Home > Uncategorized > Donald L. Baird, Ten Years Later – posted 5/26/2019

Donald L. Baird, Ten Years Later – posted 5/26/2019

It has now been over ten years since my dad, Don Baird, died. He died on May 4, 2009.

Time provides perspective and I have a better appreciation now of how good a dad my dad was. In my work, I see the range of parents out there from extraordinarily good to bad beyond belief. I guess it is luck of the draw where we all end up but I lucked out, as did my siblings.

My dad was a conscientious parent, fiercely devoted to family. Maybe, in part, because he suffered some neglect when he was young, he was determined to do better. It is amazing what my dad overcame.

His family was poor when he was growing up. He talked about putting newspaper in his shoes. When my grandfather went to prison for arson and interstate robbery, my dad had to live with some stigma. He told me that some girls would not date him because he was the child of an ex-con. He would recount for me how he would take cream to the prison where his dad was incarcerated and he would pay off a guard to smuggle in the cream so his dad could have cream in his coffee.

Growing up, he got no advantages. His parents were not in a position to help him with the cost of a college education. He always worked from the time he was 12. From very early on, he provided for his parents. He even paid for their summer rental at Stenton Place in Atlantic City where they went for years. That was a pattern that lasted until my grandparents died.

My dad had drive and motivation. After serving in the army, he come back and started his own international textile trading business. There was opportunity then. It was the late 1940’s. My dad was very successful in the 1950’s and 1960’s. He made a lot of money. He brought his brother, Carl, into the business and for a long time, they did very well.

We moved from Rock Glen Rd near City Line Ave in Philadelphia, to Prescott Rd in Lower Merion to 284 Melrose Rd., also in Lower Merion. Our house was lovely and spacious.

My dad travelled extensively, especially to Italy, Japan, and Hong Kong. I do think that travel broadened his perspective. He and my mom did things that were quite unusual for Americans of that period. They travelled to many countries, including India and Pakistan, off any beaten path. My dad went to Italy and Japan maybe 50 times. Often my grandparents were at our house, babysitting us kids because mom and dad were away.

I remember my dad’s international phone calls from home. He would call business associates Aldo Fantacci and Vitaliano in Italy and his trading partners in Japan. He talked really loud and you could hear him all over the house.

He would often have foreign guests staying at our house. I remember when my sister Lisa walked in on one who was in the bathroom.

Dad was a very generous man. As one of his children, I have to say that that was a great thing. Private school, camp, college tuition were all covered. He would literally do anything for his children. I do not think he was the best judge of character. He was repeatedly ripped off by people in his business whom he hired and trusted. This was a pattern that went on for years and never changed.

Still, because of his knowledge, his business acumen, and his deep international connections, he was able to rebound. My dad never stopped working. He was 88 when he died. In the last 20 years of his life, he suffered business reversals including two Chapter 11 bankruptcies. Dad struggled financially and he and my mom had much stress about money and paying bills.

The business reversals never stopped him though. My dad had amazing optimism. He was a glass half full kind of person. He was able to come back from being knocked down. Maybe this is naivete on my part but I never stopped believing in my dad and the possibility that he might turn his business situation around. This is true even when he was in his 80’s.

Looking back now, I probably should have known he was in an impossible situation with his business. Somehow though, he kept things going and was able to generate enough business that he did not go under. I think that determination offers a valuable lesson about the importance of resilience and persistence. It took him far.

I did want to mention my dad’s Jewish identity. He had feeling for things Jewish. He rebelled against his Orthodox upbringing and he was not much of a believer. He used to tell me that religion was a crutch for weak people.

When we kids were younger, my dad was pretty active in our synagogue, Main Line Reform Temple in Wynnewood, Pa. I remember him making pizza at a Purim party. He could speak Yiddish. He was steeped in Jewish tradition and he had an appreciation of the liturgy and the music. I can remember him singing along with “My Yiddishe Mama” on Sunday morning Jewish radio. He did sometimes fall asleep during Friday night services and Lisa and I sometimes had to kick him if his snoring got too loud.

He and I clashed frequently when I was in my 20’s. He said going to law school was the first sensible thing I ever did (I did not go to law school until I was 31). We had some blow-out arguments back then. I remember one in a restaurant near Atlantic City, Mac’s in Somers Point. It was a show stopper. My dad was doing business in Chile after the Pinochet coup. I was appalled. We were loud.

We worked through those things. I think my dad changed later in his life. All the adversity he experienced made him more empathetic to people who experienced hardship. I also worked to repair the earlier damage.

I am grateful that my dad did not live to see the death of my sister, Lisa. She died about five months after he did. He and Lise had a special bond. He was especially pained by Lisa’s troubles.

Dad was a man of many passions. I need to mention golf. Dad was a student of the game. Probably at his best, he shot in the 80’s which was pretty good. He belonged to Green Valley Country Club and Atlantic City Country Club. There were other clubs too. He loved to play with my brother Rob and me. We used to be pretty competitive although I think Rob was the best golfer of the three of us.

Dad had other enthusiasms: horses, flying planes, playing tennis and sports generally. In his horse period, he would go to a stable in Fairmount Park and we would ride horses on trails that overlooked the Schuylkill Expressway. I remember Dad subscribing to Appaloosa Magazine at our house. Lise was also an excellent rider and he and Lise did that together.

In their later years, Dad and Mom watched every Phillies game on TV. They were die-hard fans and seeing the Phillies win the World Series in 2008 was fantastic. After all, the Phillies were the first team to lose 10,000 games. As I have written before, Dad used to call me many times during Eagles games. He loved football. We had Eagles season tickets for a few years when I was young. Those memories are indelible.

I especially remember a trip to Clearwater Florida. Dad and I took my friend Hank Fried. We were about 8 years old at the time. Clearwater was home to Phillies spring training. We saw a couple games and we got autographs from Phillies stars of that era, Curt Simmons, Robin Roberts and Richie Ashburn.

It does not feel like ten years since he has been gone. Dad was a force of nature. He loved my mom, his kids and his grandchildren. He offered praise in a big way. It is impossible to think I could ever have had a stronger supporter. I expect his children and his grandchildren would agree that he was that way with them as well.

To have such a dad was a blessing.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Paula Newton
    May 26, 2019 at 3:10 pm

    Hi Jon, I remember Uncle Don as a loving happy man. His smile and laugh lit up the room! You and Lisa were very fortunate to have this loving , special man in your lives Thanks posting this 💕 Cheers Cousin Paula

    Sent from my iPhone


    • May 27, 2019 at 1:12 am

      Thanks Paula! I have such good memories of our Christmas visits to Lancaster when we were kids. We were lucky to have such a great dad. It is great to hear from you.

  2. Pat Dawson
    May 26, 2019 at 3:34 pm

    I’m so glad you had that. Thanks for sharing. It lifted my spirits immensely!

    • May 27, 2019 at 1:09 am

      Pat, I am so glad you got something out of it and it lifted your spirits. My dad was a great guy.

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