Beck leaves legacy of high standard for FAMU nursing students
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
Segregation stared Jacqueline Beck in the face every day she showed up at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
Never mind that she was the head nurse in the early 1960s; Beck’s work space was on the side of the H-shaped building designated for Black nurses. But there was no stopping her from doing her part to help doctors save lives and heal the sick.
“When you are committed to provide the best of care, it didn’t matter what color they were,” Beck said. “We performed and we were proud. We made demands; what you say to me, what you expect of me (but) that doesn’t mean that we didn’t realize what a second-class citizen was.”
Years later, Beck left Mississippi’s Medical Center, made a few stops that eventually led to earning a doctorial degree on her way to FAMU. Those who know her call her a trailblazer who set the standards for FAMU’s nursing school.
The building that houses the School of Allied Health at the university bears her name. She helped former FAMU president Walter Smith establish the school and was dean of the program, leaving a legacy as the one who schooled some of the best nurses in the country.
For that, Beck could easily be considered one of Tallahassee’s women of distinction – especially during National Women’s History Month.
“She was exceptional in her ability to motivate; to encourage and a role model,” said Darimell Waugh, one of Beck’s students during the start of her FAMU tenure. “She really inspired all of us to do the best. Everyone in my class respected her. She went the extra mile in what mattered most to students.”
By the time that the women’s movement of the 1960s put the spotlight on issues confronting professional females, Beck was already doing her part in the nursing profession. She demanded high standards from her students, a position she later said she took because she knew expectations would be higher for Black nurses.
Some say she ran her classes as if she saw all changes coming that would require more testing and qualifying for nurses.
“If you are preparing nurses, you’ve got to prepare people that can think and reason and reach appropriate decisions,” she said. “If they are going to do that they’ve got to have a strong academic background; the skills they need.”
Beck learned that early. After completing her undergrad work at Dillard University with honors, she pursued her education at Indiana University, and the University of Florida, where she earned her doctorial degree.
She encouraged her students to walk the same path. It’s the reason she set high expectations for them, said Waugh, whose resume resembles Beck’s.
“When you passed one of her exams with a high score, you knew you were doing well,” Waugh said. “She dealt with improving you as an individual; it’s what you have inside you that’s going to make a difference.”
Beck, mother of one child, is a longstanding member of Sigma Theta Tau, the honor society of nursing.
She tells the story of the day she asked an uncle who was a medical doctor to be his nurse as the impetus for choosing a career. As she delved into the nursing, she developed an attitude that nurses are just as important to medicine as physicians.
Waugh calls her former professor a special breed who left an indelible mark at FAMU.
“At her age, she is still caring about what happens in the profession when she could be divorced from it all,” Waugh said. “She is as opinioned as she has ever been about the issues and what’s going on.”