Barb Becker remembered everyone’s birthday.
She always commemorated family and friends’ birthdays and anniversaries with cards, no matter how close the bond they shared. The Minneapolis native wrote her well-wishes in advance, and didn’t stop with just a signature, either.
“She would make homemade cards and not just sign her name, but write a letter in it,” said one of Becker’s daughters-in-law, Lisa Becker. “She didn’t expect anything in return. But in return, lots of people sent her cards and remembered her.”
When Barb Becker died from a sudden cardiac arrest at her home in River Falls, Wis., on Oct. 23 — her 69th birthday — she’d only had time to read a handful of the cards that had arrived. Becker’s family eventually discovered several birthday cards for other people that she had written out and stamped for postage in advance, waiting to be mailed.
More than 200 people packed St. John in the Wilderness Episcopal Church in White Bear Lake for her memorial service Oct. 30, including scores of mourners who, like her, had Top Secret clearance.
Becker’s dedication and attention to detail served her well during a four-decade career with the U.S. Secret Service, in the Minnesota field office and later, in the U.S. embassy in the Canadian capital of Ottawa.
Around 1968, just a year after getting married, Becker left her job as a telephone switchboard operator and joined the Secret Service on the advice of a friend. She began in a clerical role and eventually became the office manager of the field office in Minneapolis. She got Top Secret clearance for the job, whose title eventually was changed to administrative officer.
She spent decades running the administrative side of the Minneapolis office, taking short breaks only when her two sons, Patrick and Jonathan, were born.
“During her tenure in Minnesota, she developed an icon-like status throughout the agency as the go-to person for expertise on all administrative matters,” said Lou Stephens, special agent in charge of the Minneapolis field office today. “Special agents come and go, frequently transferring duty locations. Barb was the continuity and glue that held the Secret Service together in Minnesota throughout four decades.”
One of those special agents was her son Jonathan, who said he joined the Secret Service in Chicago and eventually transferred to the Minneapolis office just before the 2008 GOP National Convention, though Barb Becker had already moved on to Canada by then.
The 150-year-old federal agency is famous for fighting financial crimes like counterfeiting and protecting VIPs including the president and candidates for that office. Barb Becker’s family recalls once seeing a picture of Becker with special agents and a huge stack of counterfeit bills after a large bust in Minneapolis, but Becker’s job was to run office operations, including managing the budget and a staff of clerks and investigative assistants.
She was a frequent traveler, and her wish to be stationed in a foreign office was well known to others in 2003, when she got the chance to become administrative officer for the U.S. embassy in Ottawa following the post-9/11 federal reorganization that placed the Secret Service within Homeland Security. She worked for five years in that role before retiring in 2008 with 36 years of active service.
“She lived and breathed the Secret Service and was deeply proud of her service,” Stephens said.
Outside of work, though, family and friends were always the focus of the moment. She was known for her cooking and entertaining at her home, where, to visitors, the pressures of work life didn’t seem to exist.
A lifelong music lover, Becker always had music playing at family events and made time to attend concerts. One of her most memorable shows was seeing the Beatles in 1964. The resident of Minnesota and Ontario traveled frequently to see family and friends in places like Florida, Arizona and California.
She is survived by her husband of 49 years, Harvey, and her two sons and two grandchildren.