My father, Paul Beardsley, is the finest man I have ever known. In July of 1973, he died of a heart attack at the age of 51. I was 24 at the time.
Next month will mark 45 years that he’s been gone. And yet, the capacity he had for accomplishment, the exuberance he brought to each day of living, and the lives he touched along the way make it seem like he was just here. Such is not the case of course, and after all those years, I still miss him.
As a youth, my father graduated from Kemper Military School in Bonneville, Missouri and then entered Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, Oklahoma. On December 7, 1941, during his sophomore year at OBU, Pearl Harbor was attacked, and suddenly America was at war. In April, Dad enlisted in the 82nd Airborne, began training at Fort Benning, and married my mother in June, who was 20 at the time. For the rest of the war, Dad served as an officer in the 505 under Gen. James Gavin. He remained stateside owing to a broken back he sustained during a night jump while training. Years later, he would have a spinal fusion and other major procedures to address the damage. From his early days at Kemper, he was genuinely patriotic in word and deed, including the years he proudly served.
At war’s end, he resumed his educational pursuits earning a bachelor’s degree from Centenary College and a master’s degree from the University of Oklahoma. At that point, he and my mother were the proud parents of two sons, with my younger brother yet to be born some years later. The year was 1950, and life for this energetic veteran, with degrees in hand and a young family, was about to change profoundly. Dad interviewed for a teaching position at Austin College. He was hired to teach speech and drama beginning in the fall, and we moved to Sherman.
He embraced this new opportunity with characteristic enthusiasm and fell in love with the college and the students he served. Those qualities would guide and energize his work until his untimely death in 1973. Along the way, he would earn a Ph.D. from the University of Colorado, became chairman of the Communication Arts Department, and ultimately, executive dean of the college.
In addition to his teaching and subsequent administrative duties during the day, he and my mother, who had also joined the faculty, would spend evenings directing plays in the college’s Arena Theatre. Where he found the energy for working those days, evenings and weekends, I’ll never know. And somehow, just to keep life interesting, my father and mother would perform duo-dramatic readings for civic groups, supper clubs, and other organizations in the Sherman and Dallas areas. They loved doing it, and they worked extremely well together.
The fact that my parents worked so well together was an important ingredient in the marriage that brought them much joy for many years. My father was an adoring husband to my mom, and he enjoyed his role in their partnership of raising three sons. As one of those sons, I can say that he was a wonderful father. Caring and expansive in spirit, he worked hard at maintaining the strength of our family while providing enduring examples of leadership, hard work and affection. He was clearly a devoted father and loving husband. Neither my brothers nor I ever doubted the love our parents had for each other and for us. No matter how busy he and my mom were, or their children, one constant remained absolute in our household — suppertime. My dad insisted that we sit down at our dining room table for supper, at the usual time, and we did. We ate, talked and bonded as a family during those times and others.
As a youngster, the only problem I can remember encountering was keeping up with my dad when we would sometimes walk across the campus or, other places, together. At 6’ 1’’ his legs were longer than mine, and his stride was infused with bounding energy. Countless times I saw him light up a room when he would enter with that quickened step and the warm smile that he loved to share.
As I was growing up, my father’s parents lived in Navasota, where his father was the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Dad had a strong faith. And, his relationship with God and his commitment to the church as an essential institution in our lives were of great importance to him. Under my parents’ leadership, there was never a question about where our family would be on Sunday mornings.
During our visits to Navasota, it was clear that my dad loved and respected his parents. It was a joy to visit Grandfather Beardsley’s church on Sunday and other places of local importance. Evenings would find my dad and his dad playing cribbage with great pleasure.
In 1955, the two speech courses my dad was hoping to teach in summer school did not materialize. On a tip from a teaching friend, he looked into summer employment opportunities at Camp Stewart, a camp for boys in the Texas Hill Country. Thus began another dramatic turn in his life and ours. From then until his passing, he and some combination of our family would make the annual summer trek to camp. He started out as a counselor, took on numerous other duties over the years and ultimately became an assistant director.
Working at Camp Stewart was tonic for my Dad. He loved being there — the rustic terrain, the magic of the Guadalupe River, and most of all, having the opportunity to lead and mentor kids. Through his work, my brothers and I got to be campers for many years — an experience for each of us that was invaluable. Some summers, my mother would accompany us to camp and would live a rustic lifestyle with the other counselors’ wives across the road. During other summers, she would stay in Sherman to write, prepare for teaching in the fall and enjoy being with our dogs.
Either way, from the mid-’50s onward, Camp Stewart, with its wealth of activities and blistering summer heat, was a part of our family. The constant in all those years was Dad. If it was summertime, he wanted to be in the Texas Hill Country and near the Guadalupe. At camp’s end, and suitably recharged, he was eager to return to the college that had brought us to our life in Sherman. A new school year would soon start. He would be the public address announcer at home football games along with his many other duties, and he was eager to begin.
Thoroughly invested in his church and family, Austin College, and Camp Stewart, my father gave all he had to so many of us that he met at those intersections. Then, on July 4, 1973, a major coronary interrupted those treasured pursuits and brought him into the nearer presence of our creator.
As time has passed, both of my brothers have died, and very recently, my mom, all of whom I love dearly. But on this Father’s Day, it is my dad who I especially remember with longing thoughts. When my time comes to leave this earth, if at least one person can just whisper that I lived my life “as my father’s son,” I will consider it a life well lived.
My legs are still shorter, and although I will never catch up with my father, I’m still trying to capture that quickened step and the purposeful gait that led him to so much accomplishment. Looking forward — I’m hopeful because of the priceless example he has passed on to me — and grateful for the years of love and great memories that were built during his time with us.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you.
Mark Beardsley is a news clerk with the Herald Democrat. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.