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Lawrence Becker

Kenan Professor, Emeritus (1939-2018)


From the Provost, 12/7/2018:

Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus Lawrence C. Becker, 79, of Roanoke, Va., died on Thursday, November 22, 2018.  He had an energetic career as a philosopher of ethics, political philosophy, and had a special focus on the philosophy of disability and health. 

Lawrence C. Becker earned his B.A. in history summa cum laude from Midland Lutheran College in Fremont, Nebraska, and his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in philosophy from the University of Chicago, where he held both Danforth and Woodrow Wilson Graduate Fellowships.  He began his teaching career as a visiting instructor at Hollins College in 1965, and was promoted through the ranks there, becoming Professor of Philosophy in 1978.

Professor Becker joined the W&M faculty in 1989 as the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Philosophy after spending 25 years on the faculty at Hollins College.  At W&M he designed and taught courses in advanced ethics, morality and law, Stoic ethics, ethics and public policy, practical rationality, international justice, and philosophy and narrative art, among others.  In his twelve years here, his service included a term on the Faculty Assembly, and terms on a wide range of Arts & Sciences committees, including Retention, Promotion and Tenure, Admissions, Curriculum Review, and Assessment.  He also served a year as acting chair of his department, chaired a search for Dean of the Faculty, and served on a Provost Search Committee.

During the course of his scholarly career, Professor Becker authored four monographs, including A New Stoicism (1998), for which he is perhaps best known and which appeared in several editions.  He is the author of more than four dozen articles in scholarly journals, and co-editor of two anthologies.  For fifteen years, he was an Associate Editor of Ethics: An International Journal of Social, Political, and Legal Philosophy, the flagship journal in his field.  He contributed widely to professional conferences and colloquia, and served as an officer or committee member of a variety of professional associations.  With his beloved wife of 51 years, Charlotte Burner Becker, he co-edited a multi-volume reference work, the Encyclopedia of Ethics, the second edition of which was published in 2001.  They had a relationship that was composed in equal parts of intellectual partnership and deep love and affection.  Charlotte passed away at the age of 74 in September 2018, just two months before Larry.     

Professor Becker was twice selected as a Fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and held similar research fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford.  When he left Hollins in 1989 he was named a permanent Fellow of that institution, and his undergraduate alma mater recognized him with both its Distinguished Alumnus Award and an honorary doctorate.  In 1999, he received William & Mary’s prestigious Thomas Jefferson Award.

Professor Becker was stricken as a child with polio and it is impossible to fully appreciate his accomplishments without putting them in the context of his disability.  He spent virtually his whole life in a wheel chair, and had absolutely no use of his arms and very little use of his legs.  Remarkably, he typed the manuscripts for all of his books and articles with his toes.  He wrote about the ethics of disability and served on several national committees that addressed disability policies.  He served as the president and chair of Post-Polio Health International and as chair of the board of directors of the National Institutes of Health National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research.     

He contributed in many ways to the vitality of the William & Mary community.  He served on many faculty policy and search committees and taught the core ethics course in the public policy program.  He and Charlotte also hosted a social and political philosophy reading group for several years that was attended by faculty from several departments.  Professor Becker was a highly respected colleague, and a thoughtful and effective teacher.

He is survived by his sister, Sharyn Becker Ingram of Des Moines, Iowa; brother, Michael A. Becker of Fremont, Neb.; sister-in-law, Linda Newman Becker of Fremont, Neb.; and brother and sister-in-law to Charlotte, William L. and Sharon T. Burner of Vienna, Va.