John Belton Duncan, Jr.

  • Born: November 17, 1936
  • Died: February 5, 2019
  • Location: Austin, Texas

Weed-Corley-Fish Funeral Home North

3125 N Lamar Blvd.
Austin, TX 78705
Tel. (512) 452-8811

Tribute & Message From The Family

John Belton Duncan, born November 17, 1936 in Haskell, Texas to John Belton Duncan, Sr. and Lucille Kendall Duncan, died peacefully February 5, 2019, in Austin, Texas, after a 17-year struggle against Alzheimer's.

John was a quiet, strong leader. He graduated from Haskell High School in 1955, where he was an officer in the senior class and captain of the football team. He ran track at Austin College, receiving his bachelor's degree in economics in 1959, and was president of the Drake fraternity. He did his doctoral work at Tulane University in New Orleans, in an advanced economics program sponsored by the US State Department. He developed lifelong friends in that program, and at the same time, developed a lifelong love of New Orleans. It was in New Orleans that he became a gourmet cook (which prevented his children from starving in later years). He first taught at Xavier University and Loyola University there. He married Sara Holderbaum in 1960, and they divorced in 1975.

John joined the economics faculty at Austin College, his alma mater, in 1963. He accepted a position as a professor at Texas Tech University in 1965 and taught economics and price theory until 1973. He was legend among economics majors as the most entertaining, but most rigorous professor in the department. John and Sara had a daughter, Jennifer Rebecca, in 1968, and it was then that John began his second career as best dad. While in Lubbock, John was a leader in the faculty Senate at Tech and the faculty movement against the Vietnam War, and during that time, he was elected President of the Texas Civil Liberties Union.

In 1974, John became Executive Director of the TCLU, and he moved to Austin, where he would live until his death. During John's tenure at the TCLU, his work with the Texas legislature and courts sealed his reputation as an articulate, persistent and effective advocate for social justice and equal opportunity, a passion he never lost. John's keen intellect, easygoing manner, impeccable integrity and understated wit made him effective with both sides of the political aisle, and he was admired even by those who strongly disagreed with his message. Soon after moving to Austin, John became a fixture in the group of Austin liberals, lawyers and literati who could be found debating anything of only esoteric import at Scholz Garten, the Raw Deal, First Fridays, Emmajoe's, and the Richards and Armstrong campouts.

On January 1, 1976, John married Becky Beaver, forming an indomitable team. Their love and devotion to one another was an example and inspiration. Becky could not have asked for a more loving, supportive, helpful and entertaining life companion. Shortly after they married, John and Becky purchased the home in Central Austin where they lived and raised their family over the next four decades. That home was John's pride, solace, and spirit.

In 1985, John went to work for Texas Comptroller Bob Bullock as director of his legislative analysis group, where John's calm approach provided the perfect workplace balance. John's co-workers at the Comptroller's office remained some of his closest friends. In 1989, John became executive assistant to Commissioner Jo Campbell at the Texas Public Utilities Commission, and continued in that role with Robert Gee, when he became chairman of the Commission. John was often dispatched to the legislature on behalf of the PUC, as he was one of the few people who could make a discussion of electric rate regulation and powerline easements both cogent and interesting.

John and Becky became the parents of twins, William Andrew and James Matthew, in 1988, and John again threw himself into the role of adoring father. In 1997, he retired and became a fulltime dad, time with their father his sons cherish. He spent endless hours supervising sleepovers, at Northwest Little League and in gyms and auditoriums cheering on his sons, and driving carpools while tormenting their friends with his incessant puns.

John and Becky travelled extensively with their children, which John documented as an excellent photographer. The family visited over 50 countries together, and even after John was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, they continued to travel for years. He made his last trip with the family to Southeast Asia a year before his death.

John and Becky forged a strong partnership and were long active in Austin and Texas civic and political life, supporting innumerable non-profits, ballot initiatives and Democratic candidates (although John would have happily skipped every event which required he wear a tux). John never missed an election, last voting in November 2018. For four decades he was a devoted attendee of Longhorn football (including both Rose Bowls), men's and women's basketball and baseball games. In his spare time, John also repaired the family's cars, built furniture, remodeled their home, and landscaped the yard.

John attacked Alzheimer's full force. He was a marathon runner, and he spent countless hours in the gym and on the hike and bike trail, standing down the disease. He remained engaged and active in every aspect of life until the middle of last year, running his last loop on Lady Bird Lake in June. John was named Care Partner of the Year in 2017 by Alzheimer's Texas for his refusal to capitulate to the disease.

