CLEARWATER — With his clean-cut good looks and a soothing voice, Karl Beck could almost have passed for a quieter version of Cary Grant.
Wheelchair basketball was another story. Mr. Beck, a 7-footer, allowed no easy buckets. He dominated the paint. He had the killer instinct.
Off the court, Mr. Beck used that intensity to learn. At the Braun Corp., where he worked for 32 years, he inhaled his company's latest innovations in conversion vans for people with disabilities. Then he walked customers through the steps of selecting and financing the right vehicle. It was a complicated task.
The company made Mr. Beck its Florida sales director.
Mr. Beck, 56, died May 19 after his van veered off U.S. 19 and flipped. Police do not know whether the accident or a prior medical event caused his death.
"He wasn't a high-pressure salesperson. He just helped them make the right choice," said Dick Scheffer, a division manager at Braun. Mr. Beck stayed abreast of improvements in a column he wrote for New Mobility, a bi-monthly trade magazine.
"Karl was in a wheelchair himself, so that right there gave a lot of credibility to someone newly injured," Scheffer said. And with his height, "He would look the average person in the eye."
Mr. Beck came to the United States at age 2 from Germany, and grew up in Fort Wayne, Ind. At 14, he sustained an injury to his spine during a medical procedure.
Mr. Beck didn't dwell on his injury. He graduated from Purdue University. He played and coached wheelchair basketball for years. After moving to Largo in 1977, he helped judge a "Ms. Wheelchair Florida" contest and served on a state advisory commission.
"The disability was never a focus," said Victoria Beck, his wife. "It was simply there, and he built his life around it."
She met her future husband in 1980, in a fit of frustration. The hand controls she needed to drive her vehicle had been installed upside down.
When she met Mr. Beck, she recalled, "I just went, 'Oh my goodness.' "
He was conservative. Most days, it was either blue or gray slacks. He dogged his son, Michael, if his grades slipped, but also took him to baseball and basketball games — then attended Michael's own basketball games in high school and college.
"A lot of times, people ask me, 'What's it like to have a father with a disability?' " said Michael Beck, 24. "I'd say I had a great father, whereas a lot of my friends had able-bodied fathers who weren't necessarily around for them in the same way."
His unexpected death has hit the family hard. "I just leaned on him," his wife said. "I just knew he would always be there."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.