Profile of a Friend

Henry Beerits

Henry Beerits is truly a Renaissance man whose life has spanned more than nine decades. He was born January 12, 1912, in Somerset, Pennsylvania, a small town in the southwestern part of the state. He lived a normal, quiet boyhood with parents John and Florence Beerits and sister Mary who was two years older. He spent two years at Mercersburg (Pennsylvania) Academy, two years at the University of Virginia, and two years at Princeton, where he graduated in 1933.

In September of 1933, as a result of his Princeton thesis, he was asked to come to Washington, D.C., for a year to work on background material for a proposed biography of Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes. This was during the first year of the Roosevelt administration, an exciting time to be in the capitol. After two summers of travel he entered Harvard Law School, graduating in 1938. In his lifetime, Henry’s travels have included all 50 states, Japan, China, and many trips to Europe.

Henry spent his entire law career in Philadelphia, working for a number of firms before staying with Morgan, Lewis & Bockius and specializing in estates. During the years in Philadelphia he was very active in civic affairs. One of the important things he did was serve as chairman of the Joint Committee on City Planning, a group very instrumental in getting active planning going in Philadelphia. This made a big impact on the city. He was also chairman of the Citizens Council on City Planning, representing 175 organizations, and president of the Philadelphia Housing Association, a well-established agency interested in housing for low-income people.

In August of 1943 he married Janet Robinson, a professional artist who had been on the faculty of Wellesley for four years. In the early years of their marriage they lived in Broad Axe and Chester Springs, and then Radnor became their home for 24 years, until their move to Maine in 1978. They have two sons and a daughter and five grandchildren. Their sons both live in Maine: Chris in Alna and Peter in Deer Isle. Daughter Susie in Fairfield, Iowa. Henry and Janet feel very fortunate to have two of their children’s families living so close.
Henry took a leave from legal practice to serve for five years on the staff of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), including three years as associate executive secretary. It was quite a decision to leave his law practice for these years, but he was drawn to the AFSC and wanted to do work of social significance.

Henry was brought up Lutheran, the leading church in his boyhood town, but when he went to college he gravitated to the Episcopal Church. He attended his first Quaker Meeting while working with the AFSC and became a member of Radnor Meeting in 1951. Over the years he was very active in that Meeting and in other Quaker organizations. He was active in the AFSC for thirty years, serving as chairman of the Board of Trustees and on many committees. He was on the boards of Friends Journal and Haverford College. In 1999 he transferred his membership from Radnor to Midcoast Meeting.

In 1972 Henry retired at the youthful age of 60. The summer before, he and Janet had started looking for property in Maine, and in 1972 they bought their Deer Isle summer home which looks out over Pickering Cove. From 1972 until 1978 they spent summers on Deer Isle and winters in Radnor. One of the things he did in those early years of retirement was to work on a part-time basis with the Quaker United Nations Program. He wrote various reports on the U.N. which were circulated to a wide international mailing list. In 1974 he served as chairman of a conference in France, which brought together diplomats and scholars to consider how to save the Mediterranean Sea from biological extinction. This conference involved Palestinians and Israelis talking together in a way that had never happened before. He also wrote a book, The United Nations and Human Survival, published by the AFSC and sold by the U.N. in New York and Geneva.

Henry knew that Janet had a strong desire to live in Maine year round, so when he saw an ad in DownEast Magazine for a house in Sheepscot, (a town he vaguely knew) he followed it up and the couple moved there in 1978. He says, “It is an 1820 house in a very small village on a very broad tidal river, in a setting reminiscent of the English countryside.” Henry was concerned with leaving his Philadelphia activities and starting from scratch, but he found many like-minded people. He and Janet have been very happy with their move of twenty-five years ago.

For many years Henry had been interested in art, and in retirement he began to paint again. Janet‘s background inspired him, but she was careful not to give instruction. At first there were only certain things he thought he could handle—the countryside in Pennsylvania or “diamonds in my own backyard,” but then his horizons broadened. He paints in an unstructured, “naïve” style. His paintings, landscapes in gouache, have been exhibited in many places in Maine and are in private collections. He was also president of the Deer Isle Artists Association for a number of years.

Although art has always been a strong interest, it has been a minor activity in busy retirement years in Maine. Henry’s major focus has been involvement with charitable organizations. After chairing the county chapter of the Red Cross, he became involved in the early 90’s with Miles Hospital in Damariscotta, where he served as president of the board and of the Miles Foundation during a period of new buildings and programs.

In 2002 Henry celebrated his 90th birthday, and today he is active, with a very vigorous mind. He has written, “A primary feature of this stage of life is that, being free of the pressing demands of earlier years, I have found increased opportunity for spiritual development. It is clear to me that each of us is a manifestation of God and that God’s love and wisdom can flow into us, giving us guidance and support in living.”

Henry Beerits is a wise, compassionate man whose presence in our Meeting and in our lives is a gift. We are indeed fortunate that Midcoast Meeting is his spiritual home.

—Deborah Haviland, 4/30/04