Daniel Beech (Benemerenti Medal)

Daniel (Danny) Beech was born in Pahiatua in 1942 and attended St Dominic’s School for Deaf Children from the age of 5. Moving to Palmerston North as a young adult, Danny embarked on a life crammed with commitment and loyalty to the NZ Deaf community. With involvement and achievements too numerous to detail, Danny led or contributed to many of the critical and significant advancements in the Deaf community from the early 1970s through to his death in September 2007. Of particular note, was Danny’s involvement in establishing the New Zealand Association of the Deaf; his work with the Manawatu and Auckland Deaf Societies; establishing NZSL interpreter training in NZ; and his tireless work for the Catholic Deaf Ministry in NZ. It was for this area of service that Pope John Paul II awarded Danny the Benemerenti (“well deserved”) Medal of the Catholic Church in 1987.

The early years of Danny Beech

Silver Jubilee celebrations of the St Dominic's School for Deaf. Daniel Beech was a member of the committee. Front row: Sr Andrew, Sr. Louise, Sr. Conrad, Maree Ward, Mother Jordan, Daniel Beech, Father Hanratty, Mother Gemma, Mother David, Sr. Vianney. Second row: Mother Stanislaus, Kay Johnson, Beth Anderson, Katherine Cummins, Dorothy Beck, Christine Martin, Jan Strachan, Elizabeth Brough, Valerie Normal, Dora Wong, Dianne Hall-Kenny, Sr. Dominic, Sr. Jacinta. Third row: Sr. Mercedes, Sr. Peter Julian, Janette Smith, Judith Hardy, Suzanne Hanson, Margaret Cheyne, Joan Cummins, Marlene Cockburn, Mary Johnson, Sophie Janiec, Sr. Anasastia, Sr. Bernadette. Back row: Eric Echollum, Alphonse Carroll, Rodger Gate, Abe Heteriki, Tony Oswald, Stuart Reid, Jim Henry, Godfrey Easton, Brian Cockburn, Kingsley Beckett, John Hare. (Source: New Zealand Deaf News, 1969, Vol. 6, No. 3)

Daniel Beech was the first child born to hearing parents Peter and Mary in Pahiatua (between Masterton and Palmerston North) in August 1942. Identified as being deaf at age 5, his family made the difficult decision to send him to St Dominic’s School for Deaf Children in Island Bay, Wellington, half a day’s train ride away from his family farm, younger sister, and adoring companion; farm dog Boy.

When the student roll at St Dominic’s increased dramatically in 1951 and 1952, the school had to move to Fielding to accommodate the increase. This was far better for the Beech family and Danny was able to see them more often. Danny made close and life-long friends at St Dominic’s school, and he remained a Catholic for rest of his life.

Decades of commitment

Danny with a group of members of the Manawatu Deaf Club, at a Dine and Wine Evening in Palmerston North.
Working on the Catholic Deaf Newsletter - Daniel Beech, Elizabeth Katu and Mary Johnson.

In Danny’s own words:

“After school I moved to Palmerston North … It was a lot better having Deaf friends nearby that I could socialise with. I was quite involved in the Deaf Community, serving as the Manawatu Deaf Club secretary for many years. Later I went on to be chairman of the Auckland Deaf Society Board of Management, and I was involved at the beginning of the New Zealand Association of the Deaf”. – We See What you Mean – D. Pilkington

Bruce McHattie and others who were planning to set up a National Association of the Deaf felt that it was best for Daniel, a Deaf person from outside Auckland, to call the first public meeting in Palmerston North in 1975. For the next two years Daniel’s life was mostly correspondence, meetings, minutes, travel, reports and more meetings – all the work needed to get support for the new organisation. After the inauguration in 1977, Daniel continued his work, as vice-president from 1977 to 1979, Hon. Secretary from 1980 to 1981, and Secretary/Treasurer from 1982 to 1985, when he became an Hon. Vice-President. From 1979 to 1985 Daniel was also the representative on the NFD Board. – Talking Hands, Listening Eyes – P. Dugdale

Deaf Catholic service

1981: Bruce McHattie and Daniel Beech meeting Pope John Paul II. (Source: Talking Hands, Listening Eyes)

Danny joined Bruce McHattie on a trip to Rome for the World Federation of the Deaf Congress 1981, including an audience with Pope John Paul II. In 1997 the same Pope awarded Danny the Benemerenti (“well deserved”) Medal of the Catholic Church for his years of voluntary work for both the Catholic church and the Deaf community. Danny was involved with and supported Deaf Catholics throughout his life, and in his later life acted as Pastor for the Deaf Community, based in St Mary’s Bay, a role and work he said he enjoyed greatly.

