Coats hung on racks in front of the Law School Auditorium across from timeworn pictures of a man called Bob.
In front of these pictures stood a line of mourners. The air was heavy and silent as they passed photos of vacations and holidays. Some people would find one that made them smile, as they remembered the man they came to honor.
Robert E. Beck taught in the SIU School of Law for 25 years. He earned his retirement chair in 2002 and continued to work on natural resource law. He passed away Dec. 6, 2013 and the law school held a memorial for him Jan. 17.
Sheila Simon, Lt. Gov. of Illinois, a colleague and friend of Beck, was among the guests and said his character would be remembered as well as his career.
“To his friends and coworkers, Bob was a character who showed his personality more than his achievements,” Simon said. “To the law faculty he was known to make a delicious yet tedious Martha Washington cake.”
William Schroeder, a colleague of Beck’s who knew him throughout his SIU career, said he was accomplished and well-respected in the law community.
“Bob did great work in natural resource law, he was considered a leading scholar across the nation,” he said. “He wrote a few books on the subject and his work is still helping our judicial system when it comes to our natural resources. He did great things in his field,” Schroeder said.
But the people sitting in the auditorium Friday were there for more than just his academic accomplishments. Tom Britton, a close friend of Beck’s and retiree, was among them.
“He was an opera aficionado and a world traveler who complained about being sore from riding elephants in India,” Britton said.
Beck was the youngest member of his family born in 1937 on a farm in Minnesota. He graduated high school in 1954 and enrolled at the University of Minnesota the same year.
This was the beginning for Beck. He earned degrees in Law from the University of Minnesota and New York University, and began teaching law in 1962 at the University of North Dakota School of Law.
He came to Carbondale in 1976 and began teaching at the university. Britton said it was in Carbondale where Beck formed some lasting bonds.
“These colleagues and companions listened to Beck’s last vacation plans as he lay in different hospital beds,” Britton said. “These were the people who brought him clothes and mementos. They all came together to spend the time he had left with his family and him.”
As pictures of Beck were projected on a screen in the auditorium both of his families passed around tissues and reminisced about the times they had with him. They laughed at some photos, but cried while viewing most, remembering his little quirks.
“He liked crosswords and would often call upon colleagues in the break room to help him fill in the different riddles,” Simon said. “’All right Sheila, it’s from your generation,’ and he would expect me to know the answer.”
And as Simon reminisced over her late friend, she could not help but remember his fondness for crossword puzzles.
“To me, he will always be remembered as our friend who will be greatly missed. Three letters, B-O-B.”
Adie Applegate can be reached at aapplegate@dailyegyptian, on twitter @adisonapple or 536-3311 ext. 268.