Memories of Newport’s Allan Beek, 1927-2024.


Relentlessly logical and eccentric, my maverick-conservative Republican friend Allan Beek died this month just before his 97th birthday. The tireless activist did so much in his near-century that I kept meaning to spend a few days with him and get half of it down, but too late. (And I hope to be able to add a lot to this story soon, if I hear from some of his old friends and colleagues!)

Back in 2004 the LA/OC area enjoyed a liberal talk radio station called “Air America” – it gave birth to pre-TV Rachel Maddow, pre-Senate Al Franken, Thom Hartmann, Stephanie Miller… and I listened to it every day. And Sheila Kuehl (left, as “Zelda” in the 1959 sitcom “Dobie Gillis”) was now a Democratic state senator, who’d written SB 840, a single-payer healthcare bill for California. And a statewide group formed with the goal of getting that bill passed, calling itself “Healthcare For All California.” And that group advertised for a few weeks on Air America, and I heard the ads and wanted to join up.

Not that I’m some nice caring guy who frets overmuch about people’s healthcare, but this seemed like ONE especially egregious instance of GREEDY CORPORATIONS (mostly Big Insurance & Big Pharma) robbing the public blind, causing unnecessary death and substandard health, and hoodwinking voters with scare stories while paying off politicians from both Parties. Right up my alley.

When I called, though, the HCA folks told me there was no Orange County chapter, “but maybe you could start one up, there’s one other guy in Newport Beach that’s interested in this” and that turned out to be octogenarian Republican ALLAN BEEK. We made an odd couple, but hey – we grew that OC chapter to nearly 200 activists, before I handed it off in 2008 to someone else when I got too busy with this blog and other things.

Allan was forever crafting new pamphlets, arguments, flyers, to try to convince his fellow conservatives that single-payer healthcare should be a conservative cause, as it would be (ideally) so much more efficient and prevent so much public wealth getting bled over to unnecessary parasitic corporations. And he was forever frustrated at their unreceptiveness. And the general public’s fear of making any changes in healthcare coverage, terrified their own tenuous situations could worsen. And a general (understandable) aversion to bureaucracies and taxes, even if it would save us billions in the long run. And the half-hearted support of Democrats who were more comfortable settling on half-measures like Obamacare.

Establishment Republicans treated Allan as a tiresome crank and gadfly, whose version of conservatism led him to agree more often with leftists than with them. I remember Matt Cunningham dismissing him as an “anti-business RINO,” which should be a badge of honor. He used to meet monthly at his home with a group of likeminded elderly neighbors who called themselves The Nation Group” because they all loved that magazine – sure enough all the other members were Democrats or Greens.

Did I say Allan was “eccentric?” He drove a BRIGHT yellow Volkswagen bug, with the license plate “1234567.” With his lanky 6’4″ frame wedged in there, he reminded us of that Tall Man in the Small Car that Nelson ridiculed…

He joined my friends in other causes as well, such as protesting against the attempted sale and privatization of the OC Fairgrounds, showing up with one of his favorite signs that consisted simply of a gigantic “NO!” (Damn, I’ve got a picture of that somewhere…)

Clean Money & Paternal Segue

Another cause Allan was devoted to along with mostly (but not only) Democrats was cleaning up our political system, with transparency and other campaign reforms. So once around 2006 we made it up to Sacramento – me, Allan, Trent Lange of the Clean Money Campaign, and progressive Democrat David Sonneborn – to lobby for the DISCLOSE Act.

When we got to Senator Lou Correa, he was all genial, backslaps, changing the subject (I don’t think he ended up voting for our legislation) and he insisted on taking us on a personal tour of the Senate Chambers since we had driven so far! And once Allan Beek’s name was mentioned, and it was confirmed that he was indeed the son of the legendary Joe Beek, politicians and staff alike crowded ’round him to get him to autograph their own copies of his Dad’s 1942 masterpiece “The California Legislature.” HEY YOU GUYS, THIS IS JOE BEEK’S SON!!! Allan, sheepish and uncomfortable in the spotlight, signed all their books.

Yep, Allan’s dad Joseph Allan Beek, to whom Allan always measured himself and found himself wanting, was, according to Wikipedia, “the longest-serving Secretary of the Senate in California history (1919–68).” Also, according to Wikipedia,

Beek was perhaps best known for his role in developing Balboa Island. He established the Balboa Island Ferry, built roads and bridges, and was one of the island’s chief promoters. Beek was also Chairman of the California Small Craft Harbor Commission, was a published musician and composer, a World War II veteran, and a promoter of reforestation of hills surrounding Orange County.

“And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

(“A published musician and composer?” I don’t think Allan ever told me that, although he used to never miss my concerts.)

So that’s why Allan was featured in this 2012 Daily Pilot story, “Before there was a ferry, there was a rowboat.”

How many locals know that the very first Balboa Island ferry franchised by Joseph Beek was a rowboat? 

Nearly 100 years has brought significant changes, and even though the rowboat has been replaced by a barge transporting both people and vehicles from the island to the Balboa Peninsula, the need to cross the channel is exactly the same as it was before the advancement of the electronic and technical age. 

Last week on Balboa Island, the descendants of Joseph Beek, brothers Seymour and Allan Beek, addressed a crowd of some 80 guests who had come together at the Balboa Island Museum & Historical Society for a nostalgic look back at local lore…

And that’s why Tom Johnson’s awkwardly written obituary for Allan identifies him as an “elder statesman” … “of Newport Beach first family fame,” elaborating “Beek was a longtime, respected community activist who was especially involved in Still Protecting Our Newport (SPON) and other efforts that he believed had an adverse effect on negative growth, increased traffic, environmental concerns and unwanted change for Newport Beach.” (That’s the awkward sentence.)

Yes, it seems that Allan is more remembered in his community for fighting to conserve open space and neighborhoods than what I knew him for. Of course. Conservatism to Allan meant SAVING things – saving money, saving the environment, saving old neighborhoods’ character. Not what it means to some people.

I hadn’t seen Allan in a few years, and now and then I’d think, “I’ve got to catch up with him and write all about him before it’s too late.” Then he surprised me, showing up to my last concert just a few weeks before he died, and requested his favorite Beethoven Sonata, the “Appassionata.” SOLID CHOICE.

But now I remember – about ten years ago he and his lovely wife Jean talked me into learning a piece by Schumann – the “Fantasy in C Major,” they even gave me the sheet music – which turned out to be the most beautiful Schumann piano piece I’ve heard. I believe I’ll do it at my next concert in his memory:

Johnson adds, “In accordance with his wishes, Allan’s brain and body were immediately donated to the UCI 90+ Study.”  That checks out. Let’s see, what else? I seem to remember he worked in aerospace before I knew him, like so many 20th-century OC men. Please, everyone who knew Allan, add to this in the comments! And, what a great American, what a great Republican. We need more like Allan Beek!

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official political troubadour of Anaheim and most other OC towns. Regularly makes solo performances, sometimes with his savage-jazz band The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.