Mabel Beckman, 88; Philanthropist and Wife of Inventor Arnold O. Beckman

Times Staff Writer

Mabel Beckman, wife of Arnold O. Beckman, an inventor and entrepreneur who made a fortune developing and marketing scientific instruments, died early Thursday at her home in Corona del Mar. She was 88.

She had been repeatedly hospitalized for cancer at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach over the last two weeks, according to friends and hospital officials.

During 64 years of marriage, the Beckmans were nearly inseparable. About 10 years ago, they formed a foundation to direct their philanthropy in support of scientific and medical research at hospitals and universities.


Publicly disclosed gifts from the Arnold O. and Mabel M. Beckman Foundation total more than $100 million.

Among the gifts were $20 million for the construction and endowment of the Western headquarters and study center of the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering in Irvine, more than $6 million to the Beckman Laser Institute on the campus of the UC Irvine College of Medicine, $40 million to establish a research center at Caltech and $2 million toward development of a cancer center at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian.

Friends of the couple said that Arnold Beckman always relied upon his wife for advice in deciding which projects deserved support. Beckman has said that their goal was to distribute their fortune, once estimated to be in excess of $500 million, before their deaths.

Much of the money was realized from the sale in 1981 of Fullerton-based Beckman Instruments, which Beckman founded in 1935, to SmithKline Corp. of Philadelphia.

Michael Berns, director of the Beckman Laser Institute and professor of surgery and cell biology at the UCI Medical School, where he holds the Arnold and Mabel Beckman chair, said Mrs. Beckman always showed up at her husband’s side when the institute held meetings for members of the community who were interested in its work.

Michael Stevens, president of Hoag, said “Mabel Beckman was a very delightful person. I personally was very fond of her and will miss her.” He said that when he informed members of the Hoag Board of Directors of her death, they remarked on the closeness of the Beckmans’ marriage. “Despite his (Dr. Beckman’s) eminence in the scientific community, they had a very down-to-earth, loving relationship,” he said.

Friends said Beckman likes to recount how he met his wife in 1918 when he was an 18-year-old Marine whose train arrived late to New York, causing him to miss a ship that had already set sail. Stranded in the city for Thanksgiving, he went to a dinner hosted by the Red Cross. One of the Red Cross volunteers he met at the dinner was his future wife.

Elke Eastman, a spokeswoman for Beckman Instruments, said the company notified employees Thursday of Mrs. Beckman’s death at its Fullerton headquarters and at its worldwide facilities because “Mrs. Beckman was a part of the company since its beginnings in 1935.”

Eastman said Beckman told her it was his wife’s wish that no flowers be sent on the occasion of her death. She said he suggested that instead donations could be made to the Hoag Cancer Center. Details about funeral arrangements were not disclosed. Only family members will be invited to attend, Eastman said.

Besides her husband, Mrs. Beckman is survived by a daughter, Patricia; a son, Arnold O. Beckman Jr., as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren.