We're saddened to note that Al Beeton, a prominent Great Lakes scientist and former Ecology Center Board President, passed away on April 23, 2019, surrounded by family.
Al earned his Ph.D. in limnology and aquatic zoology from the University of Michigan in 1958. While studying for his degree, he also worked as a researcher at the U.S. Bureau of Commercial Fisheries Great Lakes Fisheries Laboratory, where he was among the first scientists raising the alarm about the 'death' of Lake Erie due to pollution. He was later promoted to Chief of the Laboratory's Environmental Research Program in 1959, a position that he held until taking a faculty position at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1966.
While at Wisconsin, Dr. Beeton also served as a consultant to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and as an expert witness for the City of Chicago and other parties in litigation against various steel, mining, and electric companies for their pollution of Lakes Michigan and Superior. He also worked as a member of numerous committees regarding the Great Lakes, and as head of the International Biological Program's task force to identify Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin aquatic areas for preservation.
After moving back to Michigan, Dr. Beeton was a professor and administrator at the University of Michigan from 1976 to 1986. His duties included the Directorships of both the University's Great Lakes and Marine Waters Center and its Michigan Sea Grant College Program. In 1986, he left full-time teaching, and served as the Director of Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (1986-96), as the Co-Chair of the International Joint Commission for the Great Lakes' Science Advisory Board (1986-91), and as a Commissioner on the State of Michigan's Toxic Substance Control Commission (1987-89). From 1996-2002, he served as Chief Scientist for NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).
In 2006, after his retirement, he joined the Ecology Center's Board of Directors, and served as President from 2010-12. In his board role, he testified before legislative committees, advised us on science and policy issues related to toxic substances and other issues, and was a tireless ambassador for the Ecology Center. He stepped down from the Board for 18 months to comply with our term limits rule, and was then reappointed, and he served on the Board of Directors up until his death.
Everyone at the Ecology Center has been graced by Al Beeton's presence and leadership, and we're truly fortunate that he shared his retirement with us. We'll sorely miss his great intelligence and gentle spirit.
Obituary: - Beeton, Alfred M. 8/15/1927 - 4/24/2019 Ann Arbor, MI Dr. Alfred Merle Beeton of Ann Arbor, MI, one of the world's leading authorities on freshwater ecosystems, died surrounded by family on Wednesday, April 24, 2019 at the age of 91 following a brief illness.
Alfred (Al) was born at home on August 15, 1927 in Denver, Colorado, to parents Edna and Charles Beeton. Al's early years were not kind; his parents didn't have much money in Depression-era America and his father Charles died when Al was just five years old. A few years later, his mother had to sell the family business and move her family in with her sister in Michigan in order to get by.
His mother and brother Philip both contracted tuberculosis and were placed in a sanitarium, leaving Al without immediate family he could live with. Al himself contracted Scarlet Fever, which would later spare him the draft in WWII. The second time his mother went into a TB sanitarium, when Al was about age fourteen, he started supporting himself, initially by cleaning toilets in a Jackson, MI jewelry store, but quickly working his way up to a salesperson.
Al graduated from Jackson High School, and after two years at Jackson Jr. College transferred to the University of Michigan where he obtained his undergraduate degree in 1952, followed by a Master's and PhD in limnology and aquatic zoology, all while continuing to work at a jewelry store, and as a teaching fellow, instructor, and lecturer at the University of Michigan and Wayne State University.
During this time, he married his first wife, Mary Wilcox, at the age of 17 and by 19 had his first daughter, Maureen. Al began work as a researcher at the U.S. Bureau of Commercial Fisheries Great Lakes Fisheries Laboratory in 1957. He was promoted to Chief of the Laboratory's Environmental Research Program in 1959, a position he held until 1966. By 1965, Al had obtained international recognition for his scientific paper Eutrophication of the St. Lawrence Great Lakes documenting the effects of pollution on the Great Lakes. Most notably, his paper showed that Lake Erie had become eutrophic due to high levels of phosphate pollution. In layman's terms, this meant essentially that human activity had polluted Lake Erie to the point that it was dying due to lack of oxygen.
