Ethel Koger Beckham, a former Miami-Dade County School Board member and founding member of the Lowe Art Museum, died Dec. 8 at her home in Asheville, N.C. She was 92.
The cause was complications from a long-standing bout with temporal arthritis, said Dr. Barbara DeLeo, her daughter.
Energetic and adroit, Beckham was a standout member of every organization she ever joined, who always pushed for the best results since she was a student at Ada Merritt Junior High School.
It was there she met her husband of 68 years, Walter H. Beckham Jr., an attorney and law professor who died last October. They both served as student body presidents at the school, he for the boys and she for the girls.
“And so it went throughout their lifetime,” said Walter H. Beckham III, their eldest son, also an Atlanta-based attorney.
Ethel Beckham received a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Kentucky and completed all bu the thesis for a master’s degree in psychology from the University of Miami, Beckham said
She was elected to the Miami-Dade County School Board in 1968. She would serve on the board as a member and vice-chairwoman for 16 years.
On the School Board, she was a “good and steady” board member during some of Miami’s most tumultuous decades, serving through court-ordered school desegregation, recalled former School Board member G. Holmes Braddock.
She put her weight behind a motion proposed by Braddock to make art, music and physical education a part of the core curriculum the county, he said.
“It’s never been changed to my knowledge,” Braddock said. “She came on the board as a conservative, but she left as a moderate-conservative.”
Beckham was among a cohort of women who created Beaux Arts in 1950, an organization that supported the Lowe Art Museum at its inception.
“I’m sure she was probably one of the movers and shakers,” said Brian Dursum, director and curator for the museum. The group was “ very far ahead of their time.”
The museum was the first space created specifically for art in Miami, said Dursum.
As a testament to her strong vision for education, there was a school named for her at 4702 SW 143rd Ct. in Miami, for which she always kept close ties.
From the moment school principal Maria Tavel-Visiedo and Beckham met, they were both in sync with each other, teeing off a relationship that would span 17 years.
“She took interest in our challenges and our success,” said Tavel-Visiedo.
Beckham would make visits to the school at least once a year, she said.
In a small little Italian restaurant in 1996 at The Falls, the two women mulled over the vision for the new school.
“I don’t know if it was fate, but we spoke the same language,” said Tavel-Visiedo.
As the new principal spewed ideas for the institution, “Beckham would say, ‘Oh, honey, I just love it,’” Tavel-Visiedo said.
Ethel Beckham was president of the Florida School Boards Association, the Southern Region of the National School Boards Association and she was appointed to the Florida Commission of Teacher Education.
Beckham was born Jan. 18, 1920 in Paducah, Ky., to David Davis and Ethel Brooks Koger. They would move to Miami in 1923.
When the Great Depression hit, her father, who worked in real estate, lost everything.
The frugal lifestyle remained a part of Beckham’s way of life, even into old age, DeLeo said.
She would save string so there was no need to buy any.
“Both mom and dad were products of the Depression,” DeLeo said. “ All of us were expected to have summer jobs.”
Although they lived on one of the most affluent blocks in Coral Gables. She and Walter Beckham, Jr. were also great advocates for achievement.
Once, James Beckham, the youngest of their three children, casually mentioned that he was not going to run in upcoming student body elections.
For parents who were “always the president of everything” that was not acceptable.
“What do you mean you’re not running for president?” Ethel Beckham said to her son.
He was able to persuade them that it was something he was just not interested in.
A memorial service is planned for 10 a.m. Monday in the main sanctuary of the First United Methodist Church, 536 Coral Way, Coral Gables. Burial will follow at Woodlawn Memorial Gardens Cemetery North, 3260 SW Eighth St.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations be made to the Ethel Koger Beckham Elementary School.