One of Wesleyan’s most distinguished alumni, Trustee Emeritus John Baird ’38 P’69’78, died on Dec. 27 in Glenview, Ill., after a brief illness.
“His life of service to Wesleyan, his community, and his country serves as a standard for us all,” said President Michael Roth.
After graduating from Wesleyan in 1938 and receiving his MBA from Harvard in 1940, he served with distinction as a captain in the U.S. Army during WWII.
After the war, he joined his family’s prominent Chicago real estate firm, Baird & Warner, where he worked for the remainder of his life. At Baird & Warner, he served as president and eventually chairman of the board, overseeing the growth of the company to $5 billion in annual revenue. More remarkably, he used his voice as a real estate leader in Chicago to pioneer civil rights. As president of the Metropolitan Housing and Planning Council in the 1960s, he fought prevailing views of the time to champion anti-housing discrimination, leading to the passage of the open-housing ordinance in 1963. As a Chicago business leader, he remained active in civic affairs throughout his career, leading the efforts of many urban revitalization projects and serving on the Board of the Trust for Public Land.
Baird generously offered his time and resources in support of Wesleyan throughout his lifetime. He served as an alumni-elected trustee from 1966-69, and a board-elected trustee from 1971-83. From 1980-1983 he was vice chairman of the board. He was a founding director of the Hill Development Corporation, which was originally established by the Wesleyan Board of Trustees in 1967 to create the Wesleyan Hills Housing Development Corporation in Middletown. He was honored with the Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1970 and the Raymond E. Baldwin Medal in September 1983. In his honor the Wesleyan Club of Chicago established the annual John Baird Lecture in 1987.
He is predeceased by his wife Marion, and is survived by his daughter Katherine Baird Mann, and sons Orrin ’69, Wyllys ’78, and Stephen (as well as daughter-in-law Susan Baird ’74), and many grandchildren. He came to campus this past May for his 75th Reunion.
“The memory of John Baird’s achievements, and his affectionate, generous and dedicated service, will be a blessing for his extended family and his many friends,” Roth said.