Donald L. Baird, Five Years Later – posted 5/2/2014
Hard for me to believe but it has been five years since my dad passed away. My dad, Donald Baird, died on May 4, 2009.
Memories of my dad remain vivid. He was a large presence and a big personality. He could be overwhelming. He did not countenance opposition easily and I gave him plenty of things to be upset about. Still we worked through much of the contention and reached a good place.
I do have memories from early childhood of hearing my parents arguing in their bedroom behind closed doors. My mom cried sometimes. My sister Lisa and I would nosily listen to their fights, straining to hear what we could. We moved to a listening post as close to their bedroom door as we thought we could safely stay.
It was hard to win arguments with my dad. He had an unfortunate tendency to equate loyalty with acquiescence. I think that was particularly hard for my mom.
I remain struck by the force of his personality, his drive and his optimism. He never stopped working. He lived to be 88 and he never retired. This was partly based on economic necessity but it was impossible to think of my dad living a retired life at home.
He probably would have driven my mom crazy. He was not the type to putter around his apartment, fixing things. Work gave him a profound sense of purpose. I think it was a source of passion and pride.
My dad built a very successful international textile trading business. He and my mom travelled all over the world many times, especially to Japan, Hong Kong, and Italy. I think he was something of a good will ambassador for America. He and my mom went off beaten tracks and they travelled to places Americans did not tend to go in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Dad went to Pakistan, Syria, India and especially the Far East. My parents made some very good international friends that way.
There is much I could say about my dad’s business career. He had his highs and lows. He made a lot of money but he also ended up going bankrupt twice. In the latter part of his career he was caught in a downward spiral and anxiety about money was a big part of his life. He got into the unenviable position of relying on credit cards, a disastrous course. He was typically using one credit card to pay off another credit card.
Dad tended to trust employees who were not trustworthy and he repeatedly was ripped off. For a guy with some degree of street smarts, he was seriously taken advantage of. He made mistakes in his judgment of people, erring on the side of undeserved trust.
I really wanted to write about his optimism. It was unrelenting and it carried him far. He had an amazing ability to persist even in dire and humiliating circumstances. Back in February, I read an article in the New Yorker about Diana Nyad, the 60 year plus swimmer who tried five times to swim from Cuba to the United States. She failed over and over but she never gave up. She finally succeeded. It is a great story.
The New Yorker story quoted Nyad saying, “A champion is someone who never gives up.” That is the way I look at my dad.
In the last 30 years of his life, I often wondered about the realism in his business efforts. He was barely keeping his head above water but he never quit. He had remarkable persistence and resilience. He was always optimistic, seeing the glass half full. He was also unfailingly generous, especially to family but not just family.
In retrospect, it is easy to look back and say he never realistically had a chance to turn things in his business around. The only thing is I believed maybe, just maybe, he could turn it around. My belief was based on his history and his will. He made me a believer because he didn’t quit.
Now it seems a little crazy to think Dad could have gotten his business back to a good place in his 80’s. It is just that he had massive experience, business connections, good will and he kept on. I guess my own belief in him is an indication of how far persistence can take you. I do believe it was William Blake who said, “If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.”
When my dad died we got emails from business people around the world who knew Dad. Here is one I saved from a Pakistani friend:
To the Family of Donald Baird:
Greatly shocked to know Donald L. Baird passed away. I have lost a great friend. He was a role model and helped me to establish in business since 1955. I pray to almighty Lord his soul may rest in peace in paradise. I will try to attend memorial event in his honor on Sunday June 7th 2009 if my doctors allow me to travel as I am on medication for the last few years. Deena Baird take care you have good children to look after you.
Warm Personal Regards;
My dad’s memory remains a great source of strength and personal pride. Life routinely dishes out unfairness and tragedy. I was blessed to have a dad with the qualities of Don Baird. I will forever be grateful to him for setting such a positive and loving example. He modeled a good way to live and love life.
Tonight Debra made me a vodka martini, shaken not stirred. Drinking that is a good way to honor my dad.