His father and mother, Belton and Lucille, predeceased him as did his brother, David Duncan, and his sister, Jean Duncan Barnett. John is survived by his wife, Becky Beaver of Austin; a daughter, Jennifer Duncan and her husband, James Sanders of Logan, Utah; sons, William Andrew Duncan of San Antonio and James Matthew Duncan and his wife, Abigail Spellmann Duncan, of Spicewood; granddaughter, Chloe Sanders of Logan, Utah; sister-in-law, Molly Morriss Duncan of Austin; and several nieces and nephews.

John was the world's true good guy, a Renaissance man, slow to anger, loving life, enriching all he touched. John's family is ever grateful to the village which wrapped John in its love and care, especially to Sandra Whittington, John's longtime caregiver; Randeen Torvik Ragan, who kept him running; Ellen Adams, his cognitive therapist; Cheryl Rabb and the other memory care staff members of the Pavilion at Great Hills, who nurtured him through his last months; and the staff members of Texas Home Health Hospice, who saw him through his final days.

In lieu of flowers, John's family asks that you consider a donation in his memory to the ACLU of Texas, the Texas Democracy Foundation/Texas Observer, the Trail Foundation or the DKR Foundation for Alzheimer's Research.

John's memorial service is scheduled on Sunday, February 17, 2019, at 1 p.m. at the Four Seasons Hotel, 98 San Jacinto Street, Austin, Texas, with a reception celebrating his life to follow.


Condolence & Memory Journal

Austin has lost an important figure in John Duncan. He and Becky have done so much to support justice, right wrongs, and offer a helping hand to those who need one. Linda and I offer our condolences to Becky and her family.

Posted by Forrest Preece - Austin, TX   March 05, 2019

John was a talented, brilliant, gentle human being. Through the years I was proud to know him and his work on progressive causes which I shared. We will miss him. Brady Coleman, Austin Feb. 17, 2019.

Posted by brady coleman - austin, TX - Friend   February 17, 2019

John was our quiet but persistent conscience when I was a reporter at the Capitol. Never shrill, always gently reminding us to dig deeper...there was always more to the story. John did not shout the truth to us, he pointed in its direction so we could discover it for ourselves. A magnificent man, always.

Posted by Bill Cryer    February 16, 2019

John and I served together on the Board of the Texas Coalition to End the Death Penalty in the 70s just after it was brought back. He was consistently aware, listening and talking, always willing to work together. Other progressive causes brought us together over the years. I had great respect for his intelligence and commitment. He will be missed.

Posted by Jim Simons - Austin, TX   February 14, 2019

My warm condolences are expressed to all who were affected. We look forward to the time when death will be a thing of the past. (1 Corinthians 15:26).

Posted by A friend   February 13, 2019

What an incredible man! So thankful I worked with him. And remained friends long after. He will be missed.

Posted by Shanna Igo - Austin, TX - Friend   February 13, 2019

In the Spring of 1969 I took Professor Duncan's advanced theory course at Tech. His enthusiasm was contagious and soon on their own the class divided up into three competing theory groups and met before each class to prepare for the lively debates that were the hallmark of his teaching method. I am blessed to have had the honor of being one of his students.

Posted by Ernest McKenney - Austin, TX - Student   February 11, 2019

My final semester at Texas Tech, fall 1971, I took Professor Duncan's economics course. Amongst other teachings, and on a personal level, he encouraged us to give back to our country through service. My brother was serving in the Army in Viet Nam and I had a high draft number. I chose to become a VISTA. I know that decision shaped my life going forward and I believe for the better. Thank you Professor. Jason Blake Tollett

Posted by Jason Blake Tollett - Austin, TX - Student   February 10, 2019

As Exec. Dir. of the TCLU, John fostered and help build the High Plains Civil Liberties Union in Amarillo, the 70's. He supported Selden Hale, my husband, who filed lawsuits only on John's recommendation. He was later a valued colleague of mine at the Comptroller's Office when I was Deputy Comptroller. He was our friend for 40 years! He was truly a good man and one who fought the good fight.

Posted by Claudia Stravato Selden Hale - Amarilo, TX   February 10, 2019

I am saddened to learn of John's death. I loved every day I worked with John. My thoughts and prayers are with Becky and all of John's family.

Posted by Cindy Morphew - Austin, TX   February 10, 2019

Maggie and I are deeply saddened to learn of John's passing.

Posted by Joe K Longley - Austin   February 10, 2019

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