The passing of Dean Emeritus Robert A. Beck '42

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Dean Michael Johnson and Jill Kobus Johnson with Dean Beck at the 2012 Cornell Hospitality Icon & Innovator Awards.

Dear Faculty, Staff, Students, Alumni, and Friends,

It is with the deepest regret that I inform you of the passing of Robert A. Beck ’42, one of the most beloved figures in the history of our school. Bob died on July 31, 2012 at the age of 91. Even in my relatively short time here at the school, I grew very fond of Bob, and I will cherish the time spent with this remarkable member of our community.

Bob was the youngest member of the faculty when President Deane Malott appointed him to succeed H. B. Meek as dean in 1961. “Prof” Meek shaped the program that Bob inherited. To Bob fell the task of filling the shoes of a legend, and he did it by becoming a legend in his own right. He turned over the entire faculty, hiring formally trained academics in place of the operational practitioners of Meek’s era. He emphasized research and raised the school’s international profile. He recognized early on the potential of the coming information age, introducing computing to the curriculum and, in tandem with the engineering school, the campus.

During the social upheavals of the Vietnam era, Bob remained a firm, fatherly presence, insisting on proper dress and decorum and keeping the focus on the work at hand. He was present in the hallway during all class changes, surveying the students and keeping them close. He met with them every morning for coffee, answering questions and probing their opinions. His genuine concern for their well-being was evident despite his commanding demeanor.

Bob drew upon a profound well of character that was deepened by wartime experience. World War II began during Bob’s senior year in the School of Hotel Administration, and he entered the army after graduation. He took part in the D-Day invasion of Normandy as a member of the 90th Infantry Division, United States Army; only eleven men in his unit of 185 survived the drive up Utah Beach. A week later, his unit came under fire from a German tank. He alone survived, losing a leg to his injuries. He spent the next eleven months in the hospital, blind for the first three of them.

Jan Murray, who would marry him the next year and spend years caring for our students while raising their three daughters, was at his side throughout Bob’s recovery, urging him onto his feet and back into life. They returned to his native Boston, where he developed an interest in labor relations while working at Quincy Market; in 1951 he returned to Cornell for graduate study, earning a master’s degree in education in 1952 and a doctorate in psychology in 1954.

He joined SHA faculty that year, teaching labor relations to hotel students and accounting to students in Home Economics and the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He was awarded tenure in 1957, promoted to full professor in 1960, and appointed dean one year later.

Bob and his beloved Jan, who died in 1999, were honored in 2004 with the dedication of the Robert A. and Jan M. Beck Center, a beautiful, sunny space that hums continually with the comings, goings, and gatherings of Hotelies and visitors to our building. No physical tribute could be more appropriate to either one of them.

Bob’s loss will be deeply felt by all alumni, faculty, and staff who had the great fortune to experience his leadership as dean of the school from 1961 to 1981. Many more will cherish his memory, including those who had an opportunity to meet or reconnect with him at this year’s I&I Awards dinner. Even at that highly charged event, Bob’s warm charisma and joyous sense of humor were an irresistible draw.

Bob is survived by three daughters, Susan Warner, Robin MacRae, and Janyce Beck, A&S ’70; sons-in-law Dr. Mark M. Warner ’69 and Dr. Roderick MacRae; and seven grandchildren, Carla Petzold-Beck ’95, Kathrin Petzold, A&S ’01, Robert Petzold, Mark M. Warner, Jr. (Maria), Amy O'Donnell (Joseph), Rory MacRae (Patricia), and Alexander MacRae.

Services will be private, and the family asks that, in lieu of flowers, tributes be directed to the school’s Jan and Robert Beck Scholarship Fund. Cards may be addressed to the Beck family, care of Susan Warner, 7 Magnolia Drive, Madison, CT 06443.


Michael Johnson

Michael D. Johnson | Dean and E.M. Statler Professor
Cornell University | School of Hotel Administration
146 Statler Hall | Ithaca, NY 14853
p. 607-255-5106 f. 607-255-8570

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