Home > Uncategorized > Lisa Baird, 10 Years Later – posted 10/6/2019

Lisa Baird, 10 Years Later – posted 10/6/2019

This October marks ten years since my sister Lisa died. I often think about her. To say Lisa was a warm presence does not do her justice. She could fire up any room. Her sense of empathy was off the charts. Even with all her own hardships, she was always very concerned about the people around her. That included her clients as well as family and friends.

When someone dies, it is hard to appreciate the magnitude of the loss. Lisa’s loss shattered and splintered my family. She had held family together. I often think if she had not died how different events would have played out. I have no doubt that family togetherness would have been much more maintained.

It is funny how a charismatic person can have that power to stop potentially warring family factions from warring.

I have many wonderful memories of Lise that go back to early childhood. Although she was two years younger than me, she was a mentor. She often advised me, literally telling me what to say in all kinds of situations. She could have been a script writer. She had an opinion on everything. When younger, she would often come in to my bedroom, do homework and fall asleep on one of my twin beds. We talked non-stop for years. In the era before texting, she was a big phone-caller.

Lise was an early bird, never a night owl. She always had a wide circle of friends. She introduced me to many of her girl friends and I dated some of them. She used to joke that I was “stealing” her friends.

Lise was pretty athletic. I mostly remember her horseback riding and her swimming. She won awards at Camp Red Wing, riding English. She was always a strong swimmer. She did laps and could go for a couple miles. She used to go for long distance swims around Atlantic City with her friend Joyce Abrams.

Lise and I had bobbing contests in the pool at the Longport Seaview in Longport, NJ, when my parents had a place there. I always beat her and she would be pissed off in a good-natured way. She would say, “Boo-boo, you cheated” if she had an angle to argue.

Lise was not usually at a loss for words. She was a talker and her verbal skills were quite remarkable. The fact that she became a lawyer was quite appropriate.

She was a leader. Starting in school, she routinely got elected class president or Student Council president. During her years in the October League, she was district organizer in Philadelphia. Carl Davidson, a pretty famous radical in his own right, described Lisa as a “legendary organizer” in Philadelphia.

Lisa was politically precocious, figuring out capitalism at age 16. As a teenager, she went to meetings of Philadelphia Resistance, a draft resistance organization. At Baldwin School, Lisa locked horns with the head of the school, Ms. Cross. Lisa fought for minority scholarships at a time when the school was overwhelmingly white.

The school did not appreciate Lisa’s efforts. Although she was a fine student, Ms Cross blackballed her. Cross privately contacted all the colleges where Lisa applied, said she had “mental issues” and went on to describe my parents as “hippies” which was beyond laughable.

Lisa got accepted at none of the colleges where she had applied. That was mysterious because Lise was a very good student and I think it is fair to say she was widely liked by other students. My parents found out about the blackballing years later.

Lisa moved to Cambridge Ma after high school with her boyfriend Rusty Conroy. They had met on an American Friends Service Committee summer project on the Northern Cheyenne Indian reservation in Lame Deer, Montana. Rusty was Lisa’s first boyfriend and they remained great friends, always.

Lisa decided to go to college at the University of Texas in Austin. Austin was a very happy time in Lisa’s life. Political organizing became a passion for her. Since Lise never did anything the easy way, she did not finish at UT. She eventually moved back to Philadelphia and eventually finished her undergraduate work at Temple. Along the way, she learned Spanish.

In 1982, Lisa decided to go to law school. Her legal career was diverse. She started off working for Lehigh Valley Legal Services, worked as a staff attorney for Philadelphia City Council, then worked for HIAS and eventually she went into private practice. She had her own office on Cherry Street in Philadelphia.

In thinking about her lawyering career, I think of how much was lost when she died. She specialized in immigration law, representing clients who faced deportation or had asylum claims. Her advocacy skills are desperately needed now.

The synagogue shooter in Pittsburgh was angry at HIAS and that was where Lisa worked for some time. Lisa actually played an important role in pushing HIAS to represent clients from all over the world. HIAS had a past history of representing Russian Jews. Lise represented Ugandan child soldiers, women who were victims of female genital mutilation, Vietnamese boat people, and Chinese and Japanese restaurant workers, among others.

I know Lisa would have been in the thick of the fight against Trump’s immigration policies. She was a warrior. Walking around Philadelphia with Lisa was a trip. She knew so many people and had so many clients. Clients would always be coming up to Lise and saying things like, “Ms. Lee-ze, we will pay you.” Lise was a terrible bill collector. She needed a paralegal and a secretary and she functioned much better when she had one.

Considering her breast cancer, her productivity remained amazing. She did not let cancer slow her down that much until the end. After she died, my mom received a lovely card from the Immigration Court in Philadelphia signed by the judges and staff. The Court appreciated Lisa’s passion and excellence as an advocate. She fought hard for all her clients.

I think of the words of the lawyer, Gerry Spence, which fit Lisa:

“Lawyers should be chosen because they can demonstrate a history rich in human traits, the ability to care, the courage to fight, the will to win, a concern for the human condition, a passion for justice and simple uncompromising honesty. These are the traits of the lawyer.”

Lise brought the same dedication and passion to her role as a parent that she did to her lawyering. She was absolutely devoted to Molly and Lou. They were central in her life. I think all critical decisions she made, she made with her children in mind.

Lisa’s death left a gaping hole in my life that can never be filled. The sibling relationship is so special because you share a lifetime experience. No one else has that same kind of shared knowledge and experience.

When my parents died in their eighties, I at least felt like they were able to live long and good lives. I do not feel the same way about Lise. Her death was not in the natural order of things. She died at 56. I still miss her terribly.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Autherine Smith Scholl
    October 6, 2019 at 10:42 pm

    Lisa will live in my heart forever.

    • October 6, 2019 at 11:54 pm

      Thank you Autherine.

  2. Debbie Socolar
    October 6, 2019 at 10:42 pm

    A beautiful memorialization of a remarkable person, Jon. We should all be grateful for her impact on HIAS, among other things. (And that story about the school blackballing her is atrocious!)

  3. Wayne Moynihan
    October 7, 2019 at 2:23 am

    Beautiful tribute to a wonderful sister.

    Best regards,


    Wayne Moynihan 138 Plain Road Dummer, NH 03588

    home 603-449-2058 cell 603-631-0542


    • October 7, 2019 at 11:59 pm

      Thank you so much, Wayne. I miss her. I hope everything is good with you.

    • October 8, 2019 at 12:01 am

      Wayne, is Claudette still raising turkeys? Debra wanted to know.

  4. Pat Dawson
    October 7, 2019 at 8:38 am

    I suppose the ache becomes mellower with age; but the void is never filled and the sense of loss just doesn’t go away.

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