Dr. Earl Becker Jr., 77, microbiologist, Scouting enthusiast

Dr. Earl Franklin Becker Jr., a retired microbiologist who hiked the Appalachian Trail, died Sunday of coronary artery disease at Howard County General Hospital. The Ellicott City resident was 77.

Born in Schuylkill Haven, Pa., and raised in Bangor, Pa., he enlisted in the Army Air Forces during World War II and attained the rank of sergeant.


After earning his undergraduate degree from Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa., he worked at Usono Biochemistry Laboratories in Philadelphia. In 1952, he joined the Ralph M. Parsons Co. as a research bacteriologist at Fort Detrick, near Frederick.

He earned a master's degree from George Washington University and, in 1966, a doctorate in microbiology from the University of Maryland, College Park.


He was affiliated with the University of Maryland dental and pharmacy schools from 1955 to 1967, first as a laboratory technician, then as an instructor and assistant professor. He lectured and taught laboratory courses in general and pathogenic microbiology, immunology, mycology and parasitology, and did research projects.

"Because of his work, he was extremely fastidious about germs and personal cleanliness," said daughter Cindi Ann Becker-Spence of Damascus. "Then his first grandchild came along and he changed drastically. All of sudden, he would sit there and share the same spoon with the grandchild."

From 1967 until his retirement in 1988, he was employed by the Maryland health department as chief of its Rockville branch laboratory.

"As a microbiologist he did top-notch work, and he worked hard over the years," said Dr. Ken Wilde, the department's chief of environmental microbiology. "We're public servants, and he met with the problems of the day. He analyzed drinking water, and did diagnoses for throat, respiratory and urinary tract infections. He also studied parasites in the immigrant community."

Dr. Becker was a member of the Maryland branch of the American Society for Microbiology and served as branch president from 1970 to 1971.

"He had a love of learning, but he didn't come across as a professorial person," said his son, Earl Franklin Becker III, wildlife research coordinator for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. "He had a curious mind and was interested in improving himself."

The elder Dr. Becker co-wrote a number of scientific articles.

For many years, he was active in Boy Scouts and its Explorers program as an assistant Scoutmaster and later Scoutmaster of Woodlawn Troop 666 at St. Lawrence Roman Catholic Church. Dr. Becker hiked for weeklong treks on different sections of the Appalachian Trail. He also walked the C&O; Canal path from Cumberland to Washington.


"He enjoyed the self-sufficiency of hiking and the solitude of nature," his son said.

His son recalled an incident in 1972 when Dr. Becker was leading a Scouting expedition that got caught near the Potomac River when Tropical Storm Agnes struck. "We hadn't bothered to take radios. He had good judgment. We wound up on the front porch of a historical house and sat it out," his son said.

Since his retirement 15 years ago, Dr. Becker had spent the summers in Alaska visiting his son and other family members. They said he watched brown bears and beavers, and panned for gold as a hobby.

"He started leaving [for Alaska] in July, but he gradually worked it back to the end of May. He extended his stays until the end of September. He loved salmon fishing, and he was an excellent cook, not only of fish but of many dishes. There's a sign over his stove that says 'Earl's Kitchen,'" his daughter said.

He was a member of Trinity Lutheran Church in Ellicott City.

Services will be held at 1 p.m. today in the chapel of Haight Funeral Home, on Route 32 in Sykesville.


In addition to his son and daughter, Dr. Becker is survived by his wife of 51 years, the former Helen Paskewicz; two other daughters, Susan Mary Becker of Ellicott City and Laura A. Becker of Reston, Va.; a brother, the Rev. Barry Becker of Bangor, Pa.; and six grandchildren.