In memoriam: Trudy Harrington Becker
As funny and fierce as she was gentle and loving, Gertrude “Trudy” Harrington Becker’s tenacity and curiosity for life knew no bound.
According to those who loved her, Becker, a senior instructor of history at Virginia Tech, was a million intricacies wrapped into one incredible human being. And when it came to helping those she cared for, no obstacle was insurmountable.
She died, surrounded by family, on Aug. 26. She was 61.
Becker was born in Fall River, Massachusetts, and raised in Boston. She began her career at Virginia Tech in 1991 and quickly became a beloved educator.
“Students loved Trudy because she was determined to know them as students as well as people with lives outside the classrooms, as individuals who had dreams that she helped them pursue through struggles that she helped them address,” said Brett Shadle, a professor and chair of the Department of History. “I'll miss Trudy's spark, her energy, her enthusiasm, her smile. Our department is grieving at the loss of our dear friend and colleague.”
In addition to senior instructor in the history department, Becker served as associate chair from 2011-16. She also served as an affiliate with the classical studies program in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures.
Becker’s commitment to education is evident not only in her life’s work, but in the numerous degrees she earned during her lifetime. After graduating from the College of the Holy Cross in 1983, Becker earned a master’s degree in classics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 2008, she earned her Ph.D. in classics from the University of Florida with a dissertation on fragmentary Roman historians.
While at UNC Chapel Hill, Becker met her best friend and future husband, Andrew Becker. The two eventually moved to Blacksburg, where Trudy earned her master’s degree in history from Virginia Tech. Andrew Becker serves as an associate professor of Latin and and Greek languages in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures.
Becker’s passion for education extended far beyond her own scholastic aspirations. She was a fierce advocate for her three children — her inspiration — and ensured they had every opportunity to flourish.
Her caring and protective nature also extended to her students, many of whom considered her a mentor. Becker strived to ensure her students — especially first-generation or those struggling in their personal or academic lives — felt valued and supported and guided them with a firm but gentle hand.
Daniel Newcomb, a first-generation college student who came to Virginia Tech in 2009, said few people have had as profound of an impact on his life as Becker. Newcomb is now an academic advisor at Virginia Tech.
“Reflecting on Dr. Becker’s impact, I know I would not be where I am today without her,” Newcomb said. “At every major turning point in my young adult life, she was there. She helped me make decisions, she connected me with people, she helped me find opportunities, and she kept me on the right track. She was my mentor, she was my role model, and she was my friend.”
Throughout her career, Becker earned several awards for teaching and advising, including Virginia Tech’s William E. Wine Award for Excellence in Teaching, Alumni Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Academic Advising, and Alumni Award for Excellence in International Education.
Mark Barrow, a professor in the history department who served as chair for nine years, said no one did more to positively shape the experiences of students and colleagues than Becker.
“Through her extensive knowledge, infectious enthusiasm, and ability to relate history through compelling stories, Trudy made the past come alive not only in her classrooms but also in the field while leading dozens of study abroad programs in Europe,” Barrow said. “Her teaching, mentoring, and advising proved transformative for thousands of grateful Virginia Tech students.”
Another former student, Rena Collins, is now a high school teacher. She said Becker was the “calm in the storm” of some of her darkest days, such as her father’s sudden death during her senior year.
“She has served as a mom away from home and a mentor for all things in life, from academics to mental health,” Collins said. “Traveling with the Beckers was more than I could have ever dreamed. Their combined knowledge and apparent love for the classics and each other made the journey unforgettable.”
Several other former students have shared similar sentiments, like Jarrid Dulaney, who first met Becker in her History 1024 class in 2009.
“Here, in a class of well over 300, she circled the auditorium making genuine conversation and personal introductions with as many students as possible before beginning her lecture,” Dulaney said. “What stood out most was when I came back for the second class several days later, she remembered me and called me by name, asking how my first week was going. As a first-generation college student from a small rural high school and struggling to adjust to a ‘big’ place like Virginia Tech, that meant so much.”
Former student Alison Hight double majored in history and classical studies and said Becker soon became a “fixture” in her Blacksburg life.
“At such a formative time when we were trying to figure out how to transition into adulthood, Trudy modeled how to be smart, passionate, and generous all at once," said Hight, who also earned her master’s degree in history from Virginia Tech. “And she showed us the value of community.”
Becker loved traveling and visited more than 20 countries. Rome, her favorite destination, was the home of her scholastic research and countless memories with students, family, and friends.
“Even as her health was failing, she was determined to visit Rome with Andy this past May, surely knowing that it might be the last time she would see the 'Eternal City,'” said her close friend and colleague, Glenn Bugh, an associate professor of history at Virginia Tech. “When the Smithsonian Institution asked me to recommend experienced lecturers for their programs in Rome and Italy, I did not hesitate to suggest Trudy and Andy Becker. If ever there was a ‘wow’ factor in international education, the Beckers owned it.”
Bugh called Becker “the heart” of the classical studies program.
Among her other interests, Becker was an avid reader, a trait she inherited from her parents, and a passionate sports fan. She was considered the “queen of the internet” by her friends for her ability to find anything online.
Along with her husband, Becker is survived by her children and their spouses, Matt and Sarah Becker, Tim and Elizabeth Becker, and Trudy Becker. She also leaves behind three, soon to be four, granddaughters, as well as her brothers and sisters and their families.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to a scholarship fund for Classical Studies and Study Abroad through Virginia Tech’s History Department. Select “History Department Annual Fund” in the “fund section” of the website, and mention Becker in the “in honor/in memory” section.
Donations may also be made by calling 540-231-2828 or 800-533-1144, or by sending a check (with the History Department/Trudy Becker in the memo line) to the Virginia Tech Advancement Division Office of Gift Accounting, located at the University Gateway Center (0336), 902 Prices Fork Road, Blacksburg, VA 24061.
A memorial wreath in Becker’s honor was placed outside of Virginia Tech’s War Memorial Chapel on Sept. 1.
An obituary for Becker can be found here.
Written by Kelsey Bartlet