Obituary: William Beveridge, educator, war veteran, musician and church chorister

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Born: 23 January, 1922, in Limekilns, Fife. Died: 17 October, 2015, in West New Brighton, Staten Island, New York City, aged 93

William Beveridge was seven years old when his parents decided to emigrate from Fife to America to seek a better life. As things turned out, they arrived at Ellis Island, in the shadow of the State of Liberty, on the very day of the Wall Street crash – 29 October 1929.

It was not an auspicious start for a family who had left their homeland for a better living but the family survived the financial hardship and William went on to spend the rest of his life in Staten Island, a borough of New York City linked to Manhattan by the famous Staten Island ferry. Usually known as Bill, he became a popular educator, ultimately as principal of his local school.

He brought his family back to Scotland as part of long European jaunts, returning to the US with new Scottish songs to sing and play with his daughters Beth and Peggy. He was an accomplished musician, playing organ and piano. Immediately upon settling in the US, aged seven, he became a choirboy in his local Christ Episcopal Church, New Brighton, in Staten Island, where he would sing for the rest of his life – no less than 86 years. At home, he was equally likely to tickle the ivories with Scott Joplin ragtime numbers.

William Mungall Beveridge was born in the fishing village of Limekilns, Fife, on the banks of the Firth of Forth, in 1922 to Alexander Beveridge – from a centuries-old Fife family – and his wife Nell (Brown). The village had already become immortalised by Robert Louis Stevenson in his 19th-century novel Kidnapped, when David Balfour and Alan Breck sail from Limekilns across the Forth in a rowing boat.

Aged 18, Beveridge volunteered for the US army, serving in the Pacific theatre from 1942-46 until after the Japanese surrender. As a corporal, he lived through the bloody 82-day Battle of Okinawa when XXIV Corps of the US Tenth Army, along with the US Marines, captured the island. More than 12,500 Americans were killed in action, while the Japanese lost an estimated 95,000. Beveridge’s commander Lieutenant-General Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr was among those killed but the Scots-born corporal made it back to New York City unscathed. He had been due to take part in Operation Coronet to invade Japan but the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the subsequent Japanese surrender, made the operation unnecessary.

Under the so-called GI Bill to provide benefits to war veterans, Beveridge attended Wagner College in Staten Island, gaining a bachelor’s degree in education. He went on receive a master’s in the same subject from New York University (NYU) in Greenwich Village, Manhattan. He began teaching at PS 44 in Mariners Harbour, Staten Island (under New York City’s education system, PS numbers are given to public elementary schools). He rose to become principal of PS 45 near his home in West New Brighton until his retirement in 1984.

Not one to retire with pipe and slippers, he was on the board of trustees of the popular Staten Island Zoo near his home, a keen bowler in his local league, a yachtsman and water-skier, enjoying the latter sport until he was 70. He and his wife Anne (née Aungier and better-known as Nancy), spent summers at their house in Lake Mohawk, New Jersey. Always a handyman who liked a project to work on, he built his own organ, canoe, grandfather clock, toys for his grandchildren and a zip-wire on which they could slide through the air. He was working on his lake house’s dock until three weeks before his death.

Enjoying retirement to the full, he and Nancy visited his beloved Scotland, Wales and many other parts of the world, including during numerous foreign tours which also took them to China, Thailand, Belize and Switzerland. They took cruises to the Caribbean, Norway and Greece and could out-dance passengers a third their age when doing the energetic Lindy Hop to big bands on cruise ships including the MS Queen Elizabeth.

While still teaching, in 1959, Beveridge bought a 17ft Mallard trailer, or camper van, in which he took his wife and children on seven-week summer camping trips, taking in 47 US states, southern Canada and as far south as Acapulco, Mexico.

William Beveridge died in Richmond University Medical Center near his home in West New Brighton, Staten Island. Anne (Nancy), his wife of 62 years, died in 2012. One of his daughters, Anne, an endangered species expert, died earlier this year aged 55. He is survived by his daughters Beth and Peggy, his son Bill, his sister Myra, seven grandchildren and a great grandson.