Dr. George Simpson Beagrie: Educator. Gardener. Singer. Family man. Born Sept. 14, 1925, in Peterhead, Scotland; died March 3, 2023, in Vancouver, of heart failure; aged 97.
Dr. Beagrie was accomplished: the youngest to hold a chair in the dental faculty at the University of Edinburgh, the second dean of dentistry at the University of British Columbia, and president of the International Association for Dental Research. But in his private life, he was just George – a hopeless romantic beneath his sometimes stern gaze, who never failed to take Marjorie, his wife of 72 years, out to celebrate the day he proposed.
When he was 11, George and his family moved to Peebles, Scotland, where his father became postmaster. Less than a year later, George’s father died suddenly, leaving behind George, a daughter, Lesley, and his wife, Eliza.
George first met Marjorie McVie at school when she was evacuated from Edinburgh to live with relatives during the Second World War. They reconnected years later at a singing event where hers was the only face George recognized, and she remembered him as the quiet boy who had once lent a most beautiful kilt to the school Scottish country dance team during the war. She persuaded him to sing tenor for the university choir, and the two created a life full of music, adventure and love.
After marrying in 1950, George lived happily with the six influential women of his life: Marjorie, their four daughters (Jennifer, Lesley, Ailsa and Elspeth) and his mother. He was a kind, caring and protective father. As a young child, Ailsa knocked on his forehead at night to wake him if she needed a cuddle.
In 1968, George and Marjorie moved their family to Canada, where he had been offered a post at the University of Toronto. It was hard to leave his mother, sister and friends behind but the move made his immediate family closer. In Edinburgh, he often worked six days a week. In Canada, he had more time to spend with his children. He went for long walks with Jennifer, talking about the challenges of moving at 16, and watched Elspeth learn to ride a horse – a passion they both shared. He encouraged Lesley in her studies and ardently supported her career in university education.
But Scotland was never far away. George and Marjorie visited regularly and, after retirement, would return for at least a month each year for the rolling hills of the Lowlands and the company of friends and family.
In 1977, with their children fully grown, George and Marjorie moved to Vancouver, where George became dean of dentistry at UBC. They were later joined on the coast by Jennifer, Ailsa and their families, resulting in five grandchildren nearby, with Lesley, Elspeth and another four grandchildren in Ontario.
His first granddaughter found it easier to say “George” than “Grandad,” so George he became. To his 13 great-grandchildren, he was Great-George. And great he was. He would hold his grandchildren up by the tops of their trousers and call out, “pull your breeks up, lassie (or laddie)!” or bring them wee chockies (Cadbury chocolate bars) because, as the dentist would say, calcium makes strong teeth. But it wasn’t all fun and games. You knew you were out of line if you got George’s infamous hairy eyeball: a penetrating stare from behind his long, wild eyebrows.
George did not suffer fools and never shied away from an argument. But he was largely silent on his own achievements. Some of his closest friends didn’t know of his three honorary doctorates until after his death. This modest, unassuming man was a trailblazer in his field, but would be the last to tell you.
Upon his retirement, George cultivated other passions. Ever the frugal and resourceful Scot, he converted his old dental tools for jewellery-making and created beautiful pieces for his girls. He could often be found in the garden, on the golf course or sitting by the fire reading a book.
In his final days, George and Marjorie sang together in the hospital as the snow fell outside. He died peacefully with his family nearby.
As he said from his hospital bed, “Perhaps we shall meet again one day.”
Lesley Conway is George Beagrie’s granddaughter
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