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The Art of Being Becky Beaver

The civic activist’s office showcases treasures from her far-flung travels

Published in 2020 Texas Super Lawyers magazine

Becky Beaver should have been preparing for a scheduled trip to Madagascar this spring, but the world was shutting down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She had already canceled visits to Australia and Paris—plus, she had contracted the coronavirus herself. Thankfully, it did not require hospitalization.

Beaver is all about seeing the world—more than 90 countries so far—and bringing pieces of it home to hang on her walls. But any travel plans involving flight are off, she says, until a vaccine is available.

For now, she is enjoying the art that already fills her home and 14-room office. 

“I love family law,” says Beaver. “But art makes me happy.”

In addition to showcasing art from her travels, Beaver’s collection spotlights local artists—including paintings by Jean Rather, a friend who is married to Dan Rather. There’s a Cuban room, a photography room … there’s even a Picasso and two Salvador Dalis. 

Everyone who keeps up with Austin’s civic life has heard of Becky Beaver. Her gregarious personality was a natural fit with close friend Gov. Ann Richards, both of whom were also pals with legendary political columnist Molly Ivins. The three are shown at a large group camping trip in last year’s documentary Raise Hell: The Life & Times of Molly Ivins.

Before the pandemic, Beaver, 67, normally worked in the office more than eight hours a day and found time to play forward twice a week in a full-court pickup game she started 26 years ago. Her National Senior Games Association has always qualified for the national tournament, and she usually attends practice once or twice a month in San Antonio. Ask her height and she reports it precisely: 5-foot-9-1/2 inches.

The same precision is evidenced in her three-page resume, which lists a lifetime of pro bono work, cultural and nonprofit board service, civic and Democratic causes, and fundraising as a celebrity dancer for a Dancing with the Stars event. Beaver has come a long way from her small West Texas hometown, Anson, where dancing and drinking were prohibited.

Her mother was an early childhood teacher who went on to work in middle school administration, and her father was a school superintendent.  

“The only vacations my younger sister and I had were to visit relatives across Texas, and in Louisiana and California,” says Beaver. “My little hometown did not have a lot of cultural resources available to it, so I wanted to make sure my children got to experience other cultures: to see how diverse and fascinating the world is, so that they could make choices and appreciate different religions and people.”

After graduating from University of Texas School of Law, Beaver worked for a small firm that gave her family law cases. “I like how family law allows you to learn about other specialties,” she says. “There’s real estate, trust, oil and gas, bankruptcy, securities, forensic valuation. Psychology is an acquired skill.”

Beaver was in law school when she met future husband John Duncan, who was executive director of the Texas Civil Liberties Union. Their family traveled together through 50 countries and managed a trip through Southeast Asia before Duncan passed away last year. 

“My best travel-art experience comes from a trip to Mexico I made with the director of Austin’s Mexic-Arte Museum about 10 years ago,” says Beaver. “She introduced me to a famous couple in their 80s—Arturo Bustos, the most famous Mexican printmaker, and muralist Rina Lazo. Bustos studied under Frida Kahlo, and Lazo began her career with Diego Rivera.”

After Beaver and her friend arrived at Kahlo’s historic house in Coyoacán, in Mexico City, where Bustos was on a ladder repairing fresco work over the entrance, they shared lunch, tequila and stories. Nearby was Kahlo’s little green stool, represented in some of her famous paintings.

“Then came the moment that I’ll always remember,” says Beaver. “They asked if we would like to try on Frida Kahlo’s clothes!”

Somewhere there is a photo of Beaver dolled up like Kahlo.

Her plan is to retire at 75. Maybe then she will find time to unearth that photo and frame it. 

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