Beryl Ford

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I was sad to learn of the death of Beryl Ford, the collector of historic Tulsa photographs and ephemera. Ford was 83. Every Tulsan with a desire to understand our city's past owes him an immense debt of gratitude.

I can't find words strong enough to explain how important his life's work is to our ability to understand Tulsa history. The Beryl Ford Collection, now in the hands of the Tulsa Historical Society thanks to the Rotary Club of Tulsa, is an irreplaceable part of our city's collective memory. The earliest years of Tulsa are no longer a part of living memory, but Ford's collection gives us some idea of what it was like. The Ford collection shows us central Tulsa at its post-war peak. It also shows us its dismantling.

Increasingly, baby boomers have to turn to the Ford collection to see the places we remember from our 1950s and 1960s childhoods, as mid-century businesses are lost to highway expansion, redevelopment, and renovation.

The collective memory is a tricky thing. We develop myths about how things used to be and how they came to be the way they are now. (E.g., "the Greenwood gap".) For Tulsa the Beryl Ford Collection, alongside other contemporaneous records like phone books, street directories, and newspapers, helps to correct the false memories and the false explanations they engender.

Mr. Ford's passing is a reminder of the work that still needs to be done to make the most of what he left us. I still hope to see high resolution scans put online with Flickr Commons, so they can be geocoded, tagged, and described in detail.

Here is a link to past BatesLine items that make reference to the Beryl Ford Collection.

MORE: From the comments, a tribute from Mark Sanders, one of Beryl Ford's cousins:

Thanks, Michael, for honoring Beryl Ford on your blog. We do owe him a debt of gratitude. As you know, Beryl was my second cousin, and my own fascination with Tulsa history is due in large measure to my access to Beryl's collection while he still owned it.

Tulsans should understand and appreciate that Beryl's relentless collecting - particularly at times when preservation of historical assets was not a culturally-valued pursuit, i.e. the 1970s - was motivated solely by his love for Tulsa and the highest ideals of preservation. The pursuit of financial gain was never part of his personal agenda. As he began to feel his own mortality in recent years, he looked to place the Collection, not with the highest bidder(s), but with an institution that would keep it together and make it readily available to the citizens of Tulsa. I, like you, trust that the Historical Society and Library will do all that is required to make this collection a powerful and accessible historical resource. One of the tragedies of Beryl's passing is that we have now lost the Collection's most capable geocoder/tagger/describer. Hopefully, other old-timers and students of Tulsa history will step up to that important task.

Finally, Tulsans should know something of the character of Beryl Ford, and the intensity of his affection - and that of the entire Ford family - for Tulsa. Beryl is a life-long Tulsan, but the Ford family's roots in Tulsa came about quite by happenstance. In the 1910s, when Beryl's father, Jewell (then a teenager), ran away from the family farm near Sallisaw, his grandfather (my great-grandfather), Nathaniel, followed up a rumored sighting in Tulsa, and took a train there - intent , literally, to walk the streets until he found his son. It wasn't necessary - within 2 blocks of the train station he met him on the street. Jewell immediately regaled his father with stories of ample construction job opportunities in Tulsa's booming economy. Nathaniel - who was a pioneer of the Pentecostal movement in Oklahoma - took all this as a sign that the family should move to Tulsa. So he returned to the farm, put the draft animals on a railcar and moved the household to Tulsa to begin a horse-driven excavation business. Some of Tulsa's existing landmark buildings, and - sadly - some that are now surface parking, were Ford excavated.

Beryl, like most of the other Fords, made his living in the building trades. He was never part of Tulsa's ruling class or social elite, but he made a contribution to Tulsa's history every bit as meaningful as that of any storied oil baron or newspaper publisher. And like the most of the rest of his family, he lived simply (in Tulsa's McClure Park neighborhood), valuing faith, family and community over the accumulation of wealth and status.

May he rest in peace; and may we all follow his fine civic example.

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4 Comments

Yogi Author Profile Page said:

Some people zone out by watching tv. My favorite zoning out is randomly checking out the Beryl Ford photographs on the library web site. You can find some amazing stuff there.
It would be great if they were indexed or tagged there.
It seems like Mr. Ford was a great guy. His collection is a treasure.

Mark Author Profile Page said:

Thanks, Michael, for honoring Beryl Ford on your blog. We do owe him a debt of gratitude. As you know, Beryl was my second cousin, and my own fascination with Tulsa history is due in large measure to my access to Beryl's collection while he still owned it.

Tulsans should understand and appreciate that Beryl's relentless collecting – particularly at times when preservation of historical assets was not a culturally-valued pursuit, i.e. the 1970s – was motivated solely by his love for Tulsa and the highest ideals of preservation. The pursuit of financial gain was never part of his personal agenda. As he began to feel his own mortality in recent years, he looked to place the Collection, not with the highest bidder(s), but with an institution that would keep it together and make it readily available to the citizens of Tulsa. I, like you, trust that the Historical Society and Library will do all that is required to make this collection a powerful and accessible historical resource. One of the tragedies of Beryl’s passing is that we have now lost the Collection’s most capable geocoder/tagger/describer. Hopefully, other old-timers and students of Tulsa history will step up to that important task.

Finally, Tulsans should know something of the character of Beryl Ford, and the intensity of his affection – and that of the entire Ford family – for Tulsa. Beryl is a life-long Tulsan, but the Ford family’s roots in Tulsa came about quite by happenstance. In the 1910s, when Beryl’s father, Jewell (then a teenager), ran away from the family farm near Sallisaw, his grandfather (my great-grandfather), Nathaniel, followed up a rumored sighting in Tulsa, and took a train there – intent , literally, to walk the streets until he found his son. It wasn’t necessary – within 2 blocks of the train station he met him on the street. Jewell immediately regaled his father with stories of ample construction job opportunities in Tulsa’s booming economy. Nathaniel – who was a pioneer of the Pentecostal movement in Oklahoma – took all this as a sign that the family should move to Tulsa. So he returned to the farm, put the draft animals on a railcar and moved the household to Tulsa to begin a horse-driven excavation business. Some of Tulsa’s existing landmark buildings, and – sadly – some that are now surface parking, were Ford excavated.

Beryl, like most of the other Fords, made his living in the building trades. He was never part of Tulsa’s ruling class or social elite, but he made a contribution to Tulsa’s history every bit as meaningful as that of any storied oil baron or newspaper publisher. And like the most of the rest of his family, he lived simply (in Tulsa’s McClure Park neighborhood), valuing faith, family and community over the accumulation of wealth and status.

May he rest in peace; and may we all follow his fine civic example.

Thanks, Mark, for sharing these insights into your cousin's passion and his background.

fbc Author Profile Page said:

Wow. I had no idea that Mr. Ford had died this week. My law firm assisted Beryl in finding a buyer for his collection a few years ago.

Another lawyer in our office, was the one who handled it, but one day I happened to walk out just as Beryl and his wife were leaving the offices.

It's the closest I've ever come to being starstruck. "You're Beryl Ford!" I stammered, like an idiot. He just smiled, kind of a goofy "what-kind-of-nut-is-this?" smile. The kind you'd smile at lunatic.

I introduced myself and got a big thrill out of shaking his hand. I've been a huge fan of his all of my life.

May God bless and keep Beryl.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on May 11, 2009 11:47 PM.

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