Ronnie Beck was a friend, killed in the line of duty in Houston, Texas in 1971. He was run over by a drunk after he stopped another car on Houston’s Southwest Freeway. He was a hero for how he lived.
Ronnie was a character! Although he was only twenty-three years old when his life ended, everyone at the Houston Police Department had a story to tell. I related a few of those tales in a fictional short story published in my book, The Park Place Rangers. A more in-depth look at Ronnie’s life can be found in Fallen Heroes of the Bayou City by Nelson J. Zoch.
He was a hard-charging cop, who worked the night shift and never waited for crime to come to him. He sought it out. But that was just part of his life. He worked an extra-job at a low-income housing project. When he realized many of the young boys with long shaggy hair couldn’t afford haircuts, he bought a pair of clippers and became a part-time barber, albeit one dressed in a police uniform. He volunteered in the Big Brothers Program, becoming a mentor for some of these same kids. Ronnie donated much of his earnings from this extra work to programs designed to keep kids off the streets through athletic and other programs.
Maybe the best compliment was written by Nelson Zoch in his book. He wrote, “In his own way, he (Ronnie) was geared toward the community-oriented approach, which many police administrators have unsuccessfully tried to imitate in later decades.”
Ronnie Beck was from Fordyce, Arkansas. He moved to Houston to become a cop. A tall and affable country boy with a big smile, Ronnie soon earned the nickname Jethro. The name was bestowed upon him because of his enormous appetite and uncanny resemblance to the lovable character by that name on the television show, The Beverly Hillbillies. He’d been married less than three weeks when he was killed. His widow became a Houston officer for a time after his death.
There’s an old saying that a police career can be described as years of pure boredom accentuated by a few moments, interspersed throughout that career, of sheer terror. But Ronnie Beck's career wasn't boring, nor was his life to be defined by those moments of terror that took it.
Had he lived to complete his career, he would have been a legend within the Houston Police community and probably in the lives of underprivileged young people whose lives he impacted. To those who knew him, he is a legend.
We overuse the term hero. Ronnie was a hero, not because he was a policeman, nor because he was killed in the line of duty. He was a hero because of who he was as a man. He would have been a hero, no matter what vocation he had chosen.