Obituary — Charles Beck


Charles B. Beck, professor emeritus of botany, died Feb. 26 at the age of 96.

Born March 26, 1927, to the late Charles B. Beck and Elizabeth L. (Coleman) Beck, Charles graduated as valedictorian from high school in his hometown, Green Bay, Virginia.

A photo of Charles Beck
Charles Beck

At age 17 he enlisted in an Army Specialized Training Reserve Program at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, which consisted largely of a year of instruction in physics and mathematics. After basic training in August 1945, he was shipped to Okinawa, Japan, where he served in the 63rd Anti-Aircraft Battalion for the following year.

After completing a Bachelor of Arts degree, with a major in botany, at the University of Richmond, Charles entered a doctoral program at Cornell University, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship at Glasgow University in Scotland.

In 1955, he accepted a faculty position at the University of Michigan, ultimately becoming chairman of the Department of Botany. Other administrative positions included one year as director of the Museum of Paleontology and a half-time appointment in the Department of Geology.

His major teaching and research interests were plant anatomy and paleobotany. After retiring from U-M in 1991, he continued his research and also wrote a textbook, “An Introduction to Plant Structure and Development.”

In 2013, the Botanical Society of America selected him as a recipient of its Merit Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Botanical Sciences.

The description of his career states: “Dr. Charles Beck is a distinguished paleontologist who has made remarkable discoveries in the history of land plants. He discovered that the fern-like leaves of the genus Archaeopteris were in fact borne on a tree (Callixylon) with the anatomy of a gymnosperm. … One of the people who nominated Dr. Beck for the award quoted Henry Andrews in saying that this discovery ‘blazed a rough trail through a dark forest where no recognizable path existed before.’”

In addition to his scientific pursuits, Charles was an avid gardener, photographer and classical music enthusiast who regularly attended concerts by the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra. He played the violin and sang in the choir at the First Baptist Church in Ann Arbor, where he met his future wife, Janice, who was the organist.

They married on Dec. 21, 1961. He traveled the world both for work and in support of his wife’s career as a concert organist, assisting her with concerts in many of the great cathedrals of England and Europe.

A loving and supportive husband and father, Charles is survived by his wife of 62 years, Janice (Milburn) Beck; two daughters, Ann Beck and Sara Beck; a son-in-law, Craig Roderick (married to Sara); and his sister, Martha (Beck) Redd and her family.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be sent to the Humane Society of Huron Valley at or the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra at

Submitted by the Beck family


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