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"Walking George" Beto dies


On this day in 1991, Lutheran minister, educator, and prison administrator George J. Beto died in Austin. Beto, born in Montana in 1916, taught history at Concordia Lutheran College in Austin from 1939 to 1949, then served as the school's president from 1949 to 1959. He began a lengthy involvement with the criminal justice system in 1953, when governor Allan Shivers appointed him to the Texas Prison Board. After the death of Oscar Byron Ellis in 1961 Beto became director and chief of chaplains for the Texas Department of Corrections; he held those positions through 1972. Although many inmates admired him for his willingness to communicate with them--they called him "Walking George" because he unexpectedly visited inmates and employees at the various prison properties--they also regarded him as a stern "preacher" with "a baseball bat in one hand and a Bible in the other." He received much criticism for his use of authoritarian disciplinary policies, and many prisoners complained that Beto and his staff harassed and threatened those who attempted to file civil-rights suits against prison officials. After he retired as director of the TDC, he served as a professor of corrections at Sam Houston State University from 1972 until 1991.

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