Funeral services were held for a dual icon of the Mount Vernon area last Friday. Just days short of his 96th birthday, Dr. Arnold B. Becker died on December 29, at the Mount Vernon Nursing Home.
In addition to his long practice of dentistry, which began with his graduation from St. Louis University Dental School in 1925, Dr. Becker and his late wife, Margaret, portrayed George and Martha Washington both at the Mount Vernon Estate and at local events such as Alexandria's President's Day Parade.
"We were in the parades and at Birthnight Balls," Becker recalled last year at a party given in honor of his 95th birthday. He was originally asked to portray The General because he "had the nose" of Washington, according to Mayme Parker, a long-time friend who attended the 2003 party. "It made him a natural for the role," she recalled.
One remembrance of Becker by his many admirers and patients was his sense of humor and ever present big smile. But, as he explained, he did not exhibit that smile while portraying Washington. Becker maintained that America's first president smiled very sparingly in public due to his false teeth.
Becker chuckled when he told the story because he found it ironic that he, a dentist, would be portraying someone with dental problems. He recalled, "The changes in dentistry, just in my lifetime, have been outstanding."
THAT LIFETIME included 35 years on active duty with the U.S. Army where he served as a Lieutenant Colonel in World War II, in occupied Japan after the war, at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and at Fort Belvoir, where he retired from military service in 1960. From there, he opened his practice in Mount Vernon.
He and his wife bought their home at 5400 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway and Becker opened his office in the house. That is where he practiced his chosen profession until age 90 when he retired in 1998.
In addition to portraying Washington, Becker had been very active in the Mount Vernon Lion's Club where he often served as the caller for their square dances. As Linda Flint, Becker's next door neighbor for 14 years, said at last year's final party, "He is an amazing person."
But even as Father Ronald Gripshover, Jr., performed the final Mass of Christian Burial at St. Louis Catholic Church on Popkins Lane, it was evident from the assembled mourners that Becker had left a permanent impression among all those his life had touched.
Befitting his own military career and symbolic of the General he had so aptly portrayed, Becker's flag-draped casket was laid to rest in a snow covered Arlington National Cemetery. In both his military and civilian life, Dr. Arnold B. Becker was the personification of his alter ego — soldier, citizen, and embodiment of both American largess and American tenacity wrapped in dedication to the American dream.