Beckman Remembered as ‘Larger Than Life’

Times Staff Writer

Inventor Arnold O. Beckman was eulogized Friday for his generosity and intellect during an amazing life that spanned 104 years, from his childhood on an Illinois farm to his scientific discoveries to his enduring philanthropy.

Three Nobel laureates were among those who attended the memorial service at the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace in Yorba Linda, where a dozen speakers from science, politics and education spoke of how much they would miss Beckman -- his enterprise, his curiosity, his wisdom and wry wit.

The founder of Beckman Instruments and a major benefactor of Caltech, Beckman was best known for creating a series of devices that allowed scientists to unlock the secrets of life on Earth and explore the planets.

Among them was the acidimeter, later called the pH meter, which became invaluable in analytical chemistry and earned him a place in the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1987.


Beckman, of Corona del Mar, died May 18 at Scripps Green Hospital in La Jolla after more than a year of declining health.

Each speaker Friday spoke fondly of Beckman -- from his inventions to his lead-foot driving -- and many evoked the memory of former President Reagan, whose state funeral ended in Washington as Beckman’s memorial service began.

“There are certain men and women who you expect will go on forever; they are the larger-than-life people,” said George Argyros, chairman of the board of the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation and U.S. ambassador to Spain. “They are the people whose energy and gifts make us feel better about ourselves. Within the last 20 days, we’ve lost two titans of the 20th century.”

Arnold S. Beckman remembered his father simply as “Dad,” the one who taught him to use a fly-fishing rod and cautioned that it was fine to drive fast “as long as you were inconspicuous about it.”


He was a Scout leader and the neighborhood air-raid warden who made Sunday morning pancakes.

Irvine Co. Chairman Donald Bren said he drove to La Jolla last year on Beckman’s 103rd birthday to honor his friend and mentor with a commendation from the Marine Corps honoring Beckman as the oldest U.S. Marine.

His most enduring quality, Bren said, was that “he was a man of his word.”

There were other remembrances solemn and playful of Beckman, who once remarked when asked the secret of his long life: “breathing.”


His fascination with science began at age 10, when he stumbled across a chemistry book in the attic of the family home. He later explained his many pursuits, saying simply, “Science is fun.”

Among those delivering eulogies were Paul Berg, a Nobel laureate and founding director of the Beckman Center at Stanford University; Harry Gray, a National Medal of Science winner and founding director of Caltech’s Beckman Institute; and the Rev. Robert Schuller, who said Beckman’s greatest accomplishment was the love of his children -- daughter G. Patricia, tended to her father in his final years -- and his wife, who died in 1989.

So far, the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation has contributed about $400 million to scientific research, medicine, engineering and education.

“California, America and the world have lost a great man, and he and his deeds will not soon be forgotten,” Berg said.


In Beckman’s final days at Scripps, his son said he asked his father if he knew where he was. “ ‘Why, I must be in heaven,’ he said. And so he is.”