Dr. David Beatty: About My Father and Lewy Body Disease
(Portrait of Dad for his Masters Degree)
UPDATE: Dr. David Pierce Beatty 1933 – 2015
Dr. David Beatty, Professor Emeritus, History, Mount Allison University
Many people know my father as Dr. David Pierce Beatty, a retired history professor at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada. He was born in Williamston, Michigan USA on October 10, 1933. He liked farming and dropped out of college to be a farmer but that didn’t last long. He went back to school, attending Michigan State University where he earned his Masters & Ph.D and moved to Sackville in the 1960s when Mount Allison was recruiting professors from all over.
He absolutely loved teaching and only retired because he had to at 65. I was lucky enough to attend Mount A at the same time he taught there. The students truly loved him. It was easy to make friends, I’d just say I’m Dr. Beatty’s son. It was quite an experience.
(Above: This is a paired photo set made by Mount Allison fine arts student Nancy Conly Pinkerton at the time Dad and I were at the university together . She wanted to contrast my father and I as storytellers. I was telling a story about my altercation with a hobo on a Paris subway car, and he was likely talking about Abraham Lincoln or foreign policy.)
In the Dog House: Campus Life with Dad 1996-2000
Students would stop me on campus to tell me what an incredible lecture he had just delivered, then they’d shake my hand like I had some part in it, which I definitely did not. The creative outlet for my youthful angst at the time was The Argosy Weekly, Mount Allison’s Student Newspaper. I was part of the original team who launched the web version of the paper in 1996. I was also Graphics Editor and every week I published a controversial comic strip called “The Dog Who Went to Mount A.”
(Above: Some random clippings from comics I published in the Argosy Weekly Graphix Section 1996-2000. The guy on the top right threatening the bird is my friend Chief Arlen Dumas. The context of the comic is that the bird, Bobby Crow owes him money for pool. Arlen used to severely kick my ass at pool so it was a bit of an inside joke. I got a scolding from Jack Drover [Head of Athletics] for the bottom one. This was shortly after Mount A got rid of the men’s hockey program.)
Luckily Mount A was a very liberal university and would let us publish just about anything. I took full advantage of that freedom and I’m glad that stuff is no longer available online. My poor mother would be terrified of what I’d publish each week (justifiably) while Dad seemed OK with it. I remember him chuckling at some of the ones I showed him before they went to print.
(Above: More of my cartoons)
Fellow student and Argosy Editor, Marty Patriquin (now a writer for Maclean’s Magazine) once told me he asked Dad privately what he thought about my crazy comics. All Dad said was, “he’s figuring some things out.” Haha!
But sometimes he himself went a little too far with his stories. I do recall one time there were letters to the editor in one single issue complaining about both Dad (for telling a story in his convocation address about campus life in the 1960s involving some fat lady getting stuck in a bathtub) and myself (for the comics). I guess I was a chip off the old block.
Dad retired in 1999 and I graduated in 2000, but we both wore gowns at my graduation because he received an honorary Professor Emeritus status from the university that year.
(Above: Dad and I at Mount Allison Convocation 2000 where he received Professor Emeritus status and I received my degree)
(Above: Dad shaking hands with student and varsity football player Colin Burleton at his retirement party in 1999. Notice Burleton is holding a copy of Dad’s second book “Memories of the Forgotten War”. Dad loved football and the players loved him. He never, ever missed a Mount Allison Mounties Football game.)
(Above: My sister Margaret and I sitting at Dad’s retirement party.)
This God Damned Disease
Dad jogged an average of 10km a day most of his life and always made a point to eat the healthiest foods. I figured he’d live to be 100, but in 2009 he was diagnosed with a degenerative disease called Lewy Body Dementia – the same disease Kelsey Grammar’s character has in “Boss” (really good show). It is like a cross between Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, but Dad actually does have Parkinson’s too.
It’s been really tough watching Dad slowly lose his battle with this disease. I’m sure he’d still be farming, running, writing more books and visiting with former students if not for this. I know he was upset when I moved back to Vancouver in 2009, and it is difficult being so far away.
Just before Christmas 2012 his condition worsened and he ended up in the Sackville Memorial Hospital. I took a trip home from Vancouver to visit him. Luckily my profession allows me to work remotely. My wife and I spent a week with Dad right in his hospital room.
