Unsung Hero #53

Last week, Staples Tuition Grants handed out over $300,000 in scholarships to more than 100 graduating seniors, and high school alums already in college.

It was a warm, wonderful evening — a celebration of very hard work by the recipients, as well as all who make the grants possible.

But the highlight may have been the keynote speech, by Dr. Albert Beasley.

Speaking without notes — and without missing a beat — the 90-plus-year-old retired pediatrician talked about the importance of STG, and what it means to him personally. One of the oldest named awards — initiated 45 years ago — honors his late wife and fellow pediatrician, Dr. Jean Beasley.

After the Staples Tuition Grants ceremony, pediatrician Dr. Albert Beasley and his wife Janet (3rd and 4th from left) posed with 4 former patients (from left): Nicole Greenberg Donovan, Dan Woog, Dan Donovan and Lynn Untermeyer Miller. (Photo/Paddy Donovan)

In his 65 years in Westport, Al Beasley has watched the town grow from a small artists’ colony, through the baby boom, into a suburb filled with businessmen and Wall Street executives.

But he has seen it all through a unique perspective, and with a background different from most people who live here. He shared some of that last week too, in his low-key but inspiring way.

Al’s grandfather, a Harvard-educated Boston attorney, helped found the NAACP.  Al’s father also went to Harvard – and became a doctor.  His mother graduated from Radcliffe. Those were proud accomplishments, in an era when educational opportunities for black men and women were limited.

Al’s parents wanted him to have a well-rounded education. He got one, at the Walden School and Columbia  College. He married a high school friend, Jean.  Both earned medical degrees – Al from New York University. Both became pediatricians.

As a captain in the Air Force during the Korean War – based in Houston — Al first experienced overt prejudice. But he persevered, and in 1953 the Beasleys moved to Westport. He wanted his children to experience the same freedom he’d found at the Walden School. The Beasleys rented a home on 11 acres, for $90 a month. They were one of only 5 or so black families in town.

They bought land from a fellow physician, Mal Beinfield. The Beasleys had trouble getting a mortgage – the banks’ excuse was “they did not like contemporary dwellings.” But Westport Bank & Trust Company president Einar Anderson said to the Beasleys’ request for $20,000: “There’s no problem.  Let us know when you want it.”

Four years ago at the Staples Tuition Grants ceremony, Dr. Al Beasley posed with Megumi Asada, a graduating senior who received the Dr. Jean Beasley Memorial Award. Megumi was considering a career in medicine.

In addition to his professional accomplishments – private practice as a pediatrician; co-founder of Willows Pediatrics; associate clinical professor of pediatrics at Yale School of Medicine, and an emeritus staff member at Norwalk Hospital – Al immersed himself in community work.

He was a pediatrician for the Intercommunity Camp; a member of the Selectman’s Committee for Youth and Human Services; a board of directors member for the United Way; member of the scholar selection committee of A Better Chance of Westport; trustee of Earthplace, where he organized the Green Earth series on  health and the environment.

Al’s wife Jean died in 1973.  Six years later he married Janet, a native of Berlin and a survivor of a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia.

Al says:  “When Jean and I moved to Westport in 1953, it was a magical town. It opened its arms to us, welcomed us, and made us feel special.”

Al adds:  “My birth certificate said ‘colored.’  Then the preferred term changed to ‘Negro.’  Later it was ‘black,’ then ‘African American.’  I am a man of color, but I like to be accepted for what I have to offer.  The town has done exactly that.”

Looking back on his career, Al says,“I’m an activist.  I tried to give my utmost to the community, and I think the community appreciates that.  This is a wonderful town.  I thank everyone who entrusted their most precious commodities – their infants, their children and their young people – to me.”

And we thank Dr. Al Beasley, this week’s Unsung — but Very Deserving — Longtime Hero.

16 responses to “Unsung Hero #53

  1. What a wonderful life! – chris woods

  2. No one is more deserving of this honor. Drs. Beasley were our pediatricians and saw us through many a crisis with our four children. The Potts family sincerely thanks you.

  3. a well-written tribute (as always) to an extraordinary individual who’s lived an exemplary life

  4. Lovely

  5. Dr. B. – you’re “the best”! So great to see you and Janet in the photo! “Nurse” Mata

  6. Great choice. A Well Deserved Hero Award!!
    And- Thanks for the back stories of about Dr Jean, Janet and Dr Beinfield.

  7. Roseann Spengler

    As my children’ pediatrician, I spent more time with him when the kids were young than I did with any other man including my husband. Loved him as well as Dr Jean. My children did too. Wish I could see him one more time.

  8. I remember Dr. Beasley making a wonderfully sensitive and much appreciated house call when I was about 11. Thanks for this story Dan.

  9. A wonderful man.

  10. Loretta Santella Hallock

    He and Dr. Jean were my children’s pediatricians. Wonderful people. How lucky Westport was to have them. So very sad when Dr. Jean passed away.
    I remember how nice Janet was to all of us parents when she worked there.
    Love to read what’s happening in their lives.

  11. Dr. Beasley is such a wonderful man and has lead an extraordinary life! He was both of our daughter’s pediatrician at Willow’s in the 80’s.

  12. Dr. Beasley and Willows Pediatrics is one of the great and enduring stories of our town. Pediatrician to all ten Elliot kids, then my twin girls (Meaghan and Molly born in 1995) and my brothers son R.J. born a year earlier. A wonderful man, a wonderful life. I went to the STG grants event to honor my bother Chuck, but also to hear Dr. Beasley speak. Dan’s comments are right on…..one of the best moments of the Woog introduction was Dan saying “I am so proud to introduce my pediatrician, Dr. Albert Beasley!”

  13. Peter Gambaccini

    He’s the father of a good friend from my school and college days (who is now a neonatologist). I vividly remember sitting on the coach at their home as Dr. Beasley asked me questions about myself and really listened to and absorbed and pondered the answers. That was not a common experience for a Westport teenager to have back then. Dr. Beasley has always been a rare and special man.

  14. Linda Pomerantz Novis

    I,too,a wonderful memory of Dr. Beasley making a house call when I was small (‘From Westport-All the way out
    to our house in Weston’ I remember thinking!)
    My mom always said ‘Dr. Beasley was great with all 3 Pomerantz’s growing up in the ’60’s”
    All of these wonderful comments here echo the same!
    Thanks,Dan!

  15. Janet, I loved reading this story about Al and his family, and loved seeing the nice photo of you and Al. All of the comments were amazing to read, as well.

  16. Terry Anzalone

    Love Dr Beasley!
    He was the best we could have wished for our children! And for us!
    I still remember him telling the story of the little toddler who was asked to pee in a cup, did what he was told–then emptied it into the toilet.
    That was my son—and it always makes me laugh to think of him telling the story. What a wonderful man.

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