LIVINGSTON, NJ — As part of Women’s History Month, the Livingston Township Council hosted a virtual ceremony on Monday to commemorate Essex County’s first-ever female mayor Doris Beck, who served as Livingston’s mayor twice during her eight years on the council and whose sons, Bruce and Steven Beck, have announced a special contribution being made to the township in honor of her years of service to the community.
Bruce, who is also known as a sports news anchor for NBC News 4 New York, expressed gratitude toward the governing body for accepting his family’s proposal to refurbish the gazebo at the Livingston Memorial Oval on Robert H. Harp Drive and rename it the “Doris Beck Gazebo.”
“My mom loved the arts, and this, we think, is a perfect way to preserve her memory and enhance an iconic Livingston landmark,” said Bruce, whose mother died in July 2020. “It was such an honor to be Doris Beck’s son and such a blessing to grow up in the Township of Livingston…Hopefully there's another young girl out there who will be inspired by Doris’ commitment to service, her love for her community and her unwavering respect for humanity.”
Noting that the gazebo is a building used throughout the year for “a lot of really special events,” Mayor Shawn Klein said the tribute would ensure that Doris is remembered in town for many years to come.
“Doris had a long and distinguished service to our community, including as a council woman from 1974 to 1982 and most notably as our mayor in 1975 and again in 1978,” said Klein, who also expressed pride in Livingston for having the first female mayor in all of Essex County. “Having a woman mayor now would be completely unremarkable in that it would be so natural as to feel mundane, but there's always a first. As our first female mayor, Doris looms large for all of our other mayors—especially for the other women—and what a great way to help commemorate Women's History Month by addressing that.”
Prior to opening the floor to the public for comments, Klein pointed out that Doris’ impact on the community was evidenced by the dozens of viewers and many “esteemed guests” who logged into the Zoom conference, including former governor Chris Christie, Essex County Commissioner Patricia Sebold and several former Livingston mayors.
Klein was particularly moved by the comments of former mayor Arlene Johnson, who is one of only four other female mayors to serve the Township of Livingston. Johnson noted that although she did not know Doris personally, Doris paved the way for other women to feel confident in their ability to “be effective in leadership.”
“In addition to this wonderful tribute the Beck family is giving of making the beautiful gazebo at the heart of our community a tribute to the memory of Doris Beck, I think the intangible tribute that we give her is to assure that Livingston still remains a town where women are asked to serve and where every girl feels that she could be mayor,” said Johnson, whose fellow female mayors Sharon Weiner, Eleonore Cohen and Renee Green also spoke about how Doris inspired their political careers.
Bruce shared that his mother’s career in civic and community affairs began at Mt. Pleasant Middle School, where she served as president of the Home-School Association. In addition to this role, Doris also served on the board of trustees at Saint Barnabas Medical Center and as president of the New Jersey State Library. She later served as president of the Livingston League of Women Voters and vice president of the New Jersey League of Women Voters.
When the Livingston Democratic County Committee first approached Doris to run for municipal office in 1974, Bruce said his mother was reluctant, but that her love for the community eventually won out.
“It was the Watergate era, and no one trusted politicians, but who wouldn't trust Doris Beck?” he said. “Doris believed politics could be clean, responsible and responsive…[Her campaign] platform was easy to understand: put the residents of Livingston first.”
As part of Doris’ election campaign, Bruce explained that her team proposed a “viable and visible consumer protection program,” an expanded and improved recycling program, a program for bicycle safety, enhanced communication with local youth, a self-sustaining local bus service and a vision of maintaining the one-family residential character of the town.
“Doris added something else to the campaign: her personal touch,” he said. "She was magnetic and honorable; she was vivacious and smart; she was elegant and classy; and above all else, she was a dedicated mother and wife.”
He added that Doris was the “top vote getter” in back-to-back elections, and was even approached about running for Congress in 1983 when former Congresswoman Millicent Fenwick decided not to run. According to Bruce, she turned the offer down for two reasons: “she didn't want to leave Livingston, and she didn't want to separate herself from her family.”
“One scene perfectly described the way my mother balanced being a member of the town council and being the head of our household at home,” her middle son said. “She would have a platter of brisket in one hand and a telephone with a long cord in the other; she would walk around the kitchen with an apron serving her husband and three sons the greatest brisket in history; [and] she would talk a disgruntled Livingston resident out of jumping off the bridge with the greatest of ease.
“I remember my mom getting a phone call during a breakfast one morning from one of the Republican members of the town council [and] she was smiling and calm talking to them as we were racing out late for school, and I said, ‘Mom, why are you being so nice and respectful? Those guys have the opposing party.’ And she said, ‘Bruce, you know sports. We are on the same team.’ That was my mom. She believed in bipartisanship to the nth degree…And when it came to issues, she was dogged. It was all about the welfare of this town and the citizens of this community.”
Bruce’s younger brother, Steve, also spoke about his mother during the ceremony and expressed gratitude toward the community for “embracing the idea of honoring her in such a significant way.”
“[My mom] lived by the motto, ‘When you give more than you get, you get more than you give,’ and she sure loved to give,” said Steve, adding that his mother’s love for her family, friends, colleagues and community was unconditional. “She was my mentor, she was my guide, she was my friend, she was my support, my encouragement, my shoulder to lean on—and for 59 years, how lucky am I to have had her to lead me on this path?
“She lived her whole life with energy and enthusiasm, with style and grace, with elegance—she was a remarkable, remarkable woman, and a remarkable mother, and I am so touched by the outpouring of support. I miss my mom so much, but her legacy is what it's all about, and the values that she taught her children, her grandchildren, her great-grandchildren, the friends and extended family and colleagues live in our hearts and our souls forever.”
Doris was married to her husband, Felix, for 68 years before he died 16 months earlier in March 2019. Bruce described his parents as having a “storybook marriage,” stating that he rarely heard them argue until they reached their 80s, and that even then, their arguments stemmed from not being able to hear each other.
She is survived by her sons, Bruce and Steven, and their wives, Janet and Lauren; her daughter-in-law, Karen, the widow of her late son, Jeffrey; her younger sister, Ann Kirschner; her four grandchildren, Jonathan and his wife, Jordana, Michael and his wife, Calie, Justin and Jake; and three great-grandchildren.
Several family members from out of town also joined Monday’s Zoom ceremony, including Kirschner, who lives in West Orange and said it was a “tremendous pleasure” to see so many people come together virtually to pay tribute to her sister’s life and career.
Steve concluded that he was “touched by all the kind words” shared throughout the evening, stating that as a “recipient of all that love, service and hard work,” he knew all the stories shared on Monday must be true.
“She was so proud of her family, of her heritage and of the work she did for Livingston,” he said. “She was a really honorable woman, and I don't think she had an enemy in the world. I've never heard anyone say a nasty thing about my mom—and that, my friends, is remarkable.”
Bruce added that when he thinks of philanthropy, he always thinks of his parents.
“It was the late, great Arthur Ashe who said, ‘From what we get, we can make a living. What we give, however, makes a life,’” he said. “Mom, you gave everything to all of us for 91 years, and we are so grateful. And we are grateful to all of you in Livingston for this opportunity tonight. We feel very blessed, so thank you.”
According to Klein, the township council plans to hold a formal dedication ceremony once the gazebo at the Livingston Memorial Oval is fully refurbished in Doris’ name.
To view the full ceremony, where friends, family and colleagues spent nearly an hour sharing stories and comments about Doris, CLICK HERE.
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