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Barbara Frank Beach ’54

November 7, 2021, in British Columbia, Canada.

Raised in a brownstone in New York City’s Greenwich Village, Barbara grew up in a family that had a strong sense of social justice. She was surrounded by progressive thinkers, artists, and intellectuals, and as a young girl at City and Country School, she learned to make pottery and play guitar, beginning a lifelong love for making music. Summers were spent at the family cottage on White Oak Pond in New Hampshire. Her broad-minded, nontraditional upbringing led her to seek new ways of thinking and expanding her mind, and she met many wonderful people on her journey.

She had never been west of Pennsylvania, but in the fall of ’51 she boarded a train and headed to Reed, terrified that she wouldn’t know anyone and would be terribly alone. As it happened, three other students from her tiny high school in Massachusetts had started at Reed the year before. Barbara signed up for both Humanities 12—a shortened version for science majors—and Humanities 21 her first semester.

“Considering how much information I tried to take in at once, it’s surprising that I look back on the experience with such nostalgia,” she said. “I often wish I could take those courses again, now that I have some notion of what they were all about and might be able to make sense out of it all.” She wrote her thesis, “Thomas Hardy, the Novelist,” advised by Prof. Donald MacRae [literature 1944–73].

After graduating, Barbara married Austin Yates and lived in Minnesota for five years while he finished medical school. They had two children. Austin drowned in the summer of ’59 while working at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and Barbara and her children went to live with her family. She married Marcus Beach ’50, and they moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, where Marcus became an English professor at the University of British Columbia. The couple had another child but divorced in 1975. Barbara continued to live in Vancouver.

When her children were young, she stayed at home, making and selling pottery from her basement on and off for 25 years. She discovered bookkeeping and became the treasurer for various organizations and prepared income taxes. She was a tireless volunteer for many organizations, including the BC Potters Guild, the BC Recorder Society, the Unitarian Church, West Side Family Place, and as president and treasurer of the BC Memorial Society.

Singing and dancing were always a big part of her life. Barbara met her friend and companion, Andrew, while contradancing and spent much of her last 30 years with him. She played recorder and sang in a quartet for fun, performing at senior centers around Vancouver.

Barbara developed corticobasal syndrome, a neurological disease that severely challenged her ability to live the way she wanted. Eventually her suffering caused her to become an advocate for MAID (Medical Assistance in Dying). She was happy to have the choice to end her life in the way she chose, and, being true to her nature, died in a nontraditional way, peacefully and in comfort, surrounded by her children, Britton, Galen, and Alexia.

Appeared in Reed magazine: March 2022

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