(Left: Dad and his Christmas buddy Rex the baby penguin. Right: Me working in Dad’s hospital room as he rests.)
Benjamin Franklin was the biggest son of a…
Dad is an amazing storyteller. This is what students loved about him the most. A former student and friend, author Rick Maclean wrote a wonderful 3-part blog post about a visit with my Dad at his summer residence (the Farm) in 2006.
Rick can really paint pictures with words. I love the way he describes my Dad, it’s so bang on. I’ve added some of my favourite excerpts below along with some related pictures (with captions) from my vast archives:
I was reminded of that story on a recent day when I stopped at Lake’s country store in southern New Brunswick, as I often do on the way here. It’s next to the water and quiet, except when the wind is howling off the Northumberland Strait, as it was that day.
(Lake’s General Store)
The store owner was where he always is – if I’m not buying gas, which he pumped at 113.9 a litre that day. He was sitting in the corner of the crowded store, green ball hat on his head. His wife worked the cash register. An ice cream and a chocolate bar chewed up the better part of a $5 bill.
That kind of money would buy a night’s beer at the pub when I headed to Mount Allison University in the fall of 1975. Time at the pub was a rare treat for a serious-minded science student with ambitions of becoming a doctor, and a girlfriend starting Grade 12 at MVHS back home.
(The Farm, also known as Parkbeg Farm in Murray Corner NB)
Back in the car outside the country store, I chewed on the ice cream and looked up the hill across the road. The battered blue half-ton was there. How long had he had that truck? It was nearly 4:30. Nearly supper time. His family might be there. Best not to stop in.
(Dad’s old 1984 Chevy Truck parked somewhere in Quebec during a camping trip)
But, as Beautiful Daughter is prone to pointing out whenever I try to duck out of something we’ve done year after year, “it’s a tradition.” I’d stopped by around this time of year for the past five years.
The car turned itself left as I pulled out of the parking lot. It turned left again into the green tunnel of trees, complete with foot-high grass growing in the middle of the dirt lane, leading to his house.
David Beatty opened the door.
Dave – Dr. Beatty, Professor Beatty back then – had been a legend at Mount A long before I arrived. His classes in the foreign policy of Canada and the United States were packed and everyone went. Missing a day was rare, even though no attendance was kept.
“Benjamin Franklin was the biggest son of a…”
“You should’ve been there today,” a pitiless classmate crowed the one day I missed Dave’s class that term. “Beatty came in, turned sideways, looked out of the corner of his eye, smirked and that’s how he started: Benjamin Franklin was…”
The guy hadn’t taken a note, but he rhymed off the entire lecture. From memory. And I’d missed it.
Dave Beatty was a runner. We started running together while I was a student. He wasn’t fast, but he could go for an hour and talk about foreign policy at the same time. Free lectures on the run.
There’d be no running this visit. He’s 73. He has a bit of limp and stoop, but there’s a bicycle in the corner with a well-used water bottle attached. His hair is a bit thinner and whiter, but just as unruly as ever. His hand serves a comb and by evening the hair is where it is.
Instead of running, we sat in the kitchen of the renovated home he’d bought years ago when it was a junk heap with a rock basement, gyprock ceilings and a wood shed doing its best to fall down. Today the house has been restored to its original beauty. Walls with board two feet wide. Beams across the ceiling.
“You can still see the adze marks,” he points up at a beam. I nod. At home later I look up adze in a dictionary: “An ax-like tool with a curved blade at right angles to the handle, used for shaping wood.”
He has a new book out, The World War I Diaries and Letters of Lieut. Louis Stanley Edgett, edited with Moncton doctor Tom Edgett. Dave pops out of his chair and begins rooting in a desk drawer. Moments later he returns and hands me a copy.
“This is yours.”
I didn’t realize it then, but if anyone could understand what I was going through, Dave Beatty could.
Now retired after decades of teaching at Mt. A, he sat in his summer home recently and laughed at the memory of my phone call saying I’d quit yet another career. He raked a hand through his unruly hair, then ran his fingers across the front of his dark green, Michigan State University sweatshirt.
