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Remembering the Life and Legacy of John A. Baird Jr.

On June 8, 2016, Eastern University announced that the last of its cofounding trustees, John A. Baird Jr., passed away at age 97. For over 50 years Mr. Baird played an active role at Eastern serving in many positions, including Advisor to the President and Vice President for Development. Mr. Baird’s life was intertwined with the history of Eastern. He first arrived at the present site of Eastern—then the Walmarthon estate—in the early 1920s. At that time Baird was introduced to Martha Walton, widow of mainline philanthropist Charles S. Walton Sr. In a few short years he would marry the Walton’s granddaughter, Virginia Walton.

In 1952, after graduating from Lawrenceville School, Princeton University and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Mr. Baird came back to the estate that he had known in his youth. He would see the estate turned into Eastern Baptist College, which would eventually become present-day Eastern University. Having served as a founding trustee for the college the previous year, Mr. Baird joined the administration as treasurer. While at first charged with responsibility of the buildings and grounds, he was soon asked by President Guffin to put his talents to work raising funds for the college as head of the Development Office. He would also hold the position of Advisor to the President until March 2002. In his early years at Eastern, he led campaigns that built Warner Memorial Library, Kea Hall and Hainer Hall.

He also led numerous other fundraisers that brought in the finances necessary to award scholarships, as well as hire professors and administrators. Mr. Baird was known for his passion for Eastern and its mission, as well as for his love of history. He wrote 10 non-fiction books and published over 200 scholarly articles. Several of his books are centered around Eastern and its early history.

While actively campaigning for Eastern, he also served as trustee and board chairman of the Shipley School. Having attained the rank of Eagle Scout in his youth, Mr. Baird served as director of a local Boy Scout Chapter in his adult life. He was known as a champion of philanthropic causes and a civic leader in many organizations, including Volunteer Services for the Blind, Main Line YMCA, Pennsylvania Lupus Foundation, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Athenaeum of Philadelphia, Ludington Library, Seamen’s Church Institute, Ralston House, Right Angle Club, Society of Colonial Wars and the Military Order of Foreign Wars. He was also a member of the prestigious Society of the Cincinnati, an organization for the descendants of Revolutionary War Continental Army officers.

Dr. Bettie Ann Brigham, Vice Provost for Student Development at Eastern, says in her remembrance of Mr. Baird: “He was a brilliant and gracious man who had a gift and passion for people, history and Eastern, and for writing about all three.” Mr. Baird leaves behind a legacy of service not only to Eastern, but also to his family, community, nation and God. Sources: Bettie Ann Brigham, eastern.edu, “Faith, Reason, and Justice: The First 50 Years of Eastern University,” “The Great House,” Philadelphia Daily News

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