November 26, 2010
To Bowdoin Faculty and Staff,
It is my sad duty to inform you that our friend and colleague, Trustee Emeritus David P. Becker ’70, died early this morning at the Gosnell Memorial Hospice House in Scarborough, Maine. David, who had recently been diagnosed with cancer, was 63.
David led an impressive and generous life. The Pamela and Peter Voss Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, David was an art curator, scholar and collector, philanthropist, champion of social and economic justice, overseer and trustee of the College emeritus, and a dear friend to Bowdoin, our Museum of Art, and to many of us.
David was born in Albany, N.Y., and lived in Castleton-on-Hudson, N.Y. He graduated from the Taft School in 1966. At Bowdoin, David majored in history with a minor concentration in art. He served as treasurer of his fraternity, Phi Delta Psi, was a member of the Outing Club, and was a cast member in student plays. But perhaps the most meaningful experience for David—and one that would significantly shape his later life—was when he worked in the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. During his sophomore year, as part of a student job, David rematted and framed Bowdoin’s old master drawing collection. Over time, he built an understanding and appreciation of the Museum's collections that were considered second to none, and he developed a life-long bond with the Museum, its collections, and its staff.
"I taught myself, just by looking," David told an interviewer many years later. "It was my fortunate, good luck…that I was able to walk in and get right into the middle of the collection."
That experience would launch David’s extraordinary career in the world of art. He made his first donation of a work of art to the Museum while still a student. In the five years after his graduation, David served as an assistant curator, acting curator, and registrar at the Museum, and for a year as director of the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum. Subsequent positions in the Department of Printing and Graphic Arts at the Houghton Library at Harvard, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard established David as one of the leading authorities in the country on prints.
David earned his master’s degree at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University in 1983.
In June, David was the recipient of Bowdoin’s Alumni Service Award, the highest honor given by the Bowdoin Alumni Council. The award was presented in recognition of David’s four decades of service to the College, including as an overseer (1986-96); as a trustee (1996-98); as a member of the Visiting Committee and Collections Committee for the Museum of Art (1992); and as a member of the Bowdoin Gay and Lesbian Alumni Association. The award also recognized with gratitude David’s enormous generosity to the College, including a gift to establish the Becker Print Gallery in memory of his parents; donations to support Museum of Art renovations; and endowed funds and projects in support of the Museum, Bowdoin’s Library, photography, music, the South African Scholarship Fund, and the Lesbian and Gay Lectureship Fund. In addition to all of this, David donated hundreds of works of art to the College, including an extraordinary gift in 1994 of 320 prints, 17 drawings, five photographs, and one bound volume. For David, these were gifts meant to recreate the inspiration he knew as a student.
"I clearly remember that excitement and want to create opportunities for future students to make their own discoveries," David said recently. "You never know when something you have given or have said will inspire someone else."
David’s generosity and service extended far beyond Bowdoin. He was a trustee of the Maine Chapter of the Nature Conservancy and a board member with the Maine Community Foundation, the Haymarket People’s Fund, the Working Group on Funding Lesbian and Gay Issues of the National Network of Grantmakers, and the Lesbian and Gay Community Center of Boston. David also served as a member of the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust and as founder of OUT—A Fund for Gay and Lesbian Liberation.
David received the Maine Lesbian/Gay Political Alliance's Great Pioneer Award in 1994 and Maine Initiative's Golden Grower Philanthropist Award in 2001.
David was a familiar face on the Bowdoin campus. Always friendly and enthusiastic, he shared his knowledge freely with friends and colleagues at the Museum of Art, curating exhibits, teaching classes, and writing scholarly works on prints, illustrated books, and Old Master drawings in the College's collections. And he was a valued adviser to me, my predecessors, and for the directors of our Museum over the years.
During David’s brief but serious illness, he kept an online journal in which he described his ordeal but focused mostly on his friends, his family, and a vivid appreciation for life. Those of us who knew him and worked with him on behalf of Bowdoin will miss David very much, but we will remember him well with gratitude, respect, and affection.
Memorial arrangements are pending and will be conveyed to the Bowdoin community when they become available. I know each of you joins me in offering heartfelt condolences to David’s family and friends during this very difficult time.