John E. Beam

John Edgar Beam passed away March 26, 2019 from ALS in Lawrence, Kansas. He was born on April 16, 1936, in Ottawa, Kansas, to Burl and Eileen Beam.

John received his bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Kansas, his master’s of science degree in physics from Harvard University and his doctorate in physics from the University of Wisconsin. He married Grace Hiebert on Dec. 30, 1959. John taught physics at Bellaire Senior High School in Houston for 25 years until he retired in 2001. After retirement he and Grace moved to Lawrence, Kansas.

Those are the facts of John, but that doesn’t really paint the picture of the man who loved his family, his books, his piano, his Sudoku and his yogurt-and-toast breakfast. As a physics teacher, John was known for his high exacting standards. This, from his son, who worked very hard for a B in his course. John was the longtime advisor to Bellaire’s Mu Alpha Theta, a national mathematics honor society for high school. John won the 1995 Edith May Sliffe High School Award for Distinguished High School Mathematics Teaching awarded by the Mathematical Association of America.

John was a man of few words, but the ones he did use were often tinged with humor. John played the piano for fun. He could sight-read pretty much anything but had a soft spot for Scott Joplin. He was a hobbyist astronomer and volunteered at George Observatory at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. John was a reader. It was a rare moment to find him without a book or a magazine in his hand. He was a meticulous car packer. His wife had learned to step aside during the packing-the-car phase for road trips. John was loath to ask for help and would rather figure things out for himself. Those characteristics coupled with a distaste for the GPS made for adventurous car trips that invariably and happily end up in the right place.
Through his teaching and his family, John left a legacy of readers, thinkers and problem solvers. He is survived by wife Grace, daughters Elizabeth Kelly and Margaret Beam, son John Beam, eight grandchildren and sister Helen Bereiter.

In lieu of flowers, the family ask that donations be made to the ALS Association Mid-America Chapter.

4 Condolences

  1. Maria Butler on March 28, 2019 at 5:26 pm

    I am so sad to hear of John’s passing. You are in my thoughts.

  2. Vera Kunard on March 29, 2019 at 11:18 am

    Grace and your family, I am thinking of all you at this sad time. Such a wonder full way you all wrote about your husband and father. I only knew him in Ottawa High school and reconnected again after he retired. Yes, I agree he was a man of few words even in high school. But I would not have done so well in advanced algebra if it had been for his help across the row from me. Now that was 69 years ago. I can still see him sitting there with his shy smile.
    May you feel the Lord’s presence at this time.
    Vera Kunard and all of his 1954 class mates from OHS

  3. Vibor on March 29, 2019 at 5:26 pm

    Dr Beam was a unique and unforgettable educator that left an indelible mark on my life. I moved to the US after living all my life in a metric world, I remember very specifically a test question requiring the calculation of a moment and a weight suspended on a yard stick. I asked him how long was a yard stick, and received a gentle smile and an answer. “the answer to your question is the question”. Learned a valuable lesson that day. Thanks for the dedication and the time.

    May the Net Force be with you.

  4. Larry Lesser on March 29, 2019 at 6:11 pm

    He was my Bellaire physics teacher, but also the sponsor of the math club that was a huge focus of my 3 years (including being its president my senior year). I’ll always have fond memories of his kindness, humor, insight, encouragement, and giving us a healthy amount of autonomy. I don’t know if he heard, but I went on to get a BA in mathematics, an MS in statistics, a PhD in math education, teach in a Houston high school (as he did), and become an award-winning university professor, he is one of the reasons why.

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