Dr. Michael Beer of Baltimore, a retired biophysics pioneer at Johns Hopkins University who founded an environmental organization dedicated to planting trees and cleaning up urban streams, died of a heart attack on August 22 at the age of 88. To many, he was an inspiring example of how to live with nature, love your neighbors, and age with grace and purpose.
After his retirement from Hopkins in 1995, Dr. Beer dedicated himself to cleaning up and improving the Stony Run park behind his home in the Evergreen neighborhood of North Baltimore. He planted and watered hundreds of native trees and flowering bushes.
As co-founder of the Jones Falls Association, Dr. Beer recruited thousands of students and neighbors to clean not only the Stony Run, but also the larger waterway into which it flows, the Jones Falls, which empties into Baltimore's Inner Harbor.
In a city where it is sometimes hard to get the government even to do even small things, Dr. Beer used his optimism and persistence to convince Baltimore officials to shut down a highway -- the Jones Falls Expressway -- and open the dam at Lake Roland for his annual environmental celebration, the Jones Falls Festival.
Rock bands played on the highway, and thousands of people biked and walked down the road to watch kayakers on the river that flows through the city. He also helped the city coordinate a restoration project on the Stony Run that reduced erosion and improved habitat for fish.
“I think the Stony Run is an example where one person can really make a difference based on passion and hard work and a little elbow grease," said Halle Van der Gaag, executive director of Blue Water Baltimore, which merged with the Jones Falls Association in 2010. "This stream would not look like it looks now, and this park wouldn’t look like it looks now, without Dr. Beers advocacy and his real commitment."
But Dr. Beer was not just an old guy who picked up trash in the park. Born in Hungary to a family that immigrated to Canada to avoid the Nazis, Dr. Beer was an important scientist, although you’d never know it, because he never talked about his accomplishments.
Dr. Beer was global pioneer in the development of the electron microscope. As a researcher and eventually Chairman of the Department of Biophysics at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Beer and a colleague built one the world’s first scanning electron microscopes capable of capturing images of individual atoms.