(Dad and his unruly hair)
He grew up to become a farmer in the American Midwest in the 1950s.
“Oh-high-ah,” he still calls it when talking about Ohio. Still in his twenties, he married, settled down. His life’s direction was set.
Farming was then, as it is now, a tough way to earn a living. In a bid to keep prices up, the federal government paid some farmers not to farm. Dave took the money and, with the military draft and Vietnam looming, headed to university, which offered a temporary reprieve from a Huey helicopter and an M-16.
He did well, very well. Earning a spot among the 40-some students on the honour roll. But the time slid by and suddenly he was graduating. He’d been so focused on his studies, he’d made no plans for the future. His marriage was stumbling towards divorce and the military draft awaited.
Then, a professor stepped in and changed his life.
Professor Gesner was an imposing woman with a reputation for not suffering fools gladly. One of the most influential academics in the region, she called him into her office.
What are your plans? she demanded.
He didn’t know.
There is a new scholarship, intended to encourage students to study diplomatic history.
Did he know about it?
Well, the deadline is the next day. He should apply, she said, then she stared at him knowingly. She’d act as a reference. He needed two others.
It was nearly 4:30. He’d better hurry, she said.
Dave rushed from the office and somehow found two professors who hadn’t gone home for the day. Both knew his work, had given him excellent marks. The application deadline was when?
Oh, Professor Gesner had suggested he apply for the scholarship. The letters would be ready, they both promised.
Dave drove the 23 miles to his home, where he spent much of the night filing out the forms. Ten days later he got word, he had the fellowship. He spent the next few years earning a master’s degree and getting a good start on a doctorate.
Finally, he went looking for work. He received a phone call from Bill Crawford, the vice-president of Mount A. Dave had no idea where it was, but Professor Gesner did. She had family connections there.
Crawford had three teaching jobs in the history department to fill and he wanted the young American to fill one of them.
“Give you $8,000 a year,” he said as part of his pitch.
Well, there are other job offers. New Hampshire. Maine.
“Anything Maine can do, we can do better, $8,500.”
Dave Beatty sat on a chair in the kitchen of his summer home and laughed. He traveled halfway across the continent to a tiny school in a tiny town to teach history, he said, and shook his head in wonder.
But the administration left him alone to do what he’d discovered he loved to do. And that was exactly what he needed.
“Things turned out alright.”
Yes, they did. He remarried, settled down for a second time and taught students like me until mandatory retirement drove him, kicking and screaming, from the classroom. Then he turned his energies to saving the tumbledown, 1840-something house he’d discovered near Northumberland Strait.
(Renovated Parkbeg Farm.)
He hired a former biology student at Mount A who had a knack for careful carpentry to do the work. Mark turned the house with the rock basement and attached woodshed full of dry rot into a dazzling home of varnish and original wood.
Dave looked at me across the kitchen table and smiled again.
“And they’ve turned out alright for you, too.”
Rick Maclean’s account was really touching. If you’re a former student or fan of Dr. Beatty I invite you to share your story too, down below in the comments.
My Interviews with Dad
Over the years he shared so many great memories about growing up during the Great Depression, the dirty 30’s. Remember, he was born in 1933! I always told him he should write a book about his childhood.
(Here’s an old picture of Dad and me on a camping trip to Roger Lake in northern New Brunswick [1980s]. It was on these trips Dad would tell me a lot of his crazy stories.)
Dad’s mind is not as sharp as it once was because of this “God damned disease” – as he would say. Frankly, these days he may not be sure even where he is, but he could still name off most of the students in his grade 3 class if you asked him to. If you visited him, I bet he’d remember you, at least for a little while yet. I am told that as a history prof, he used this part of his brain a lot – remembering names, dates, facts and figures and it actually built up strength in those areas which has still survived the severe deterioration of his mind.
One day in particular at the hospital he seemed really sharp so I pulled out my iPhone and asked him to tell some of his childhood stories. He and I had a good laugh.
I wrote this post because I am thinking of my poor Dad back home in his worsening condition, and I have collected these videos which I will publish here on my blog, (along with some other goodies) over the next few weeks and months, so stay tuned! Believe me, you’re in for a treat! This will be your source for everything David Beatty!