Our Ole Friend Dewey
By David Chaltas and Steve Lundberg
We all thought we knew Dewey, but we were mistaken. William ‘Dewey’ Beard was like an iceberg in that we only saw the surface. He was a man of many hats and possessed talents beyond our wildest imaginings. He was a reenactor, historian, musician, singer, author, and actor. He performed in Operas, stunned the audience in karaoke impromptus, and churches. But most of all, he was a true friend and a strong Christian. His smile radiated throughout the room and when you met him on the field, his genuineness, gentleness, and kindness always made you feel welcome and important. He had a heart of gold and humble in nature. And who could forget that smile and impish prankster nature he possessed.
What can we say about Dewey? His life and his memories speaks volumes about the man. Lance Dawson, one of Dewey’s dear friends stated that trying to define Dewey was like needing an undiscovered color for a coloring book or art project. We agree, he was one of a kind and unique as that yet to be defined color. How can we define Dewey’s legacy? Maybe it is best to share some Dewey Tales and let them define the man.
One of the numerous stories that we have gives you a glimpse into his character. In order to recreate the Battle of Ft. Sanders, a replica of the earthen fort was built. One bright morning as the mist meandered over the field, we were awakened to the sound of Amazing Grace. When we looked upon the fort, there stood Dewey praising God in that voice that the angels coveted. He didn’t do it for show, but rather for the simple joy of praising God in the early day break light.
Jerry Patterson of the 63rd Tennessee, shared a story about Dewey at Fort Dickerson. Dewey had played and sang a few period songs. A man approached him and asked Dewey if he could sing any of AC/DC music. Dewey replied, “Which singer?” and proceeded to amaze the man with his range and musical abilities. Many recalled the many different characters he portrayed. At times he put on the
uniform of a World War I Veteran, and on other occasions, he wore a World War II uniform. During highland games he dressed in his plaid tartans. One story was that he was to meet in Knoxville with a few of his friends. They looked everywhere and didn’t see him until the ‘band’ came marching along playing. Right in the middle of the group was ole Dewey playing and marching away!
He was a Civil War reenactor that honored both blue and gray. He wore his Confederate uniform with the same dignity that he wore his Union one. But he didn’t just dress in different uniforms, he was a walking encyclopedia of knowledge. If you got him started on a historical subject, you were in for a full explanation of the significance of events that transpired.
While talking with our mutual friend, Ken, he made a very important observance. During the service paying homage to Dewey, there were several videos with Dewey performing. At the very last, he played taps at a cemetery. Noting that, Ken stated, “Dewey is the only man who sang and played taps at his own funeral.” That summates our beloved friends last gift to us all.
Our friend Steven Lundberg offers the following tribute to our good ole friend Dewey. William “Dewey” Beard suddenly left this mortal coil by God’s grace on August 21, 2022, much to the dismay of everyone he has ever loved and touched in his fifty-seven years among us. His loving sweetheart Ann Martin, lifelong friend Dana Rice and others so accurately and emotionally conveyed that they have a hole in their hearts that could only be filled by one man – Dewey. The rest of us nod in agreement.
We are honoring to the best of our ability a man who we and countless others knew was a dear friend, an historical scholar, author, actor, musical performer, and musician and who he personally characterized as, “Your good ole friend Dewey.” We think his most cherished moniker is being known as the latter; “Your good ole friend Dewey.” That is how we remember him. We attempt to pay tribute to a man we knew and who enriched our lives and so many others just by knowing him. No life so lived can be summarized in a short article. Dewey Beard had a curiosity of a great many things and devoted his time and energy in pursuit of everything that piqued that curiosity with zeal and his utmost effort. He was a Renaissance man on many levels. Whatever he was interested in, he pursued with unbounded passion.
Dewey never met anyone who was not his friend. Your first meeting with Dewey meant that you were part of his extended family. You just knew that immediately. Dewey was the finest example of a man of service and selflessness. He put everyone above himself and there was nothing he would not sacrifice or do for someone else regardless of the situation. You were always happy to have been with Dewey and felt your time was better and life enriched spent in his presence.
As for his passions, they were many. No one put himself more into the details and depths of things that interested him in or had a talent for than he did. Dewey Beard was an historical author and scholar in his own right particularly related to East Tennessee and the Civil War. If you had a question about anything, he was someone you went to and he would either have the answer or knew how to get it. Einstein said that genius was not knowing the answer is but knowing how to find it. For many of us Dewey was our “go to” if we wanted to know something or gain historical perspective on a person or event. What a treasure and blessing he was to all of us.
Dewy Beard was also a singer and first-class performer and musician on a professional level. He had an opportunity to sing opera professionally. Dewey chose another path but that meant we were blessed with his talents, singing in our Civil War reenacting camps, playing bugle, or singing on the WBIR Heartland Series, at his church on the stage, or to his friends including Ann Martin who recalled a particular snowy Christmas eve, The power was out, and Dewey, wearing his stocking cap picked up his mandolin and sang Christmas songs to Ann including a favorite, “O Holy Night.” He wanted to make the moment special, focused on the meaning of the night and make his dear Ann happy. That was who Dewey was.
All of us who knew Dewey wish to say, “Thank you Dewey for the lessons you taught us on and off the field. Your Christian testimony, your wisdom, your kindness, that amazing voice and musical talents, and that humorous ‘pixie’ demeanor that brought us so much joy will be missed. But we are a better people because of you. We will do our best to embrace life on life’s terms and be kinder, more understanding, and show love through our actions because God graciously allowed our paths to cross.”
WILLIAM ‘DEWEY’ BEARD III OBITUARY
William Arley (DEWEY) Beard III, age 57, of Knoxville, TN and longtime resident of Strawberry Plains, Tennessee, passed away suddenly on Sunday, August 21, 2022, at his residence in Knoxville. He was a member of the 79th New York Highlanders, Kyle Masonic Lodge #422 F&AM, Lakeway Civil War Preservation Association, General Longstreet Museum, and Knoxville Civil War Roundtable. His many personal accomplishments included acting/singing (UT and Knoxville Opera Companies, Dollywood, Encore Theater); Historian (appearances on the History Channel, PBS, The Heartland Series, local tours) along with invited lectures (local colleges and high schools). Dewey was also a published historical author (“Blue Springs,” “History of the 79th New York Cameron Highlanders 1859-1876”, and “Strawberry Plains Tennessee 1861-1865.”)
A tremendous voice is now silent, but his legacy will live on in the hearts of all he touched and through his expansive collection of rare historical items. A Foundation for these items will be established to share with Museums and Historical Organizations. Preceded in death by father, William Arley (Bill) Beard II. He is survived by his loving mother, Stella Beard of Baton Rouge, LA; special longtime partner, Anne Martin of Knoxville; sister, Kim Beard Pollard (Brian) of Knoxville; niece, Chelsea Pollard of Knoxville; and nephew, Alex Pollard of Murfreesboro. There are also several aunts, cousins, and one remaining uncle. Central to his life were his numerous friends met through acting/singing, schools, reenactments, and karaoke.
A Memorial service was held at 3:00 p.m. Saturday, August 27, 2022, at Central United Methodist Church, 201 3rd Avenue, Knoxville, TN 37917 with Rev. Jimmy Sherrod officiating. Family received friends from 1:00 until 3:00 p.m. prior to the service. Family and friends gathered at 1:45 p.m. Sunday, August 28, 2022, at Beaver Creek Baptist Church Cemetery, 845 Beaver Creek Road, Strawberry Plains, TN for a 2:00 p.m. graveside service.