One of my favorite memories from law school was at the start of my second year.
Background: I am older than most of my classmates and “follicularly challenged.” As a full-time student with no professional obligations, I figured this was a great opportunity to do something irrational and funny with no repercussions – I dyed my remaining hair platinum blond right before the school year began.
I had taken Professor Becker’s Property class as a 1L and hadn’t seen him since the school year began. A few days into the school year, Professor Becker walked by a table at which I was sitting in the commons. After passing me, he stopped in his tracks, turned around, and said “Mr. Slavinsky, I think I preferred you as a brunette.” I’m sure I caught the hint of a smile as he turned and walked away.
I work in New York City now and see more outrageous students on a regular basis – they always make me think of this story and I always laugh. Ironically, it’s become a kind of rule for perpetuities.
Congratulations on 50 great years!
Chris Slavinsky, School of Law, Class of 2003, Survivor of Prof. Becker 1L Property
Last week I rode my bike through the WU campus. Much changed since I attended. I passed January Hall, then what use to be Mudd Hall and the finally Anheuser Busch Hall. Reflecting upon how the campus and University have changed, I couldn’t help but feel that the one constant throughout these many years was everyone’s favorite professor David Becker. David along with Sandy, have helped give the law school a distinct personality and his memories of his students and their families as well as their interests makes him a unique and irreplaceable treasure.
I was fortunate to have Professor Becker for several classes in law school and equally fortunate to reconnect socially with David and Sandy several years after graduation. David was able to recall occurrences during my years in class that made me realize that he remembers in such great detail because he cares and was genuinely interested. David showed particular interest in my growing up in Mississippi and made me aware, maybe for the first time, of how special and unique my experiences were. Of course David made a lot of connections between my early life and the lives of other law students that he taught and knew.
Later in my career I had a trust issue involving Missouri’s Rule against Perpetuities. I quickly discovered that David knew more about the Rule than anyone on the planet (surprise!). After reading David’s several articles on the topic, I called David to discuss my situation. David was generous with his time and gave me good practical advice about solving my problem.
When my son, Micah, enrolled in law school, I was comforted in knowing that David was an “honorary parent” who looked after Micah. David did not disappoint Micah or me.
Thus I feel myself fortunate to have David in my life, as a teacher and friend and I am happy to share in his special celebration.
Al Rose (1970)
Professor Becker (OK, maybe, just maybe, I’ll have the nerve to accept his many invitations to call him “David” one of these days) is one of those very rare persons I’ve known who exude some kind of “higher power” that strikes you the minute you meet him. For those of us fortunate enough to have gotten to know him beyond earning the “I Survived Becker’s Property Class” t-shirt, we have learned how one person can impact so many solely by being a genuine and caring human being and appreciating life for what it is and has to offer and not diminishing it for what it otherwise might have been. I regret not making the effort to stay in closer touch with him but am grateful for the opportunity to help celebrate a man who likely would prefer a cold beer and a Cubs World Series win over the celebration he so rightly deserves. Congratulations, David!
Nick Varsam, Class of 1990
I just remember my fiancé coming to visit his property class sitting in the back to be hidden in old January Hall. Prof. then proceeded to call on all 8 students circling her, never asking what she was doing there. He is my fondest memory in law school. Would have been to STL but had to be in Chicago as my daughter is getting married. Priorities?
Dave Becker has been a great friend and mentor since my first year of law school in 1981. I arrived, largely clueless about what I had gotten myself into, having just completed a rather undistinguished career in the NFL. I compounded my circumstances by agreeing to serve as an assistant coach on the Wash U football team during my first semester. Just keeping pace with other students was a constant challenge. I needed lots of help.
Professor Becker was my first year property prof, and although he initially appeared to me as more intimidating than my last coach, Don Shula, I always felt a great comfort in his classes. Early on, I discovered what many others knew of him–he so capably directed even confused students like me through the day’s materials by his artful questioning, finding indirect paths even when the first, direct questions, were met with blank stares, that I never worred about leaving embarrassed by my ineptitude. One double class period stands out–where he stayed with me the entire time, addressing multiple hypotheticals on the rule against perpetuities. I survived the process and gained a great deal of confidence in my abilities as a result.
