Walter H. Beckham Jr.(1920 - 2011)

Walter H.

Beckham, Jr.

Asheville - Walter H. Beckham, Jr. died on October 4, 2011 at his summer home in Asheville, North Carolina, following an extended illness.

Trial lawyer, professor, community leader, church builder and family patriarch defined the man who died at the age of 91. Born in the family home in Albany, Georgia on April 18, 1920, Walter's family moved to Miami in 1925 seeking the opportunities created by the South Florida real estate boom. At that time the population of Miami was less than 85,000.

He was preceded in death by his father and mother, Walter H. and Clara Marshall Beckham of Miami. Florida. The drafting of the University of Miami charter took place in the offices of his father's law firm. From 1932 until 1960, his father served as Judge of the Dade County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. In 1960, he was the first American judge to hold the presidency of the International Congress of Juvenile Court Judges. His mother was also a community leader and a great public speaker, having served as President of the Dade County Council P.T.A., President of the Florida Congress P.T.A., and President of the Florida Women's Society for Christian Service of the Methodist Church.

Walter is survived by his wife of 68 years, Ethel Koger Beckham. They met while students in the Miami public school system, and graduated in the same class from both Ada Merritt Junior High and Miami Senior High School. Walter gave the Valedictory address at his Miami High commencement after serving as President respectively of the Student Council, the Bryan Debating Society, and the State Hi-Y Clubs. It was during this period that Walter began his life long association with the Y.M.C.A. Blue Ridge Assembly in Black Mountain, North Carolina. From 1977 - 1979, he served as Chairman of its Board of Trustees.

In 1941, Walter received his B.A. degree with honors in American History from Emory University. While there, he served as Vice President of the Student Body, President of the Chi Phi social fraternity, Chairman of the Honor Council, and he was extended membership into D.V.S., the Senior Honor Society. Immediately after graduation, Walter enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve. Commissioned an ensign in the Supply Corps in 1941, Walter was on active duty from 1941 - 1946 in the Pacific Theater of World War II. He was assigned to the U.S.S. Portland, a heavy cruiser, and he participated in six major engagements, including the battles of: The Coral Sea, Midway, The Eastern Solomons, Santa Cruz, and Guadalcanal. Walter felt that death was imminent during the fierce night battle of Guadalcanal and that surviving on that Friday the 13th was truly a miracle. Thereafter, he always felt that each Friday the 13th was a lucky day. By the end of the war, he had earned the rank of Lieutenant Commander. Walter continued his service in the U.S. Naval Reserve after the war and retired with the rank of Captain after 28 years.

After leaving active duty in 1946, Walter entered Harvard Law School where he graduated cum laude in 1948 with a L.L.B. degree. While at Harvard, Walter was awarded the James A. Rumrill Scholarship and served as an editor of the Harvard Law Review (Vol. 61). After graduating from Harvard, Walter returned to Miami and joined the University of Miami faculty as an Associate Professor of Law. In October, 1950, he joined the Law Firm of Nichols, Gaither & Green, making partner in 1952. When the firm dissolved in 1967, Walter returned to teaching at the University of Miami as a Professor of Law. He taught torts, medical-legal trial tactics, and with the assistance of Dean Fred Lewis, he started the school's civil trial advocacy course. While there, he also founded the Medical Institute for Attorneys and served as its Director for 15 years. He retired in 1982 as a Professor Emeritus.

A favorite poem of Walter's from which he found inspiration is I Dare You by M. A. Purdy, which reads in part: I dare you to give to those in need, to share your strength and your time, for in giving and sharing you gain new hope for the world and all mankind - I dare you to always live your life so that others might catch a glow, and use your life as a beacon as through their life they go. Walter strongly believed that the practice of law is a profession where service to the public and the community is a paramount duty. While in his 30s and 40s, Walter was very active in his church and taught Wesley Adult Sunday School Class of the Coral Gables First United Methodist Church. Later, he also served as President respectively of the Junior Bar Section of the Dade County Bar Association, the Dade County Easter Seal Society, the Greater Miami YMCA, the Dade County Crippled Children's Society, and the Century Club of Coral Gables.

During his extraordinary career as a trial attorney, Walter was widely recognized as one of the best trial lawyers in the nation. He was accepted to membership in the American Law Institute, the American College of Trial Lawyers, the Inner Circle of Advocates, and the International Academy of Trial lawyers, where he served as President. He was a founding member and trustee of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, and served as Chairman respectively of the Aviation Law Section of the American Trial Lawyers Association, the Trial, Tort and Insurance Practice Section of the American Bar Association, the National Institute for Trial Advocacy and the National Judicial College in Reno, Nevada. Walter is the only non-judge to have served as Chair of the National Judicial College. Walter was also a member and frequent speaker in the House of Delegates of the American Bar Association from 1979-1995, during which time he served a four-year term as Secretary of the Association.

Walter is also survived by his three children; daughter and son-in-law Drs. Barbara and Jim DeLeo of Asheville, North Carolina, son Walter H. Beckham, III of Atlanta, Georgia, and son and daughter-in-law James and Thorne Beckham of Coral Gables, Florida, five grandchildren, including Jonathan Rice and wife Myra of Asheville, North Carolina, four great-grandchildren and nine nieces and nephews.

A memorial service will be held on Tuesday, October 11, 2011 at 10:00 A.M. in the Sanctuary of the First United Methodist Church Coral Gables, where Walter was a member for over 60 years. Burial will be at Woodlawn Memorial Gardens Cemetery North. Following the interment, the family will receive friends at the Riviera Country Club in Coral Gables for a reception. Van Orsdel is in charge of the arrangements.

The family would especially like to thank Dr. Lucian Rice as well as the staff of Advantage Home Care, Inc. for their compassionate care of Walter during his final illness. In lieu of flowers, those wishing to do so may make a donation in Walter's honor to the scholarship fund in his name to assist South Florida judges in attending the National Judicial College in Reno, Nevada (775-784-6747.)

Groce Funeral Home at Lake Julian is assisting the family and the memorial register is available at


Published in the Asheville Citizen-Times on Oct. 5, 2011