From Fort Worth boy to American hero: Capt. Alan Bean, 4th to walk on the moon, dead at 86

Fort Worth Police Sgt. Jim Stout, a friend, runs beside the car carrying Alan Bean, his wife, Sue, and their son and daughter during the Alan Bean Day Parade in Fort Worth in December 1969.
Fort Worth Police Sgt. Jim Stout, a friend, runs beside the car carrying Alan Bean, his wife, Sue, and their son and daughter during the Alan Bean Day Parade in Fort Worth in December 1969. UT Arlington Special Collections

Astronaut Alan Bean, a Fort Worth product who became the fourth human to walk on the moon and then came home to a hero's tickertape-parade welcome, died Saturday in Houston.

A statement released Saturday by NASA said Bean, a retired U.S. Navy captain and professional artist, died after falling ill two weeks ago on a trip to Indiana. He was 86.

In 1969, Bean carried pennants and mementos from Paschal High School into space as the lunar module pilot on Apollo 12, the second moon landing mission. On Nov. 19, 1969, he was the fourth and commander Charles "Pete" Conrad was the third of 12 humans to walk on the moon, all between 1969 and 1972.

"We stayed up all night to see him — we were afraid he'd sink in all that moon dust," said Don Matheson of Fort Worth, a retired physician and a classmate in the Paschal class of 1950.

"The idea that somebody we knew was walking on the moon was beyond imagination. He is really one of the Fort Worth superstars."

In the release announcing his death, his wife, Leslie, called him "the strongest and kindest man I ever knew. He was the love of my life and I miss him dearly."

Harrison Schmitt, pilot of the Apollo 17 lunar module and another of the 12 astronauts to walk on the moon, said in the NASA statement that Bean often called asking details about lunar soil or their equipment so he would get it exactly right in one of his paintings.

"His enthusiasm about space and art never waned," Schmitt said. "Alan Bean is one of the great renaissance men of his generation — engineer, fighter pilot, astronaut and artist.”

In a 1984 Texas Monthly feature, writer Al Reinert described Bean as a "hot-stick jet-jock" Navy fighter pilot who became the first rookie chosen for a moon mission with Conrad and Dick Gordon, "three very short, very cool hotshots with dockside swaggers."

When he was orbiting the moon before landing in the Ocean of Storms, Bean told Reinert, "I came more to the grips with the thought that life is short. … Make sure that you do what you have to do or what you like to do in your short lifetime."

In 1973, Bean returned to space commanding the second mission of the U.S. manned space station Skylab, orbiting the Earth for 59 days. By then, he had flown in space longer than any other human and spent 31 hours on the moon.

Bean, a former Star-Telegram newspaper carrier, spurred intense pride in Fort Worth at a time when the city was intensely conscious of the Cold War, the "space race" with the Soviet Union and America's uphill challenge in the Vietnam War.

When he left for the moon mission, Bean carried a Fort Worth "key to the city," a city flag and a badge making him an honorary city police officer.

On Dec. 22, 1969, the city celebrated with a tickertape parade for Bean, Conrad and Gordon that drew 150,000 people and dumped a blizzard of office paper onto Burnett Park and Seventh Street.

"I think it was a time when Fort Worth was looking for a hero," said retired newspaper publisher Roy Eaton of Decatur, then a TV anchor co-hosting live coverage on what is now KXAS/Channel 5.

News stories and photos show office workers throwing not only tickertape but also office paper, typewriter paper (now called copy paper) and computer punch-cards. City workers cleared 60 tons of paper.

Afterward, Bean said he never really understood Fort Worth's 1920s-vintage slogan "Where the West Begins." "I didn't really see any geological feature that made this where the West begins and where the East ends," he said.

"The West is where people go to find new challenges and opportunities. Fort Worth gave me the urge to go where things are happening and where there are challenges. … The West is here. It's in Houston, and it was with us in the Ocean of Storms."

On his art website, alanbean.com, he remembered his family moving to Fort Worth when he was in McLean Junior High (now a middle school) and living here until he left in 1950 for the University of Texas.

He was born in the Panhandle city of Wheeler to parents Arnold and Frances Bean, Michigan residents sent to Texas for his father's job with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In a 1969 interview before the flight, his mother said Bean was agile: "He was always climbing some tree and testing the strength of its limbs, or walking back and forth across the ridgetop of the garage or house."

They lived in the 2200 block of Irwin Street in the Mistletoe Heights neighborhood, moving later to the 3100 block of Bellaire Drive West near TCU. The Beans attended Central Methodist Church (now Southside Preservation Hall) and First United Methodist Church.

In a 1994 interview, Bean said: "The moon looks farther away now. Then we could look at the moon and — all this stuff was going on. When I looked at the moon now, we're not doing any of those things."'

He is survived by his wife; a sister, Paula Stott; and two children from a prior marriage, a daughter, Amy Sue, and son, Clay.

Services are pending. The Florida-based Astronaut Scholarship Foundation will announce details about memorials, NASA said.

This story includes information from Star-Telegram archives and The Associated Press.

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