Henry Prentiss Becton, former Chairman of Becton Dickinson & Co. and a lifelong singer and sailing enthusiast, died of complications from congestive heart failure in Blue Hill, Maine, on October 25th. He was 95 years old.
Known as "Hank" by his colleagues and friends, he spent his professional life working for BD (Becton, Dickinson and Company), the international medical instruments company co-founded by his father, first as a salesman in the midwest, then as Executive Vice President and eventually as Chairman of the Board.
“Hank was the living embodiment of BD's purpose and values. His glowing smile was the very face of BD,” said Ed Ludwig, BD Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. “It was an honor to know Hank personally and to be mentored by him as I grew in the Company.”
During his tenure, BD went public, and grew from 600 employees and sales of $2.5 million to 29,000 associates and $7 billion in annual revenues, becoming one of the most admired companies among the Fortune 500, a member of the Dow Jones Sustainability and World Indexes, and one of the world’s most ethical companies by Ethisphere magazine. Hank retired from the Board of Directors in 1987 but he continued to be active and engaged in the company for many years. In 1997, for BD's 100th anniversary year, Hank traveled the world to speak to and celebrate with BD associates.
At BD, Hank was much loved. The annual quality award for BD locations is named after him, as is one of the two buildings at the Company’s Franklin Lakes, New Jersey headquarters. He was a regular member of the headquarters bowling league and the founder of the BD Alumni Association. When the East Rutherford, New Jersey high school burned down, BD donated land for a new school renamed the Henry P. Becton Regional High School.
Hank was also heavily involved in New Jersey civic life. For more than four decades, he served as a board member and vice chairman of Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, where the School of Nursing is named after him. He was also a longtime director and vice chairman of National Community Bank, now part of Bank of New York/Mellon. He was a borough councilman of Rutherford, New Jersey, a director of the Bergen County and New Jersey Chambers of Commerce, a founding director of the Community Chest of Bergen County, now the United Way, and a founding commissioner of the New Jersey Public Broadcasting Authority.
Hank was born at his home in Rutherford, New Jersey, on September 15, 1914, to Maxwell and Valerie Becton. As a youth, he became a member of Boy Scout Troop 6 in Rutherford. His troop took a Holland American ocean liner to England in 1929 to attend the International Boy Scout Jamboree in Liverpool, England. Sixty-two years later the Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America conferred on him the honor and rank of Distinguished Eagle Scout.
After two years at Rutherford High, Hank attended the Taft School in Connecticut and then went on to Yale University, graduating in 1937. His devotion to Yale and to singing were intertwined throughout his life. Hank was a member of the Yale Glee Club and the internationally renowned singing group, The Whiffenpoofs. The current “Whiff” group gathered in Blue Hill, Maine, this past August, at the end of their 22-country centennial tour to sing for Hank, their oldest living member, at his summer home. The words to several songs in the Yale Songbook were written by Hank. He was awarded the Yale Medal in 1974 for distinguished service to the University, and the Becton Center for Engineering and Applied Science at Yale bears his name.
Shortly after graduation, he met his future wife, Jean Sprague Coggan, with whom he chose to elope on June 16, 1942. They celebrated their 66th wedding anniversary a month before she died in July, 2008.
Soon after their marriage, Hank was drafted into the army and sent overseas to serve in the war effort. Jean surprised him by giving birth to fraternal twins, also to be named Henry and Jean, while he was stationed in England. In the coming years they would become the proud parents of three more children—Jeffery in 1947, Cynthia in 1951, and Lizabeth in 1952.
Hank also loved to sing with his musical family. In the earlier years he organized a quartet with his wife and their teenage twins, and several of his children and grandchildren sang in college singing groups as well. His love of music led him to the presidency of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, and to be one of the founders of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.
Hank and Jean spent their summers on the Maine coast where he soon took up sailing and quickly became an enthusiast for the sport, eventually becoming Commodore of the Kollegewidgwok Yacht Club. He raced their 42 ft yawl, Ariana, to Bermuda, Halifax and elsewhere, winning his class in the Block Island Race and others. Several of his children were Maine State Champions, and two of his granddaughters sailed on the Yale championship sailing team. A growing number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who called him “Poppy” spent their summers with him in Maine. On still, early mornings, he delighted in taking them rowing out to the nearby ledges to collect starfish, periwinkles and sea urchins, or fishing for mackerel behind their wooden powerboat, Blue Jean, named for his wife.
Hank was also a lifelong pilot, flying his own Air Coupe and then Navion single-engine planes, back and forth between a small unpaved airstrip in Blue Hill and Teterboro Airport in New Jersey.
He and his wife had resided in recent years at The Moorings in Vero Beach, Florida, while continuing to summer in Maine. In addition to his five children, Hank is survived by his fourteen grandchildren and nine great grandchildren. During the last few years, Hank and his wife were cared for by a staff of kind, devoted caregivers to whom the family offers special thanks. Contributions in his name can be sent to the Blue Hill Memorial Hospital, 57 Water Street, Blue Hill, Maine, 04614-5231, the Blue Hill Heritage Trust, P.O. Box 222, Blue Hill, Maine, 04614, or the Henry P. Becton School of Nursing & Allied Health, Fairleigh Dickinson University, 1000 River Road, H-DH4-02, Teaneck, NJ 07666. Services are planned in New Jersey in the coming weeks and for the family in Blue Hill this coming summer.