Doris Benefield Needham, 86, of Huntsville, Alabama passed away on Sunday, December 26, 2021.
Most of the actors on the world’s stage are those who come and go and perform their work without attaining our highest attention and admiration. Now and then, an individual appears marking their advent with evidences of marvelous superiority to their contemporaries. We cannot always define by name their splendid traits and for want of a better term we say they are gifted among mortals, with genius, such as Doris Benefield Needham; She was one of the first women in the 1950’s to successfully blend a corporate career and homemaker in Alabama.
The Early Years
Doris Benefield Needham was a quiet, cautious, thoughtful family woman, of whom almost no one had heard or ever would have heard of except for the fact the Cold War between the United States and Russia came along and gave her an arena in which she became one of the leading actors. In the 1960s, Doris assisted the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA, with putting man on the moon in 1969 and later in building the arsenals of our democracy in the 70s-90s with the United States Army Missile Command.
Doris succeeded professionally during a time in history when a woman’s place in the home had already been defined by American culture. Born in 1935 in the front bedroom of her family home located in Wadley, Alabama, Doris and her twin sister, Dorothy Benefield Inge were the pride of their parents, David Roy and Lilian Obera Benefield and older sister, Erbis Benefield Hackett.
Brilliance on Display
Learning how to speak and write Latin along with developing superb mathematical skills, Doris’ intelligence was quickly noticed by her grade school teachers. Upon graduation from Handley High School, she accepted a position as bookkeeper for the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service at the Courthouse in Wedowee, Alabama at the referral of her instructors.
After marrying the love of her life, Charles Clayton Needham of Wedowee, Alabama, they ventured to Huntsville, AL where both got jobs with NASA.
NASA and the Army Missile Command
Doris worked alongside Dr. Werner Von Braun and his rocket scientists during the early days of NASA accomplishing President John F. Kennedy’s dream of putting a man on the moon before the beginning of the 1970s and beating the Russians to the goal. When NASA made personnel changes in the mid-1960s, Doris found a new home with the Army Missile Command as a Contract Specialist. With the United States Army as a civilian agent, Doris made a name and a career for herself awarding and overseeing the construction of weapons used to shield Western Europe from a potential Soviet invasion. Some of the weapon systems she assisted in building included the Tube Launched, Optically Aimed, Wired Guided or TOW guided missile to defeat the Soviet T-72 tank threat and the surface-to-air Chaparral Missile Defense System to bring down attacking MIG fighter jets.
Doris’s ability to handle the pressures being a wife and a businesswoman created this myth and legend of a woman who appeared to find serenity in the storms of life and in doing so earned the respect of all who witnessed it first-hand.
A Woman of Strength
This is a woman who was a caregiver to a husband and two sisters of cancer until their deaths while being a parent to two children. Doris was a Christian and regularly tithed to the Monte Sano United Methodist Church and gave to such causes as St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.
Doris was truly a legend in her own time, and she will be missed by all who loved and respected her.
It was my Mama which instilled in me my love and respect for history, especially in Southern culture and States rights.
No matter her accomplishments she was my dear Mother and she loved me. My best friend, my Mom.
John Charles Needham