About Ann Beck

name: Ann McCoy Beck

age: 75

born: March 30, 1939

died: Aug. 31, 2014

community: Johns Island

education: St. Andrews High School (1957); bachelor's from University of South Carolina (1961); master's from Medical University of South Carolina (1964); doctorate of veterinary medicine from Michigan State University (1968)

survived by: Daughter Betty Ann "Babs" Craig (Michael); son Frank E. Beck (Thuy); brother Howard G. "Bud" McCoy (Diane); and grandchildren.

today's memorial service: A casual drop-in memorial event will be held from 2-5 p.m. today at Wide Awake Plantation, 5149 Trexlar Ave. in Hollywood. Open to family, friends, clients and others who knew Beck.

Dr. Ann McCoy Beck cared for an owl named Snap, a hawk named Harry, a pelican named Percy, and doves named Donnie and Marie.

From the forests to the beaches, she devoted her life to the health and safety of all God's creatures, great and small, according to her obituary. She continued to see her animal "clients" two or three days a week well into her 70s.

Beck died Aug. 31. She was 75.

Beck's love for animals began when the Savannah Highway Auto Mile was nothing but farm fields, according to her daughter, Betty Ann "Babs" Craig.

"Back then, this area was considered really far out from town ... There weren't many kids, so animals quickly became her friends," Craig said.

Other than the requisite domesticated farm animals, there were the wild raccoons, squirrels, turtles and birds. And then there was the goat ... the one that ended up with his hair dyed to match the color of the season, according to Beck's brother, Howard "Bud" McCoy. They would dye his hair pink or blue for Easter and red or green for Christmas. Perhaps the goat was the beginning?

But McCoy also recalled their rescue of an injured osprey, and attributed that to the start of Beck's career in helping wildlife and domestic animals.

"It had a broken wing and (we) designed a splint and tended the young bird until it was able to be released into the wild," he said. It always stayed in the marsh behind the house and on a couple of occasions "flew up into the backyard as if to say thank you for taking care of me," he said.

Beck was born and raised in Charleston and returned to the Lowcountry after earning her doctorate of veterinary medicine from Michigan State University. According to Craig, she faced obstacles and discrimination because she was going into a predominately male field in the late 1960s.

"She believed that everyone could do anything they wanted to do, if they really set their mind to it," Craig said. "It was because of that tenacity and her beliefs that she was one of the hundreds ... that helped change the way others think about women" during that time.

In 1974, Beck opened the Sea Islands Veterinary Hospital on James Island with colleague Dr. Keith Bryan, joined later by Dr. Jean McKee Thompson and rehabilitator Jean Pfaff.

They were ahead of the game and offered wildlife treatment services before the Center for Birds of Prey and the South Carolina Aquarium were in existence.

They "operated on, treated, rehabbed and released over a thousand animals back into the wild," said Charlotte Hope, a wildlife biologist with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

"They assisted the DNR with animals ranging from marine mammals, endangered species, birds of prey to sea turtles. It was Dr. Beck's enthusiasm and passion that got this train rolling," Hope said.

In addition to the daily treatment and rehabilitation work, the veterinary clinic reached out to the community with awareness campaigns.

According to a 1978 News and Courier story, Beck and Pfaff would close the hospital once a month to visit Charleston area schools and educate the children.

They put together a program, "trying to instill the love of (Lowcountry) wildlife and their place in the environment," Pfaff said. "Ann's personality and abilities made this program a success."

Snap, Harry and Percy were part of the show-and-tell and Beck would discuss the ill effects of littering and pesticides. This ultimately led to the Sea Island Wildlife Program that they developed in the 1980s.

McCoy said that she educated the kids in the family, as well. "She was always teaching," he said. "It just came naturally to her."

Beck's passion in life was to be a provider for those animals. "She would go to the ends of the earth to help them," Craig said. "Nothing was too much."

She was "extremely dedicated to her work," said her son, Frank Beck.

Dr. Cindy Cleland-Austin, a vet school classmate of Beck's and godmother to her children, remembered her making a sort of prosthesis out of fiberglass for cracked shells of tortoises.

The clinic would remove fish hooks from sea turtles, set fractures in bald eagles and respond to stranded whales. "No animal was turned away," Hope said. They were "the pioneers that stepped up ... to take care of our state's resources for neither money nor fame."

But with that intense passion came intense loss. The hardest thing Beck had to do, both Craig and McCoy said, was to put an animal down. "She was so upset for not being able to save an animal that she had grown to love over the years, " McCoy said.

In 1987, Beck was awarded the inaugural Humanitarian Award from the South Carolina Association of Veterinarians.

As Cleland-Austin sees it, "she impressed so many with her work with wildlife that they wanted to give her an award ... so they invented (this one) just for her. The award's been given out 13 times since, but Annie was the first."

Beck would "probably tell you that her greatest trophies are all the animals she healed," said Craig.

After coming across letters from former schoolchildren that Beck lectured to, Craig believes "those letters are the greatest testament because those kids are bringing up their kids now, so she will continue to affect lives long after she is gone. The story continues."

Reach Liz Foster at 937-5581.