This paper, and the implication that humans could destroy such a large body of water, is cited by many as one of several high-profile environmental disasters that sparked the '60s environmental movement, and it was this publication that resulted in Al being invited to speak at the very first Earth Day organized by then Wisconsin Governor Gaylord Nelson. Now highly sought after, both as a consultant and by academia, in 1966 Al was recruited by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to help establish the Center for Great Lakes Studies where he served as Associate Director from 1966 to 1973, and Associate Dean for Research in the Graduate School from 1973 to 1976.
During this time, he served as a consultant to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, studying the effect of the Corps' dredging activities on pollution in the Great Lakes (196870). He also served as an expert witness for the City of Chicago and the State of Minnesota in litigation against various steel, mining, and electric companies for their pollution of Lakes Michigan and Superior (1968-74). Al worked on numerous government projects, notably the U.S. Government's Foreign Currency Program, as a limnological researcher on projects in India, Israel, and Pakistan from 1963 to 1965.
In addition to serving as a consultant for various EPA projects from 1973 to 1983, he served as Principal Investigator on limnological studies of Lake Skadar, Yugoslavia, from 1975 to 1982 on behalf of the Smithsonian Institution, for whom he also consulted on projects in Laos (where he lived for several months in a small shack in the rainforest) and Ghana. Throughout this time period Al was blessed with two more daughters, Heather and Celeste.
Al and Mary later divorced, and he married Ruth Holland in 1966 and had two sons, Jonathan and Daniel. Al continued to publish many papers on the Great Lakes, and in 1976 returned to the University of Michigan to direct both the Great Lakes and Marine Waters Center and the Michigan Sea Grant College Program while also teaching at the School of Natural Resources and the College of Engineering.
Throughout his career, Al conducted field research on some of the world's largest lakes, including Lake Baikal (Russia), Lake Skadar (Montenegro; then part of Yugoslavia), and Lake Maracaibo (Venezuela). In 1986, he left full-time teaching, and served as the Director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (198696). He Served as the Co-Chair of the Science Advisory Board for the International Joint Commission (198691), and was appointed by Michigan Governor James Blanchard as a Commissioner on the State of Michigan's Toxic Substance Control Commission (198789).
He received an honorary doctoral degree in science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1996. From 1996 to 2002, Al served as Acting Chief Scientist for NOAA in the Clinton and Bush Administrations. He continued to publish through 2009 and presented papers through 2003. Al continued his environmental conservation work in retirement, serving as a caretaker for the Michigan Nature Association and serving on the boards of the Detroit Audubon Society, and the Michigan Sierra Club. He served as president of the board for the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor from 2010 to 2012, and as a member of the board until his death. Al was a loving father who enjoyed taking his daughters and sons camping, canoeing, and fishing, and coached his son's soccer team. I
n their retirement, Al and Ruth traveled the world, including trips to Antarctica, the Amazon, Africa, Iceland, Europe, and the Galapagos. They also built a cottage on a lake in the woods near Barryton, MI where one of the first things Al did for fun was sample the lake with a fellow limnologist. Al enjoyed taking several cruises with Ruth and her brother, the late Charles Holland, and Charles' wife Shirley.
He also went on several fishing trips with his sons to Canada's Northwest Territories, Alaska, Southern Africa, Scotland, Ontario, and Montana, as well as Michigan rivers and lakes.
He was predeceased by his daughter, Heather Fay, and his brother, Philip Beeton.
He is survived by his wife of nearly fifty-three years, Ruth Elizabeth Holland Beeton, daughters Maureen Grimord Brinkerhoff (Jim) and Celeste Maronen; sons Jonathan (Kathleen) and Daniel Beeton (Amy Scanlon), his sister-in-law Karen, six nieces and nephews, and nine grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.
A celebration of Al's life will be held at his favorite watering hole, the Grizzly Peak Brewing Company in Ann Arbor, Michigan, per his wishes, on Saturday, June 15, 2019 from 2 to 5 p.m. Those wishing to honor Al can do so by reducing their own impact on the environment and helping those organizations who promote environmental stewardship, like the Ecology Center of Ann Arbor, or the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO).
Published in Ann Arbor News on June 2, 2019
Sponsored by Ancestry