narrowly won her seat. We called her ‘Landslide Laura’ for many years.”
The best advice Griffith said Bennett ever gave him as a young man interested in politics was “‘You can never have too many friends.’”
Griffith said, “Laura had a deep Christian faith and was a true servant. She was humble, yet not afraid to speak her mind and make her point. She cared very much for others, no matter what their party affiliation and was the backbone of the party for decades.”
One story Laura loved to tell was the night she got stuck on top of a snowbank in the County Center parking lot about 30 years ago. “Someone came in and said, ‘Laura Bennett is stuck in a snowbank.’ I went out back and sure enough, there was Laura in her car on top of a snow bank at least 20 feet high. She had gotten stuck, floored her car in reverse and away she went. I told her it looked like her car was dropped by a helicopter.”
In a Facebook post last week, former Cattaraugus County Democratic Party Chairman William O’Dell said, “She worked night and day for the Democrats, doing all the jobs. She was very kind and always helping people. God bless her, she will never be forgotten.”
Democratic election Commissioner Kevin Burleson, told the Olean Times Herald that Bennett used to sleep in Democratic headquarters while printing election material.
Burleson, who covered Bennett as a county legislator when he worked for The Salamanca Press, said, “She was always funny on the floor of the Legislature. She and Bruce Moody had a go-around one time. She was one of the earlier women on the County Legislature along with Patty McGee, Anne Marie Costello and Marion Kramer.”
Burleson said she was deputy Democrat election commissioner under the late James Lockwood of Hinsdale.
She loved talking about politics — local, state or national.
Burleson said, “When I became the Democratic commissioner, I hired Laura as a voting machine custodian to set up lever machines throughout the county.”
After the old lever machines were retired, Bennett continued to serve as an election inspector in South Valley. She was 93 when she last served as an election inspector in 2016.
She was born Oct. 24, 1923 in Steamburg, the daughter of the late Chandler H. and Marjorie G. Marsh Bolton. She was preceded by her parents, her late husband Fred Bennett, and her daughter Lorraine Garland.
(Contact reporter Rick Miller at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)