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Juanita Bennett, 56, makeup artist to politicians, TV stars

Bennett alwayshad advice and an encouraging word for her clients, including President Obama, and celebrities in every field.

WE'LL NEVER know what Juanita Bennett whispered to Barack Obama.

It was during his 2008 campaign for the presidency. He was in Philadelphia for a TV appearance, and Juanita was doing his makeup.

Juanita, whose makeup clients included a staggering list of eminent people in politics, entertainment and every other kind of field, all yearning to be beautiful, didn't just do makeup. She always had something to say, always of an encouraging nature.

But what she confided to Obama is something she always kept to herself. She wouldn't tell friends, not even her mother.

"I don't know what she said," her mother, Ella M. Bennett, said. "But it probably had something to do with the Lord."

Juanita "Anita" Bennett was the first choice of TV stations here and in New York to do the makeup for famous guests, including military leaders and celebrities of every stripe, including actors who came to Philly to film. She died Sunday after a long struggle with lung cancer. She was 56 and lived in Mount Airy.

Her clients included Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Gen. Colin Powell, Bill Cosby, Harry Belafonte and others too numerous to list.

Among the TV stations that called on her for special events, such as the annual Thanksgiving Day parade, was 6ABC.

"I always looked forward to spending time with Anita," said Action News meteorologist Cecily Tynan. "Not only was she a very talented makeup artist, she was an incredibly positive person who always had interesting stories and compliments to share.

"Thanksgiving Day will not be the same without her smiling face and sunny outlook. Anita was a very special person who we will all miss, but never forget."

"Anita was the consummate professional, and we often called on her to handle some of the biggest names in television when they were doing press in Philadelphia," said Joanne Calabria, vice president of public affairs for CBS Television. "She handled everyone with grace and humor and made them look beautiful in the process."

"Anita was one of the angels that God sent to me," said Kimberly Garrison, Daily News fitness columnist. "She could talk a hundred miles a minute and give you advice, whether solicited or not. She was a wonderful, loving person. I was blessed to know her."

Juanita was born in Troy, N.Y., to Ella Mae Bennett and the late Le Ernest Pompey. After coming to Philadelphia, she graduated from Germantown High School, then earned an associate's degree from North Carolina A&T in Greensboro. She returned to Philadelphia and studied cosmetology.

Her first entertainment client was Kathy Sledge, of the Philly-based Sister Sledge singing group, famous for the song "We Are Family."

Early in her career, Juanita was hired to do makeup by the late Peter Jennings, famous anchor of ABC's "World News Tonight," in New York.

"She traveled back and forth to New York for a while to work with him," said her mother. "He was the first person she worked with in the news business. She was very fond of him. She always said he was such a nice man."

Once on a visit to Rome, Juanita met a man she described as the "love of her life." But when Vittorio Gianni Versace proposed to her, she turned him down. She decided she had to stay in Philly.

"I don't know if she regretted it," her mother said.

"She was a very loving daughter. I'm handicapped and have diabetes, and she always took good care of me. She was a kind, loving person. She had a tremendous memory. She never forgot birthdays or anniversaries."

Juanita was a devoted and active member of Mount Zion United Methodist Church. "She was always talking about the Lord," her mother said.

In her final hours, Juanita said to Ella, her mother, "Mom, I'm going somewhere, and you have to help me."

"I gave her permission to go," her mother said. "I told her it was all right."

Her mother is her only immediate survivor.

Services: Celebration of Life, 11 a.m. tomorrow, Mount Zion United Methodist Church, 1530 N. 11th St. Interment will be private.