EXETER - Barbara Neal Beeson, who served as a nurse with the American Red Cross in England during World War II and then led a long, full life as a devoted wife, mother, grandmother, great grandmother and community activist, died peacefully, comforted by her three children, Monday, October 28, 2013, at the RiverWoods retirement community in Exeter. She was 96 years old.
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Mrs. Beeson's son, Peter G. Beeson and his wife, Laura Kiernan Beeson, were longtime residents of Concord. Mrs. Beeson moved to RiverWoods from Redmond, Wash. in 2001 with her husband, Dr. Paul B. Beeson, whom she met in 1941 in England where Dr. Beeson was chief physician at the Red Cross-Harvard Field Hospital Unit. Barbara Beeson's steadfast strength and determination anchored the family throughout Dr. Beeson's long and distinguished career in academic medicine which took them from Emory University in Atlanta, to Yale University in New Haven, Conn. and then to Oxford University in England. When the couple retired in 1974 to Redmond, it was Dr. Beeson who then supported his activist wife as she established herself as a relentless and formidable advocate for preservation of parks, horse trails and open space as Redmond -now home to both Microsoft and Nintendo-faced an onslaught of traffic and development. The local newspaper called Barbara Beeson the " Redmond Warrior." "She would just tell the facts, name names, call the shots and let the chips fall where they may," said Christine T. Himes, who was mayor of Redmond at the time. Himes once had to use the mayor's gavel to persuade Beeson, a close friend and supporter, to stop talking at a council meeting. "She just pushed the envelope," Himes said. "I loved her for it." A petite woman with a sharp mind and unwavering commitment to her cause, Barbara Beeson "made people think," Himes recalled. She was also a prolific writer, banging out letters to the local newspaper editor on her electric typewriter-often gently toned down by her scholarly, mild-mannered husband. In one letter, in July 1985, shortly after the couple's 43rd wedding anniversary , she wrote that without her husband's support, and belief in the principles she felt were important, "no one would have heard a word from Barbara Beeson." "The strength of the 'silent partner' has been the mainstay of my life," Mrs. Beeson wrote. At the time of Dr. Beeson's passing in 2006, the couple had been married for 64 years.
Barbara Neal Beeson was born in Buffalo, N.Y. in 1917, but spent most of her early years growing up in the rural upstate village of Snyder where she, her two sisters, Peggy and Jane, and their brother, Ray Jr. (known as Petey), developed their lifelong love of nature, caring for animals and gardens and enjoying the outdoors. Their father, Ray C. Neal, who built a successful hardware business, and his wife, Margaret, sent their children to the progressive Park School of Buffalo, founded in 1912 and dedicated to encouraging children to be individuals and develop a sense of social duty. The school continues to thrive on four core "life rules, " kindness, respect, responsibility and honesty, qualities each of the Neal children exemplified throughout their lives.
The Neal sisters no doubt benefited from their parents' encouragement, forward thinking for the day, that they develop a career so they could be independent and able to support themselves, advice each of the sisters followed. Barbara graduated from the nursing program at St. Luke's Hospital in Chicago in 1939 and began to pursue a career as an airline stewardess, which at the time required nursing background. In 1941, just as she was about to finish training with American Airlines, she accepted a request to serve with the Red Cross Nurses Reserve Corps at the new Harvard Field Hospital in Salisbury, England. The field hospital's chief physician, the much admired Dr. Paul Beeson, had come to England from the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston to care for patients and continue his research in infectious disease. They were married on July 10, 1942. Barbara Beeson devoted enormous energy toward the details of family life while supporting her husband's career. Stories are often told about "Mother's" ability to take a forlorn country house in Oxford with only a hand-operated water pump in the kitchen, or an overgrown, undeveloped field in Redmond, and transform them into warm, handsome homesteads. In Oxford and Redmond, Barbara fulfilled a longstanding wish to have a horse-eventually her beloved mare, Cecil.
Her family members will always remember the time and meticulous preparation she put into their visits to Oxford and Redmond, creating enduring memories for everyone. Barbara Beeson was always attentive to her many friends and she forged strong personal relationships because she treated everyone with equality and respect. Mrs. Beeson was fun to be around-she had a lively sense of humor and when she laughed, all of her laughed. She never failed to say thank you to visitors and especially to her caregivers and the staff in Winnesquam at RiverWoods. Their affection for the outspoken and feisty Mrs. Beeson, will be a lasting consolation for her family.
In addition to her son Peter, Barbara Beeson is survived by her son, John N. Beeson, of Livingston, N.J. and daughter Judith Beeson Assirelli, of Montello, Italy; six grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.
At her request, there will be no memorial service.
For those who wish to, contributions in Barbara Beeson's memory can be made to the Redmond Historical Society at redmondhistoricalsociety.org or Old Redmond School House Community Center (ORSCC), 16600 NE 80th Street, Redmond, WA, 98052.
Published in The Concord Monitor on Nov. 10, 2013