February 23, 2021
John T. Beckum, O.D., 86, retired Doctor of Optometry, of Gainesville, FL passed away peacefully on February 23, 2021 at home surrounded by family. Dr. Beckum was predeceased by his mother Addie Lee Harden Beckum Lacey, father Lindsey Levere Beckum, step-father Sarge Lacey, step-mother Lucy Tubb Beckum, father-in-law Thomas Robert Whigham, mother-in-law Wilma Johns Whigham, sister Betty “Jane” Montgomery, brother Albert “Joe” Beckum, and two sons-in-law Don Perkins and Rick Strader. He is survived by his loving wife of 63 years, Elaine Whigham Beckum, who was a doting and patient caregiver through his later years, his daughters Teresa Beckum (Todd Guion) of Sheridan, WY, Robbie Eller (Jan Eller) of Gainesville, FL, Joey Lewis (Brad Burwell) of Casper, WY, and Betty Sabella (Russ Sabella) of Ft. Myers, FL. He leaves the lights of his life, his grandchildren, Samantha Eller, Joseph Sabella, Casey Lewis, Shelby Eller, Toby Lewis, Brian Lewis, Matthew Sabella and Kyle Eller, and his great-granddaughter, Ophelia Mae Lewis. He often was heard to say that if he had known grandchildren were so fun, he would have had them first! He is also survived by brother-in-law Ted Montgomery (Carol), nieces Peggy Beckum Johnson and Janie Beckum Phillips, and nephews Joel Beckum (Sarah Beckum), John L. Montgomery and Scott Montgomery, and their children, his great nieces and nephews. Born on the family farm in Wrens, GA on April 20, 1933, he learned to love the outdoors and rural life by picking cotton for a penny a pound, hunting and fishing, working with farm equipment, enjoying big southern family meals that always included homemade biscuits, and sitting on the porch just shooting the breeze. When his family moved to Jacksonville, FL, he attended Bolles Military School where he played football, baseball and track, served on the Conduct Board and the Debate Team, was promoted to Petty Officer Second Class, and graduated summa cum laude in 1951. He worked for Delta Airlines and met Elaine while they were both attending Woodstock Park Methodist Church, and they married in 1957. The newly-married Beckums resided in Memphis, TN while John attended the Southern College of Optometry. During their years in Memphis, John worked on a paddle boat on the Mississippi River, and the frugal couple looked forward to leftovers brought home from caterings and boxed-lunches leftover from the boat dining room. With dedicated studying support from Elaine, he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Physics of Light in 1957, and as salutatorian with a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) degree in 1959. His article “The Significance of Ocular Pathology Diagnoses in Optometry” was published in The Optometric Writings Journal in 1959 and he authored the book The Diagnostic Aid to Ocular Pathology that same year. In 1960, after graduation, he and Elaine moved back to Jacksonville with their one year old daughter, Teresa Lee, and John completed an optometric residency with Dr. Leonard Grunthal. They welcomed their second daughter, Robbie Lin, and the now family of four moved to Gainesville where John opened his optometric practice in 1961. In the next few years, John and Elaine added two more daughters to their family, Jo Elaine and Betty Ann. The family lived in a wonderful neighborhood in northeast Gainesville where the family hosted backyard softball games for the neighborhood kids, where they taught their girls to change tires and oil, where all friends were invited to dinner at any time, and where a zoo of dogs, hamsters, mice, and even a pet duck, were welcomed. As they grew, John and Elaine taught their daughters to “hold the flashlight and hand me that wrench”, to do yard work, to read road maps, to jump the stripes on the grocery store floor just to cut up, to drive, to clean a fish, to make time for an annual vacation, and to cherish family. In the early 1980’s, John and Elaine opened B&B Sporting Goods in Gainesville with John’s father and step-mother and ran that business, in addition to the optometric practice, for a number of years. While a student, Dr. Beckum was a member of the Baptist Student Union at UF, the Florida Tennis Association, the Bartenders & Waitresses Association, the Sigma Alpha Sigma scholastic honors fraternity at the Southern College of Optometry, the Phi Theta Upsilon fraternity, and the Beta Sigma Kappa International honors fraternity. As an eyecare professional, he was a member of, and held leadership roles in, the Florida Optometric Association, the Southern Council of Optometrists, and the American Optical Association. He served two terms as President of the University City Lions Club, was an Outstanding Lion of the Year award recipient, and served in several leadership roles within the International Association of Lions Clubs. John was an avid hunter, fisherman, handyman, shade-tree mechanic, garage-saler, prolific reader, and lifelong learner. His favorite gatherings were to feed all who would come to his pig roasts and fish fries. And he was a sharer of knowledge. If you asked John a question about, well, anything, he would stay up all night learning everything he could and show up the next day with a binder full of information, neatly categorized, on the topic. But his truest joy was found in his grandchildren when they began coming along. His daughters often happily complained that the grandchildren could get away with things they could never even have imagined doing! Dr. Beckum, and Elaine as his office manager, retired from the optometric practice in 2017. In 2019, John was provisionally awarded the Guinness Book of World Records’ “Longest Practicing Optometrist in the United States” title for his 56 years in active practice. Once he retired, each day was marked by telling anyone who would listen “let’s go get something to eat!” Even in his latest years he greatly enjoyed family meals full of laughter at home, greasy spoons and white tablecloth restaurants. He also great enjoyed napping, watching the news, and telling or laughing at a good joke. Even as his health was failing, he loved to cuss just to get Elaine to fuss at him and, if we laughed at him riling her up, he’d cut up even more. What we wouldn’t give to hear just one more long, drawn out “The H-E-L-L you say!” And especially cherished was family or friends telling him “I’ll see you later” and him sincerely responding “I’ll look forward to it.” To say that John lived life on his terms would be an understatement. There was never any guessing about where he stood on an issue, a situation, or an idea. But the underpinning of his blunt, focused and direct demeanor was a desire for all to succeed, for all to continuously learn, and for all to create a secure and stable life for themselves. He exemplified working hard, playing hard, and creating opportunities. He passed those habits on to his children and grandchildren and those fiercely-taught lessons will serve them well throughout their lives and will forever be John’s greatest legacy. Graveside burial will take place at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, March 2, 2021 at Forest Meadows Memorial Park Central (4100 NW 39th Avenue, Gainesville, FL). In lieu of flowers, donations to Haven Hospice, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, The Wounded Warrior Project, or Shriner’s Hospital for Children are appreciated. Arrangements are under the care of Williams-Thomas Funeral Home.
John T. Beckum, O.D., 86, retired Doctor of Optometry, of Gainesville, FL passed away peacefully on February 23, 2021 at home surrounded by family. Dr. Beckum was predeceased by his mother Addie Lee Harden Beckum Lacey, father Lindsey Levere... View Obituary & Service Information
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