We also played a great many games together, basketball, softball and golf, both while I was in school and as teammates on the “Law Jocks” softball team in Forest Park after my graduation. Our long-term nemesis was a team sponsored by Dave Sinclair Ford, with Dave Sinclair, Sr. typically pitching for that team. The two Daves were near the same age and both were extremely competitive. I don’t know that I recall a happier Dave Becker than the night we beat Sinclair’s team for the league championship and celebrated at a local restaurant. Wonderful memories of Dave running around in his favorite, bright red, softball pants.
Finally, Dave’s clear interest in the lives of others has always been a hallmark of him. Each of my visits with him was marked by an intense but supportive focus on my life in the practice of law, but also a sincere interest in the other circumstances of my life: my marriage, kids and other important aspects of my life. I always left our meetings assured that I had a strong supporter and advocate.
Congratulations to Professor Becker on his great accomplishments and thanks for his role in my life.
Pete Woods, Class of 1984
My Professor Becker memory comes from his first year Real Property class. He called on me with a question regarding the difference between determinable and conditional fees and I answered, uncertainly, with everything I could recall on the subject from studying the night before. Professor Becker paused for a moment, then said slowly but emphatically, “That’s exactly right.” I was startled for a moment as this was not something one heard often (or ever!) from law professors. It still stands out for me as one brief, bright moment in an otherwise shaky freshman year.
Of course, the remainder of the recitation went downhill from there. And, as I recall, when Professor Becker introduced new subjects, the first student to recite on the subject became the one he would call on later when knowledge or clarification on that subject was needed. Hence, I continued to field, not very cleanly, various questions regarding conditional fees for the rest of the semester. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the class and Professor Becker’s style.
Congratulations, David, on your amazing 50-year teaching accomplishment and enjoy the celebration. And, thanks for the memory.
Stephen E. Martin JD ’73
David is a superb teacher and compassionate grader. Why do I say that? He knew instinctively that I was struggling in his property class freshman year. He told me not to worry, saying some students don’t get it right away, some take until Christmas, and some even to Easter. I was the Easter Bunny. I barely got by property thanks to David’s allowing me to pass by the narrowest margin which gave me the chance to catch-on and pass on to the next year, again by a hair. I did relatively well the next two years thanks in large measure to David. He was and is a Saint and I shall always remember him as the person most responsible for making it through.
Sincerely, Dick Platt ’71
My best regards and wishes go to David, outstanding teacher and memorable friend for half a century and onward.
I can still clearly picture him in his classroom which is a cherished memory to me. I am sure that all the professors wanted their students to learn the law; to be able to handle themselves well as lawyers; to become good practicing lawyers. I thought David went beyond and made it feel that we were already in a law firm, discussing the problem together as equals. Solving legal problems was challenging and satisfying. On a human scale, it gave me confidence about becoming a lawyer, which, in the long run, was priceless.
Please relay my fondest mahalo and aloha.
-Joseph A. Kinoshita JD66
Congratulations on 50 years of inspiring teaching. David not only inspired me as a law student but guided me in his courses to appreciate the intellectual aspects of legal study accompanied with respect for me as a student. His strength as a scholar and his humility as a human being stand as a model for teachers everywhere. I have tried to emulate these qualities in my own teaching career and as a trial lawyer. Many thanks for what he has given students over his career.
-John Gilbert, JD75
I am a 1968 graduate of the WU School of Law and was privileged as a first year student to have Professor Becker as a teacher of property law. To this day the words “fee tail male,” ”fee tail female” and “rule against perpetuities” send cold chills up my spine. It may be that those days in Professor Becker’s property class had a strong influence in my deciding to become a tax attorney, a field in which I am still practicing, although I would venture to observe that tax law does not provide much more certainty as to conclusions than does property law. Dr. Becker was one of several exceptional teachers in our freshman year. His quiet demeanor and insightful analysis did exactly what a law professor is supposed to do—he taught me to think analytically—a trait that has carried me well in my career. Please add my name to what I am sure is a long list of former students saying “thank you” and best wishes to Dr. Becker.
-Lawrence Weltman JD68