Robert Davis Beckey

Former Towson University math professor and woodworker

May 07, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Robert Davis Beckey, a popular Towson University mathematics professor who was also an accomplished woodworker, died Sunday of heart failure at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. The Lutherville resident was 84.

Mr. Beckey was born and raised in Milton, Pa., and moved with his family to Buffalo, N.Y., where he graduated from high school in 1943.

He served in the Navy as an instructor at its Oceanside, Calif., radio school from 1944 until being discharged in 1946, with the rank of radioman third class.

Mr. Beckey graduated in 1949 with a bachelor's degree in natural science and a concentration in math from Wittenberg College in Springfield, Ohio. Two years later, he earned a master's degree from Miami University of Ohio.

He also was enrolled in the doctoral program at George Washington University from 1966 to 1970.

Mr. Beckey began his teaching career as a high school math and science teacher in West Milton, Pa., and later held teaching assignments in Troy, Ohio, and Hanover, Pa., before joining the math department in 1959 of what was then State Teachers College at Towson.

In addition to his classroom duties, Mr. Beckey served as department chair from 1967 to 1970, and had been active in the Campus Research and Learning Center, and director of the Mathematics Curriculum Center.

He was also a consultant to the Campus Elementary School at Towson University and various county school systems. He conducted many workshops for math teachers throughout the state.

"Bob really wasn't a research person, his job was to get kids to learn math. That was his passion," said John Manlove, who is now retired from Towson University, where he taught theater. "He'd do anything in the classroom except roll on the floor to get students to learn, and he was very effective."

Dr. Manlove noted his friend's great patience. "Students had to take one math course, and I remember Bob telling me he had an art student who didn't like math. When he put an equation on the board, he asked her about it, and she replied it would look much better if it had a few curlicues around its edges," Dr. Manlove said, laughing.

"He was very popular with the students and was always a straight shooter. He was a delightful and practical fellow," said Dr. Manlove, who retired in 2002.

Howard J. Kaplon, who is acting associate dean of the Fisher College of Science and Mathematics at Towson University, studied with Mr. Beckey when he was an undergraduate.

"He was very popular but by no means an easy grader. He was always fair, however. Students liked his personality, and his office door was always open if they needed to see him about a math or personal problem," he said.

"He was always helpful and friendly and just a great person," he said. "He always stood up for what was right and was a great colleague."

Mr. Beckey also played a role in Mr. Kaplon's academic career.

"He offered me a chance to teach in the summer session, and when I joined the regular faculty, he said, 'Listen, call me Bob and not Mr. Beckey,' " Mr. Kaplon recalled. "He went out of his way to make me feel welcome and comfortable."

Gerald O. Riggleman taught math at Towson from 1962 until retiring in 1998.

"He was one of the first people I met when I came to what was then the State Normal School," said Mr. Riggleman. "And when I heard that Bob had died, the first thing that came to mind was that he had been such a loyal, loyal friend who had been dedicated to his work."

Mr. Beckey held a private pilot's license and for a time owned and flew an Aircoupe. He also built detailed scale airplane models.

"He was recently making model airplanes that are rubber band-powered and can fly in the living room," said his wife of 33 years, Florence Fischer, who also taught math at Towson.

Mr. Beckey and Mr. Riggleman shared an interest in aviation.

"Of course, Bob and I grew up in an era when kids built model airplanes, and right now I'm looking at a scale model of an Aeronca Champion that he built for me," said Mr. Riggleman. "He made stuff and was an excellent craftsman. He remodeled houses and did other things."

An accomplished woodworker, Mr. Beckey constructed toys for his grandchildren and made grandfather clocks for his children, as well as tables, chests and turned bowls on a lathe in the woodshop of his Chapel Ridge Road home.

Mr. Beckey also enjoyed camping and traveling throughout the country in his Volkswagen microbus. He also traveled to Europe, Korea, New Zealand and the Galapagos Islands.

He also was a ham radio operator and liked working in his vegetable garden and caring for his various fruit trees.

Mr. Beckey left his body to the Maryland Anatomy Board. Plans for a memorial service were incomplete Friday.

In addition to his wife, survivors include four sons, Christopher Beckey of Baltimore, Robert Beckey of Salisbury, William Beckey of Spring City, Pa., and Samuel Scott Beckey of San Francisco; a daughter, Anna Jaemoon Beckey Gaither of Clarksville; and seven grandchildren. An earlier marriage to the former Marilyn Westfall ended in divorce.

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