D. Randall Beirne

Army officer who went on to become a history and sociology professor and expert on Baltimore history

February 06, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Daniel Randall Beirne, a West Pointer and retired Army officer who later had a second career as a University of Baltimore professor of sociology and history and was considered an authority on Baltimore history, died Wednesday of heart failure at his East Lake Avenue home.

He was 85.

Dr. Beirne, whose parents were both writers, was born in Baltimore and raised on Berwick Road in Ruxton.

His father was Francis Foulke Beirne, the longtime Sun and Evening Sun editorial writer, whose Christopher Billopp columns entertained newspaper readers for decades. He was also the author of a number of, books including "The Amiable Baltimoreans," "The War of 1812," "Baltimore: A Picture History 1858-1968" and "St. Paul's Parish, Baltimore: A Chronicle of the Mother Church."

Dr. Beirne's mother, Rosamond Harding Randall Beirne, an author and historian, had written a history of the Bryn Mawr School.

After graduating from Gilman School in 1943, Dr. Beirne was drafted into the Army, and upon completing training, was appointed to West Point.

"One of his many highlights while a cadet was being part of the honor guard for President Franklin D. Roosevelt's funeral in Hyde Park, playing four years on the lacrosse team and traveling by boat to Baltimore to witness the undefeated 1944 Army team defeat Navy," said his son, Daniel R. Beirne Jr. of Reisterstown.

Dr. Beirne graduated from West Point in 1948, and during the Korean War led a heavy weapons platoon, beginning in 1950, for nearly a year.

He later served with the 5th Regimental Combat Team that helped the 8th Army fortify the Pusan perimeter and secure it from the North Koreans.

"His experience and memories of this time would serve him well when he was asked to be the historian of record for the Baltimore Korean War Memorial that was erected in Canton in 1990," his son said. "He was also asked in 1995 to write the section on the Army's involvement in that war for the commemorative book on the National Korean War Veterans Memorial."

After retiring from the Army with the rank of major in 1961, he remained an active reservist, attaining the rank of colonel by the time he retired in 1978.

In the early 1960s, he began teaching physics at Loyola High School and what was then Essex Community College.

He earned a master's degree in geography from the Johns Hopkins University and a doctorate from the University of Maryland, College Park in 1975.

In 1965, he joined the faculty of the University of Baltimore, where he taught sociology and history for the next three decades, until retiring in 1995.

"Randy was a wonderful man and an excellent teacher. He was well-liked by students and peers alike. He was a first-class guy," said H. Mebane Turner, who was university president from 1969 until he retired in 2002.

"When he was teaching history, he could correlate it with his military experience," Dr. Turner said.

The Rev. W.T. "Ted" Durr, another university colleague who taught sociology and had been interim pastor at Roland Park Presbyterian Church, recalled that Dr. Beirne's office was always full of students who enjoyed discussing matters with him.

"He was a scholar ... who was steady and always got the job done. He wasn't full of fluff but was just resolute and steady," Mr. Durr said.

"He always knew where he was headed and had plenty of insight along the way. He was not flashy and always faithful," he said. "Whenever he contributed his knowledge to something, he just blew people away."

Larry W. Thomas, dean of the University of Baltimore's College of Liberal Arts, was another longtime friend and colleague.

"Randy was a very gregarious and extremely witty individual and the students really loved his classes," he said. "He taught sociology for us for a number of years, but history was his real passion, and he brought a great deal to the College of Liberal Arts."

Dr. Beirne was a prolific contributor to the op-ed pages of The Evening Sun, writing on a variety of subjects, most often about local history.

During the 1980s, he also collaborated with Charles Robert Fisher, a university colleague, on an oral history of the 29th Division.

When Hampden celebrated in 1988 the 100th anniversary of its annexation by Baltimore, Dr. Beirne wrote of its present-day efforts to overcome its "redneck" and racist image and of its enduring patriotism.

"No other community in Baltimore has as many organizations and parades. On national holidays, every house displays the American flag," he wrote. "Few communities can compete with Hampden's record of war heroes and service to her country."

When some residents of Ruxton and Riderwood were upset over the coming of light rail in the late 1980s, Dr. Beirne gently reminded them in an essay of the community's one-time reliance on the commuter trains of the Pennsylvania Railroad, which once carried them back and forth to town before service ended in 1959.

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