William Robert (Bob) Beavers, M.D., Clinician, Teacher, Researcher, died on October 24, 2019, at age 90 following a brief illness.
Bob was born in Temple, Texas, to Leighton Ware Beavers, a wholesale grocery manager, and Marie Esther Hughes Beavers, who was a school teacher prior to marriage. No stranger to family deaths, Bob had three uncles who died early. His brother Charles, a polio victim at age three, died at 16 when Bob was only six. Bob was named for a friend of his father's, Bob Scott of Scott and White Hospital. These events influenced Bob's career choice of medicine. But traveling with his grocery-store-salesman father, who taught him at age nine how to handicap horses, also instilled a keen sense of the business world that served him well all his life.
When Bob was 12, Bob's father became ill and moved the family to a farm in Hillsboro, Texas, the family hometown. Bob farmed from age 13 to 18, was a Texas State Farmer, Valedictorian and Rotary Boy of Hillsboro High School in 1946. He gave up a scholarship to Rice University to stay in Hillsboro to help support his family and attended Hillsboro Junior College. Following graduation, Bob went to the University of Texas for just one year before he applied and was accepted to the Southwestern Medical School for the class of 1949 with no money but high hopes. He had only $79 in his bank account, and needed to come up with $800 for medical school. By chance, in the two weeks allowed for payment, the State of Texas made the medical school part of the University of Texas, and the $800 fee was automatically reduced to $25 per semester. During medical school, he was a jail doctor for the city and county of Dallas, a night lab technician at Parkland Hospital, a night nurse at Parkland, and for two years lived at Parkland while performing autopsies. He was full time in medical school training at the same time.
His senior year at medical school was interrupted when Bob had to stay with his dying father, but he still managed to graduate and become an intern at Wayne County General Hospital in Michigan. There he met Jeanette Spier. They married in 1954. Bob then obtained a fellowship in pharmacology at U.T. Southwestern. After Bob joined the Air Force, his experience led the Air Force to send him to the Arctic Aeromedical Laboratory at Ladd Air Force Base, Alaska, as Chief of Physiology where he was put in charge of cold research, and worked with 18 airmen under him. This helped Bob turn out important research. With Ben Covino, Ph.D., he explored the challenging area of freezing and re-warming mammals. Even in 1955, the Air Force was interested in outer space, including having astronauts in suspended animation. This meant studying efforts to control cardiac arrhythmias inevitable with re-warming. Throughout his life, Bob continued to work with Ph.D. partners in many research areas.
His work gaining attention, Bob became an Air Force Major at age 28 and was asked to continue in the Antarctic. But with a wife and son Bruce Robert, he elected to become a civilian and return to the U.T. Southwestern Pharmacology Department. Combining this appointment in pharmacology with a residency in internal medicine at St. Paul Hospital in Dallas, he became Chief Resident in 1959 and worked with the St. Paul Cardiology team. They had developed quite early a program of replacing damaged hearts. Bob was experienced in electro-cardiology from his Air Force research.
Restless in full-time research and fascinated with psychiatry, Bob completed a residency in Psychiatry in 1963. From then on, he mixed clinical, teaching and research activities. By then, he and Jeanette had a daughter, Bonnie Ann. Though in private practice since 1965, Bob continued to teach at the medical school, consulted for the HMR system in Dallas and the Timberlawn Foundation Research facility. He was on the board of the Family Therapy Association and served as President of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, where he was recognized for his cumulative contribution to family therapy research.
Unlike most in private practice, he continued to publish. He wrote or co-wrote four well received books in his field (with some translations into other languages, including Chinese), and over 70 peer-reviewed articles in pharmacology, medicine, and psychiatry. He was recognized internationally as well as locally, winning the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Texas Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.
Noting that indigent citizens accused of capital crimes had legal representation but no psychiatric evaluations, he volunteered to work with Clayton Fowler, President of the Dallas Criminal Bar Association, to provide such services when asked. In this way, he became the evaluator and later treating doctor of Jack Ruby after Ruby was found to be psychotic in his county jail cell. Bob testified in 1965 before the Warren Commission that was investigating the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. His papers pertaining to the assassination are now in the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza.
Bob was a pioneer psychiatrist developing a treatment program based on family systems theory and became a family therapist using systems concepts. He founded The Southwest Family Institute, later renamed The Family Studies Center, and donated $1.3 million and the Center to the U.T. Southwestern Medical School Department of Psychiatry.
Always interested in relating science to religion, Bob supervised Perkins School of Theology students in their counseling courses, wrote a chapter in the late Reverend David Switzer's book, "The Minister as Crisis Counselor," and was one of three psychiatrists meeting with Perkins theologians in regular discussions for several years.
Bob's first wife Jeanette died of ovarian cancer in 1987. After two years as a widower, he met Donna Marie Sickinger, then P.R. Director for Equitable Commercial Real Estate. They married in 1990. For the last 29 years, they have enjoyed their shared families; four children, eight grandchildren and one great grandchild spread widely across California, Ohio, Washington, D.C., and Massachusetts.
While enjoying the opportunity to travel extensively throughout the U.S. and the world, Bob has been known to entertain seasick passengers with his impromptu sailor songs and standup comedy. A music fan of Buddy Holly, Willie Nelson and Nat King Cole, Bob loved talking to people from all over the world. A master of thought-provoking stories and good jokes, his wise sense of humor, observations on future events, and witty thoughts have become known as "Beaverisms." His Scrabble games were lessons in winning strategies, earning Bob his grandsons’ nickname "the Scrabble Master."
Most of Bob's life was spent in bringing families to the forefront of psychiatric treatment. This first became necessary when he saw adolescents in hospitals not working with the families before, during, or after the child's treatment. Sessions with a therapist, he observed, do not compare with the impact many hours spent with the family can have - when the family may be puzzled about changes in the child, whether desired or feared. Not judgmental or critical, he remained focused on coming up with positive solutions for people throughout his life. Though psychoanalytic in orientation, he always saw talk therapy as problem solving with another, working with others to resolve conflict, driving people saner quicker.
Bob has enjoyed the friendship of many over the years, especially that of Michael Madigan, M.D., Robert Hampson, Ph.D., and Phillip M. Aronoff, M.D.
Bob is survived by his wife Donna and children: Bruce Robert Beavers, M.D. and wife Lisa Clark of Dallas; and daughter Bonnie Ann Beavers Mathers and husband Peter of Chevy Chase, MD; stepson Todd Daniel Sickinger and wife Jill of San Diego, CA; stepdaughter Greer Marta Maher of Liberty Township, OH.
His grandchildren are Laura Jeanette Beavers Khoo and husband Justin of Watertown, MA; Diana Beavers of Brooklyn, NY; Lucas John Anderson of Boston, MA; and Juliet Anderson of Brooklyn, NY. Step grandchildren include: Toddy Mata, Devynn Ryan Sickinger, Barton Robert Sickinger (named for Bob) of San Diego, CA; and Philip Louis Maher of Liberty Township, OH. Just prior to his 90th birthday, Bob was gifted with a great grandson, Ethan Morris Khoo of Watertown, MA.
Bob’s cousin, the Reverend Nancy Martin Marroquin will co-officiate a celebration of Bob’s life with Pastor Alex Lee-Cornell on Saturday, November 9, 2019, at 2:00 p.m. at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 8200 Devonshire Drive, Dallas, TX 75209. A reception will follow.
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made in Bob’s memory to UT Southwestern Medical Center, P.O. Box 910888, Dallas, TX 75391-0888 or online at https://engage.utsouthwestern.edu. Please note the contribution is for the Family Studies Center and direct it to the Center’s operating fund or new endowment.
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