Stuart Beck

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

The New York Sun

The death of the Honorable Stuart J. Beck, as we liked to call him, is a sad moment in the editorial rooms of the Sun. He was a friend of our editor from their days as undergraduates at Harvard. His was a generation that emerged from campus full of ideals. One of the things about Beck is that he seemed impervious to such an infirmity. He was animated more by the slapstick humor of the Hasty Pudding theatricals; he tooled around campus in a red Corvette. Even after finishing Yale Law School and hanging out his own shingle, he affected a cynical air, talking out of the side of his mouth.

Then one day, he received a phone call. It was from a friend in the Marshall Islands, who asked him if he would fly out to the Pacific to meet with the people of Palau, who needed a legal representative to help them gain possession of their islands from the Trust that was holding them after World War II. Beck took their case, helping to draft a document known as the Compact of Free Association under which the newly independent countries of Palau and the Marshalls would rely on America for their defense. Beck remained a lawyer for Palau for much of the rest of his life.

Beck found a wonderful marriage to a brilliant Palaun woman, Tulik. Their family split time between Yonkers and the Pacific. Beck himself became Palau’s permanent representative at the United Nations, where he was often casting, along side America, one of the two pro-Israel votes in the General Assembly. He escorted President Remengesau to Israel, and he operated, among other things, a wonderful internship program for idealistic youngsters who wanted to get to know the United Nations.

It was at the U.N. that Beck struck upon his great cause — saving the oceans and the seas. The New York Sun is not a tribune of the global warming movement, but we always enjoyed being with Beck when he got up on, so to speak, his high fish. He was one of the architects of tiny Palau curbing industrial fishing from its territorial waters. The New York Times, in an important writeup, likened Palau to a city with an area the size of Philadelphia, patrolling an ocean the size of France. That was the context in which Beck once regaled us with a history of the Marshalls and its foreign minister, Tony de Brum, who, as a child, had witnessed Castle Bravo.

Castle Bravo was the first American test of a dry-fuel hydrogen bomb, a thousand times more powerful than the weapon that destroyed Hiroshima. Mr. De Brum, then aged nine, remembers throwing a fishing net, when suddenly, as he has often described it, there was a bright but silent flash. Everything turned red. The fish, the sky, the fishing net. Then the shock wave. The bomb had gone off at Bikini — 200 miles away. We tried to argue to Beck that it was all in a good cause; it would have been worse had the Soviet Union prevailed. But Beck saw Castle Bravo as what he called the “greatest trust violation in history” and burned to test that theory in court.

In 2014, Beck founded the Ocean Sanctuary Alliance, whose ambition is to reverse the decline of fisheries worldwide and to regenerate fish stocks through the establishment of a global network of marine protected areas. That was the year Beck was named Palau’s Ambassador to the Oceans and Seas. Through his passion and tireless advocacy, Beck built a growing movement, encompassing dozens of countries and a cadre of marine experts from around the globe. Next week at Rome, the OSA convenes a conference including 27 marine scientists from around the world and diplomats from 37 countries to begin fulfilling Beck’s vision.

Beck liked to tell the story of a phone call he placed as Palau’s hour of independence approached. It had fallen to him to make arrangements to find someone to print the new nation’s postage stamps. He reached a printer in that line, and when he told the printer what he needed, the printer hung up on him, barking into the phone the words that became the title of Beck’s unpublished autobiography, “Call me when you’re a country.” Palau has issued many stamps since then. Maybe someday it will issue one with a picture of one of the few members of the generation that came of age in 1968 who can call himself a Founding Father.

The New York Sun

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