Burton Floyd Beers
Dr. Burton Floyd Beers died on January 30, 2016, at the age of 88. He was born in Chemung, NY, on September 13, 1927. He was the son of the late Alice W. and Franklyn M. Beers. He lived in Durham, Raleigh, and Greenville, NC.
Burt graduated cum laude from Hobart College in Geneva, NY, with undergraduate degrees in History and Political Science in 1950. Afterwards, he enrolled in the graduate school at Duke University to study History and International Law with a particular interest in American-East Asian Relations. There he received his Master of Arts degree in 1952 and PhD in 1956. He also met Pauline E. Cone, a curator of historical documents at Duke University Library. They shared a love of classical music and theatre. They married in 1952 and remained married until Pauline's death in 2015.
Upon leaving Duke, Burt began a long career as a history professor at NC State University. While teaching was always his favorite part of the job, he had many opportunities to travel and further his research. A Ford Foundation post-doctoral fellowship of East Asian Studies at Harvard took Burt and Pauline to Cambridge, MA, in 1959-1960. He was a Fulbright visiting professor of American Studies at National Taiwan University in 1966-1967 allowing the couple and their young daughter to live in Taipei for a year. In the following decades the family, which by then included a son, traveled throughout the U.S. while Burt conducted research for books and participated in professional meetings.
NC State recognized Burt numerous times for excellence in teaching and research and for service to the university. The Alumni Association named him an Alumni Distinguished Professor in 1970-1972. He was asked to deliver the university's annual Founders Day Address in 1976. He served as Head of the History Department from 1981 to 1985. In 1986, Burt and Dr. Murray Downs published North Carolina State University: A Pictorial History. In appreciation for their work, the Alumni Association endowed Caldwell Scholarships in their names. In 1992, the Office of Faculty Development made him one of the first recipients of the Alexander Quarles Holladay Medal for Excellence, the highest honor given to university faculty members. Finally, in 1998, the Board of Trustees awarded the Watauga Medal to Burt for significant contributions to the advancement of the university.
Burt's scholarly work was not limited to NC State. He participated in several regional and national historical organizations. Most notably, from 1977 to 1981 he was on the education advisory board of the Asia Society, an organization founded by John D. Rockefeller to promote East Asian relations. He was a member of the Historical Society of North Carolina. In 1993, the North Carolina Literary and Historical Society named him the winner of the Christopher Crittenden Memorial Award for preservation of North Carolina history. He published many books and articles and frequently collaborated with other Asian History scholars. A favorite topic of research later in his career was the rich connection between North Carolina and China, which he conducted in partnership with Dr. Lawrence Kessler of UNC- Chapel Hill.
A commitment to public education was evident throughout Burt's career. He served as editor-in-chief for two school textbooks, World History: Patterns of Civilization (1983) and Living in Our World (1998), which are still in use today. He was a consultant to the NC Department of Public Instruction for development of social studies curriculum, and he led workshops for training social studies teachers. In recognition for his body of work, the Hobart College Alumni Association awarded him the Medal of Excellence in 1994 for bringing honor and distinction to his alma mater.
Burt contracted polio in the early 1940's at the age of 14 leaving his legs severely weakened. His many accomplishments are even more remarkable considering that he walked with crutches and leg braces for his entire professional life. With support from his parents, sister, brother, and later from his wife, he never felt limited by his condition. He always focused more on the many things he was capable of instead of the few things he was not.
Burt and Pauline retired to Greenville, NC, where they aged gracefully and listened to classical music around the clock. He will be remembered for his dedication to his students and colleagues, his love of family and friends, and the positive outlook that rubbed off on everyone around him.
Burt's wife preceded him in death in 2015. He is survived by his two children and their spouses, Martha Beers Williams and Dr. William E. Williams of Greenville and Burton F. Beers, Jr. ("Biff") and Dr. Julie A. Haizlip of Charlottesville, VA, his five grandchildren, Ward Williams, Martha Ann Williams, Silas Beers, Max Beers, and Tessa Beers, and his siblings Joan Beers Shafer and Keith Beers of Chemung, NY. The family is grateful to Joe Streeter and Tamika Williams who provided tireless care and support to Burt over the last few years of his life.
Family and friends are invited to a reception to celebrate Burt's life at the home of Martha and Billy Williams in Greenville, NC, on Thursday, February 4, 2016, from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM. The family will hold a private memorial service at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Greenville, NC. Contributions may be made in Burt's honor to the North Carolina Symphony, 3700 Glenwood Avenue, Suite 130, Raleigh, NC 27612 or the NC State College of Humanities and Social Sciences Enhancement Fund, Campus Box 7474, Raleigh, NC, 27695-7474.
Online condolences at www.wilkersonfuneralhome.com
Arrangements by Wilkerson Funeral Home & Crematory,Greenville.
As published in The Daily Reflector
Published by The Daily Reflector on Feb. 2, 2016.