Ronald Lee Beckett, an associate superintendent for the Anne Arundel County schools and decorated Army combat veteran of the Vietnam War, died Tuesday at his home in Grasonvile after a yearlong battle with cancer. He was 61.
A retired lieutenant colonel who put in three tours of duty in Vietnam in the 1960s, he retired from the military and joined the county school system in 1983 as assistant superintendent for support services. He had been associate superintendent for business and management services for the past six years. Earlier, Mr. Beckett taught at the college level.
He recently completed a book about his experiences in Vietnam and was a consultant for the 1968 movie "The Green Berets."
"He was one of the few authentic heroes I've ever known, but unlike some of the folks with military backgrounds, he had a wide range of other interests," said colleague Kenneth Lawson, associate superintendent for instruction and student services.
He said Mr. Beckett loved music, the latest "electronic gadgets" and computers. But Mr. Lawson said it was the military experience that defined him, pointing to his organizational skills and persistence.
He credited Mr. Beckett as the driving force six years ago behind the Advanced School Automation Project (ASAP), an initiative to install linked computer laboratories in each county school.
Born and raised in Logan, W.Va., Mr. Beckett graduated from Kentucky Military Institute in 1957 and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1961. Over the next 22 years, his military career took him to nine states and three continents.
He served his one-year tours in Vietnam in 1963, 1965 and 1969, holding command positions at the platoon, company and battalion levels. He was district senior adviser in Long Khanh Province during his final tour.
In 1969, he earned a master's degree in political science from the University of Alabama. He was an assistant professor of political science at Widener College in Chester, Pa., from 1970 to 1973.
He was on the faculties of the U.S. Army Institute for Military Assistance at Fort Bragg, N.C., in 1976, and of the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., in 1982. In between, he spent four years in Stuttgart, Germany, as chief of the Europe/NATO Branch of the Security Assistance Division at the U.S. European Command.
A resident of Grasonville for the past three years, Mr. Beckett enjoyed travel, military history, golf and boating.
His military honors included two Bronze Stars for valor, another for meritorious service, and the Purple Heart. He was a member of the American Legion and the West Point Alumni Association.
He is survived by his wife of three years, the former Jane Walker Doyle; two daughters, Natasha Sabelhaus of Silver Spring and Natanya Beckett of Bowie; his mother, Margaret Gresham, and a half-brother, David Gresham, both of Chapmanville, W.Va.; two grandchildren; and three stepchildren.
His marriage of 37 years to the former Nancy Farley, of Ocean City, ended in divorce.
A memorial service will be held at 12: 30 p.m. today at John M. Taylor Funeral Home, 147 Duke of Gloucester St. in Annapolis, followed by a service at 1: 45 p.m. with full military honors at the Crownsville Veterans Cemetery, 1080 Sunrise Beach Road.
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