Palo Alto Weekly

Community Pulse - August 16, 2013

Former Palo Alto Councilman John Beahrs dies at 100

Longtime Palo Altan saw frontline action in World War II, specialized in marine insurance and served on community boards

by Jay Thorwaldson

A memorial service will be held Sunday, Aug. 25, for John Victor Beahrs, a longtime Palo Alto resident who saw frontline action in the Pacific during World War II and served on the Palo Alto City Council during the tumultuous 1960s-1970s.

Beahrs died July 23 at age 100, leaving behind a large family whose members helped him celebrate his 100th birthday last Oct. 19.

His wife, Virginia, an author and retired manager of counseling and testing at Stanford University, died in 2005, ending a marriage of 67 years and an earlier five-year dating relationship. They were married in 1938 but lived in Berkeley until after World War II when they moved to Palo Alto. They resided in the same Palo Alto home on Guinda Street since 1947, where they raised their sons John, Richard and William. Both were active in a wide range of community organizations and activities.

The memorial service will be held Sunday, Aug. 25, at 1:30 p.m. at St. Mark's Episcopal Church, 600 Colorado Ave. in south Palo Alto. A reception will follow at the University Club, 3277 Miranda Ave., Palo Alto.

Beahrs was born in 1912 in Eufaula, Ala. His father died when he was 11, and he assumed an older-brother role in the raising of his three siblings.

During his school years he worked in various positions at the Pomona Progress-Bulletin newspaper.

He received a B.S. degree from the University of California, Berkeley, College of Commerce. He joined the U.S. Naval Reserve in 1933, and retired as commander.

He later returned to UC Berkeley to do graduate study with a special interest in admiralty law.

His career in marine insurance began in 1937 when he joined Marsh & McLennan, Inc., as a broker, followed in 1939 by a move to Appleton & Cox prior to entering the military in 1941.

During World War II he served in Naval intelligence and amphibious forces of the Pacific Fleet, including serving as beachmaster in the assault landings on Okinawa and Iwo Jima, for which he received a commendation.

After the war, he served as marine manager for 13 Western states, Hawaii and Central America. In 1947 he joined the Home Insurance Company of New York, and in 1961 he returned to Marsh & McLennan in San Francisco as a vice president.

From 1964 to 1977 he served as general claims and insurance manager for Matson Navigation Company and subsidiaries. Insurance-related activities over the years included service on the War Risk Advisory Committee of the U.S. Federal Maritime Commission, the San Francisco Board of Marin Underwriters, the Inland Marine Underwriters' Association and the Board of Fire Underwriters of the Pacific. He was a member of the American Arbitration Association.

From 1963 to 1977 he served on the Palo Alto City Council, during tumultuous years of community debate over growth and city directions, and political disruptions relating to the Vietnam War and the counterculture movement. Beahrs was a member of the so-called "Establishment" side of the council when it was divided 7-to-6 in the mid-1960s, and survived an all-council election in 1967.

But his community service extended well beyond the council, including serving on the board of Lucile Salter Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford and the Ronald McDonald House at Stanford. He also served as president of the Sons in Retirement and of the Civil War Round Table of the Peninsula.

He was founding president and a director of the Palo Alto-Stanford Hospital during a period of joint city/Stanford ownership, and was founding president and a director of the Bay Area Hospital Council. He served as a director of the Santa Clara County Hospital and Health Facilities Planning Agency.

Beahrs also served as president and a director of the Family Service Association of the Midpeninsula; of the Senior Coordinating Council of the Palo Alto Area (now Avenidas); and of the Palo Alto Historical Association. He was a director of the Friends of the Palo Alto Public Library and a vestryman at St. Mark's Episcopal Church.

Following his retirement he and Virginia enjoyed travel and he was proud of her intellectual pursuits, including writing a book on the life of the Marquis de LaFayette, the young French nobleman who materially aided the American Revolution from Britain, and writing articles on Beethoven for a music publication.

In addition to his three sons, Beahrs is survived by grandchildren, Andy Beahrs, Michele Byrnes, Jenny Mulholland-Beahrs, Suzanne Beahrs, Matthew Hastie, Amelie Hastie and Bowman Hastie; and great-grandchildren Erik and Mio Beahrs, Sadie and Liam Byrnes, Callie Mulholland-Beahrs, and Katie and Georgia Hastie. His daughters, Kathryn and Elizabeth, preceded him in death. He was the brother of the late Ruth Spangenberg of Palo Alto, a co-founder of the environmentalist organization Committee for Green Foothills. He also survived a sister, Mary Grah of Orinda, and a brother, Oliver Beahrs, a surgeon at the Mayo Clinic — both died in their 90s.

"Dad was very proud of his accomplished, energetic siblings and extended family," his son Richard "Dick" Beahrs recalled. "He loved his involvement as president of the Palo Alto Stanford Medical Center at the time it was constructed, and serving on the board of the Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford." Of his council service, "he was particularly proud of Foothills Park, which I believe was created during his time on the council."

Beahrs "was active until the very end of his life. He threw out the first pitch at a San Jose Giants minor-league game as part of a tribute to the military at the age of 99. He also was introduced on the field at last year's Big Game in Berkeley, the day after his 100th birthday."

The family prefers memorials be contributions to the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health, 400 Hamilton Ave. Suite 340, Palo Alto, CA 94301, 650-497-8365.

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