Danny and Deaf Advancement

1985, Daniel Beech speaking at the first interpreting course graduation.
1969. Danny investigating a TELEX machine at the Palmerston North Central Post Office, with other Manawatu Deaf Society Members. Left to right: Carol Gloyne, Daniel Beech, Gloria Fage, Lesley Funnell, Suzanne Hanson, Kevin Funnell, Ted Stafford. Demonstrator: R.Harvey.

Danny was instrumental in supporting the development of the modern Deaf community in NZ. He was involved in organising selected scholars from overseas to visit NZ and advance the development of the Deaf community in becoming a confident and self-aware community. This included the visit of senior staff from Gallaudet University in 1981, and the visit of American Deaf woman Nancy Lewis in 1986 who gave leadership workshops throughout the country and had a profound impact on the way NZ Deaf people viewed themselves as a distinct and valid culture.

NZSL Interpreters also have much to be grateful for, as it was Danny who, while working for NZAD, played a lead role in selecting and arranging for Dan Levitt, an ASL interpreter and interpreter educator for the USA, to accept a contract in NZ to establish the first interpreter training in 1985. The course ran for three months, and produced New Zealand’s first professional interpreters, and others who would go to make an impact on services for Deaf and Deaf-blind people. Indeed Danny maintained a strong connection and support for interpreter training in NZ both then, and when the modern day training course was established at the Auckland Institute of Technology (now AUT) in 1992. He could always be relied upon to offer advice to course leaders and lecturers, or visit classes to tell stories about Deaf history for students to learn from or practice interpreting.

Danny and the Deaf Community

1981, New Zealand Deaf athletes and management outside Auckland Deaf Society before departing to Koln, Germany for the XIV World Games for the Deaf. Daniel Beech attended as a New Zealand delegate, representing the CISS (Comite Internationale des Sports des Sourds; International Committee of Silent Sports) Congress on the Steering Committee making a bid for Christchurch as the venue for the next World Deaf Games.
An edition of the New Zealand Deaf News, of which Danny was the editor for three years, from 1983 to 1986.

Danny was also strongly involved in Deaf Societies, especially the Manawatu Deaf Society, which made Danny a Life Member in 1987, and the Auckland Deaf Society for whom he served in various roles on the Board of Management for many years.

Danny undertook a number of other roles in the Deaf Community, including long serving secretary of the NZ Deaf Amateur Sports Association (later Deaf Sports Federation of NZ), editor of NZ Deaf News 1983-1986, Trustee at Mt Tabor Trust, and innumerable other commitments. Gay himself, Danny also set up NZ’s first Deaf gay and lesbian group in Auckland, and was an admired leader of the Deaf gay community.

In the few moments when Danny wasn’t volunteering, supporting, leading or inspiring, he enjoyed gardening and was an early adopter of the Internet when it became available. Danny had many friends, and is very fondly remembered and sorely missed.

Can also be found in

  1. 1976
    Donated by Manawatu Deaf Society Image of Manawatu Deaf Society

    Understand the Silence: A Silent Documentary about the Silent World of Deafness

    This documentary was filmed and edited by Joan Bailey and released in 1976. It covers the preparation and running of the St Dominics Gala Day, as well as Manawatu Deaf Club picnics, and the Manawatu Womens Group.

  2. 1979
    Donated by Manawatu Deaf Society Image of Manawatu Deaf Society

    Trans-Tasman Games hosted in Christchurch, 1979

    Opening ceremony of the Trans-Tasman Games, Including a traditional Maori welcome for the Australian team.

  3. 1973
    Donated by Manawatu Deaf Society Image of Manawatu Deaf Society

    Manawatu Deaf Club trip to Mount Ruapehu

    Members of the Manawatu Deaf Club and their children take a bus trip to Mt Ruapehu, September 1973 for a fun day.

  4. 1981
    Donated by Manawatu Deaf Society Image of Manawatu Deaf Society

    World Deaf Games, Köln 1981

    New Zealand team goes to XIV World Games for the Deaf in Köln, Germany in 1981.

  5. 1981
    Donated by Manawatu Deaf Society Image of Manawatu Deaf Society

    WDG Köln 1981 team returns home

    The NZ team returns from the XIV World Games for the Deaf, Köln, Germany 1981.

  6. 1990
    Donated by Deaf Aotearoa Image of Deaf Aotearoa

    Opening of the Bruce McHattie House

    The ceremony and speeches to open McHattie House, used as the national office for NZAD.