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Notice regarding Ruth Beck

Provost Michael R. Halleran sent the following message to the campus community May 27 - Ed.

Dear Colleagues,

I am sorry to pass along the news that Ruth Beck, Associate Professor of Biology, Emeritus, passed away on May 7.  She joined William & Mary in 1969 as an Instructor of Biology and retired in 2007.  Prior to joining the faculty, Professor Beck was an Instructor of Biology at Longwood College.  She received her B.A. in Biology in 1963 from Radford College and her M.Ed. in Biological Education in 1966 from the University of Virginia.  Before earning her M.Ed., she taught high school biology.  She was the first woman to hold the position of Naturalist-Interpreter for the Virginia Department of Parks.  

Professor Beck's applied ornithology and conservation biology research made her a leader in efforts to understand the population dynamics of waterbirds in the Chesapeake Bay Region.  She directed multiple research projects at various locations within the State and her data on the population and breeding status of waterbirds was among the best and most comprehensive within the mid-Atlantic region.  She was the author/coauthor of 25 research articles and book chapters, has given countless talks on her research at public and technical meetings and has contributed to eight television documentaries on avian wildlife.  In addition, her Siamese cat became the star of a memorable National Geographic Television program “The Secret Lives of Cats” which focused on the impact of feral and domestic cat predation on native vertebrates.  Professor Beck served as the avian monitoring instructor for the international Smithsonian Institution's Monitoring and Assessment of Biodiversity Program.  She monitored threatened and endangered avian species for the Commonwealth of Virginia, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and The Nature Conservancy.  She was a Past-President and Vice President of the Virginia Society of Ornithology and served as an elected Council member of the Waterbird Society.  She was awarded The Nature Conservancy Presidential Award for Outstanding Service, the Commanders Award for Public Service by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and a Certificate of Recognition for Conservation Biology by the Governor of Virginia.

For nearly four decades, Professor Beck was a highly visible presence in the Department of Biology where her enthusiasm and talents brought to life the natural world of microorganisms, plants, and animals to the more than 30,000 students that passed through her introductory laboratory classes.  She was a dedicated mentor to hundreds of individual students whose first taste of active research involved avian population surveys, often leading to professional research careers or life-long interests in conservation and ornithology.  Professor of Biology John Swaddle remembers that, “Ruth was a tireless educator and highly dedicated ornithologist.  Her studies of local bird populations, especially those on historic Craney Island, have helped preserve local biodiversity and inspired many others, including myself, to become more actively involved in conservation.  She was always generous with her time and unfalteringly supportive of her colleagues and students.  Ruth provided dozens of William & Mary students with unique field research opportunities, and taught hundreds more in introductory biology labs.  She was also highly active in the community and was a mainstay of local bird and naturalist groups. I will miss her greatly.”

Professor Beck is survived by her husband, Sherwin Beck; son, Michael Beck; daughter-in-law, Ann Drewing Beck; grandson, Aiden Beck; and a large, extended family in Pennsylvania and Virginia. Online condolences may be made at