National Constitution Center president and CEO Jeffrey Rosen talks about the passing of Center trustee Richard R. Beeman, in this note to our staff, members and supporters.
I’m sorry to share the sad news that our friend Richard R. Beeman passed away on Monday, after a valiant battle with ALS. Rick was one of the greatest popular constitutional historians of our time, and the National Constitution Center was one of his greatest passions.
In 1966, at graduate school at the University of Chicago, he was inspired to become a constitutional historian after reading Catherine Marsh’s Miracle at Philadelphia, and he fulfilled his youthful dream of writing a definitive “non-academic” narrative history of the Constitutional Convention, Plain Honest Men (2009), described as “the fullest, most authoritative account of the Constitutional Convention ever written.” His other books include “Our Lives, Our Fortunes, Our Sacred Honor” (2013), an account of the forging of American Independence and The Penguin Guide to the United States Constitution (2011), an annotated collected of the Founding documents. He was the John Walsh Centennial Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, where he taught for more than four decades.
As he writes on his website, “One of the greatest sources of satisfaction during my professional career has been my association with the National Constitution Center." Rick worked with Joe Torsella to shape the content of the Center from the beginning, and he was similarly invaluable in working with Stephanie Reyer, Kerry Sautner, our Constitutional Content team, and me to curate the Bill of Rights Gallery and the Interactive Constitution: his introductory essay for the IC on The Constitutional Convention of 1787: A Revolution in Government, which you can read here, was one of his last works, and a beautiful tribute to his commitment to NCC’s mission of educating K-12 students about the Constitution. On a personal note, I feel so lucky that Rick went out of his way to encourage me to join the Center and was such an enthusiastic supporter, advisor, and friend during my first three years: he was the scholarly heart and soul of his place, and his passion for constitutional history will guide us as as we try to live up to his vision of educating all Americans about the Constitution.
An obituary in the Philadelphia Inquirer is here. We will honor Rick’s memory at a memorial service at the National Constitution Center at 5:30pm on 9/26 and are exploring various ways of honoring him more formally at the National Constitution Center, including the possibility of naming the NCC/Penn Visiting Scholar position in his honor. If you are interested in contributing to a permanent tribute to Rick and his invaluable contributions to the NCC, please let me know.
Richard R. Beeman was a great scholar, a great teacher of the Constitution for all Americans, and a great friend of the National Constitution Center. He will be missed.