Karen Benson

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Karen Benson and some friends sewed masks to donate to front-line workers in Wells.

Benson wore her own mask faithfully and followed recommendations by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention throughout the pandemic. When it came time to get vaccinated, she was eager to roll up her sleeve.

Three weeks after receiving the second dose of the Moderna vaccine, Benson tested positive for COVID-19. The retired banking executive who had a passion for golf and traveling died June 20 at York Hospital from complications of COVID-19. She was 74.

Her husband, Peter Benson, and their two sons were by her bedside holding her hands when she died.

One son, Jeffrey Benson, said Wednesday that she was outspoken about the importance of getting vaccinated.

“I feel like she might have given her life because of people not looking out for the greater good,” he said. “Her whole point was if you don’t want to get vaccinated for yourself, that’s fine. But do it for everybody else. Do it for Karen.”

Deaths from COVID-19 among fully vaccinated individuals are exceedingly rare. The state has recorded 502 “breakthrough” cases of COVID-19 among 788,068 fully vaccinated Mainers, and Benson is just the eighth Mainer to die from COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated, according to the most recent data from the Maine CDC.

An Associated Press analysis of U.S. CDC data shows that only 150 of the more than 18,000 COVID deaths in the United States in May were in fully vaccinated people. Experts agree that the risk of dying from COVID-19 is significantly greater for unvaccinated people.

Benson was remembered by her family as a strong, resilient and adventurous woman who loved to laugh and lived life to its fullest.

A New Hampshire native, Benson had a successful career at Granite Bank. In 1977, she was hired as an installment loan secretary and was promoted up the ranks to senior vice president. She retired in 2002 and moved to Wells.

Benson and her husband spent the last 20 years traveling the world. One of their first trips was driving the entire perimeter of the United States, an adventure that lasted several weeks.

A highlight of their travels was a trip to Venice, Italy, where she and her husband danced in Saint Mark’s Square. They made trips to Baja California in Mexico to pet gray whales and their babies. They also visited the central highlands of Mexico to observe the millions of monarch butterflies that migrate there in winter.

“She was so much fun,” her husband said. “She did things spur of the moment. First snowfall, she was out there making a snowman. She did all these things.

“We kissed every morning and kissed every night. Lately, I was never a big game show fan, but she loved “Jeopardy!”. We watched “Jeopardy!” every night. At family gatherings, she was like a magnet. I would sit there and everyone would gravitate toward her.

Jeffrey Benson said his parents shared a passion for traveling and worked hard to achieve their dreams.

“They did everything for us,” he said. “When they started doing things for themselves, my brother and I just became enthralled with their life. They got to do everything they ever wanted to do. My mother got to see things and do things that she had only dreamed about. She was such a humble woman.”

Her sons described her as a loving and protective mother, who would do anything for them.

“She expected things out of us, and I appreciated that,” Jeffrey Benson said. “She used to say: ‘When you leave this house you represent this family.’ She wanted us to do our part. That stuck with me forever. It tells you the kind of person she was … the kind of mom she was. She was very nurturing. She was a friend. She loved to laugh. Oh boy, did she love to laugh.”

“She was a lifeline for me,” said her other son, Peter C. Benson. “She was always there for me. I’ll miss our conversations and seeing her with my kids and how much my kids enjoyed her.”

Karen Benson took up golf in her mid-60s and played regularly. Jeffrey Benson said she couldn’t get enough of it.

“She could hit the ball,” he said. “When I first golfed with her, I was like, ‘Holy crap, Mom. You can hit the ball.’ She golfed into her 70s. I swear to God she got better.”

Benson also was an accomplished seamstress and avid quilter who created personalized quilts for family and friends. She also participated in quilting projects that were donated to charitable organizations and veteran’s groups.

She was a fighter, too, who successfully battled lymphoma a few years ago. She had rheumatoid arthritis and a suppressed immune system. Her husband said they got their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on March 15 and she started showing symptoms of COVID-19 in mid-April. She was admitted to York Hospital on May 1 for eight days, and then re-admitted on June 1. She died less than three weeks later.

“I have my moments,” Peter Benson said, choking up. “Then, I can be OK for a while. It’s just so fresh. … We were married for 55 years. I figured we had another 10 years anyway. Karen was passionate about people getting vaccinated. She couldn’t understand why someone wouldn’t get vaccinated to help somebody else if not themselves. I just don’t understand it.”

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