“That best portion of a good man’s life, his little, nameless unremembered acts of kindness and love.”
These words of William Wordsworth give me comfort as I mourn the sudden death of my dear friend and colleague, Dr. Peter Beach, on April 18. He was a priest at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Olney, Md. at the time of his death, work which he had returned to after his retirement from government service. It was as if he had come full circle, back to his roots, having begun his professional life as a missionary in Egypt and India in 1950. Peter was a firebrand during the early days of the Great Society, at the inception of Headstart and the Peace Corps, where he was Deputy Director in Tunisia for four years. When I met Peter he was head of Veterans Affairs in Washington where he was instrumental in advocating for our veterans during the Agent Orange travesty after the Vietnam War and the horrendous medical problems after the Gulf War. His fluency in both French and Arabic made him valuable not only in government service, but as a teacher and, shortly after he immigrated to the United States in 1961, the principal of the Barrie School in Tacoma Park, MD. Just hearing his adventures as he moved from England and settled his family in Maryland made me realize what an innovative, multi-faceted person he was–not afraid to take risks and walk into the unknown.
I met Peter right after co-founding Music Education for the Handicapped in 1979. He was working at the time with the President’s Committee on the Employment of the Handicapped. His enthusiastic advocacy of our work make him an invaluable member of the board for the ten years that I was the executive director. His qualifications were stellar, but above all he was a caring human being who brought light into the lives of all who crossed his path.
Yes, Peter was an idealist as well as an optimist. But he didn’t just talk, he acted. He saw the best in everybody and in so doing, we became just a little bit better.
Peter loved nature. He loved to watch the sun set over the Atlantic from the breakwater at his summer home in Rehoboth Beach; he loved to walk on the beach and chat with the children playing in the sand at the end of a day; and he loved to hear the soft sound of the rain on the roof or anticipate the drama and excitement of a gathering thunderstorm. I often think of him when I read the beginning of this Robert Frost poem.
I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.
Or the beginning of this recent poem by Ging Alburo
As I listen to the sound of the falling rain,
On the thin roof of our house they tumble in Rhythm.
Just like a mighty songs from heaven,
Sung by the angels or cherubim.