Richard Beck was born in Svínaskálastekkur in Reydarfjördur, Iceland on June 9, 1897.
Richard’s parents, Hans Kjartan Beck and Thorunn Vigfúsina Vigfúsdóttir lived in Litlu-Breidavik in Reydarfjördur in Eastern Iceland. Richard’s father, Hans Kjartan Beck, born February 9, 1868, died December 1907. Hans’s parents were Niels Richard Beck (a merchant and farmer first in Eskifjördur and later in Svínaskálastekkur) and Sofía Thorvaldsdóttir from Eyrarland). Richard’s mother, Thorunn Vigfúsina Vigfúsdóttir was born on June 29, 1870 and died on February 19, 1958. Thorunn’s parents were Vigfús Eiriksson (a farmer in Litla-Breidavik) and Valgerdu Thórólfsdóttur.
Richard graduated from high school in Reykjavik in 1920. He married Olöf Daníelsdóttir on October 10, 1920, and she died on March 22, 1921. Richard and his widowed mother, Thorunn, emigrated to Winnipeg, Manitioba, Canada in the fall of 1921, where she made her home until her death in 1958. In 1922, Richard went to Cornell University at Ithaca, N.Y. for graduate work in English and Scandinavian languages and literature. He received his M.A. there in 1924, and his Ph.D. from the same university in 1926.
Richard taught at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota from 1926- 28 and Thiel College, Greenville, Pennsylvania from 1928-29. In 1929, he joined the staff of the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, North Dakota. He was the head of the department of modern and classical languages there for nine years. During his UND tenure, he published fifteen books and more than five hundred articles. He retired in 1967 after thirty- eight years with the university. Richard received many honors for his achievements as a teacher, scholar, writer and poet. In 1969, the University of North Dakota conferred upon him an honorary doctor of literature degree. He also was awarded two honorary doctorates from the University of Iceland.
Richard married Bertha (Una Kristbjorg) in Ithaca, New York April 9, 1925. They had two children: Margaret Helen who was born in Greenville, Pennsylvania on August 9, 1929, and Richard Jr. who was born in Grand Forks, North Dakota on January 6, 1933. Bertha died in Grand Forks on October 21, 1958.
Richard was very active in Icelandic and Scandinavian organizations. He was also the honorary consul of Iceland for North Dakota. He was invited to speak in Iceland on June 17, 1944, on the occasion of the founding of the Icelandic Republic. He was the president of the Icelandic National League of North America whic he represented in 1969 when Iceland observed the 25th anniversary of the founding of the republic. He also delivered two addresses to help mark the 1,100th anniversary of the settlement of Iceland in the summer of 1974 when he was again a special guest of the Icelandic government.
Richard married Margaret Jacobina Einarsdottir Brandson in June 1961. They moved to Victoria in 1967 when he retired. In a ceremony at their home on December 16, 1971, Richard and Margaret presented a token volume of their 2,500 volume personal library of Icelandic and Scandinavian books as a B.C. Centennial gift to the University of Victoria in memory of their pioneer parents. The rest of the collection was transferred gradually to the University, and completely when the donors no longer had any particular use for it. Richard and Margaret also made provision in their wills for a special fund to be established at the University of Victoria to provide public lectures on Icelandic literature and culture. Richard died at the age of 83 on July 23, 1980. He was survived by his wife, son Richard of Iowa, daughter Margaret of California, brother Valdi Beck of Winnipeg, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. Margaret Beck passed away on December 10, 1985. The first "Richard and Margaret Beck Lecture on Icelandic Literature" took place on February 14, 1988.
Dr. Patricia Baer
Department of Literature, University of Victoria,