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    In Memoriam: Alvin H. Baum, Jr. (1930–2021)

    Alvin H. Baum, Jr., passed away on March 28, 2021. He was 90 years old, and died of natural causes in his sleep.

    Alvin (Al) was born September 7, 1930, in Chicago’s Hyde Park, but grew up in Highland Park, a Chicago suburb, with his younger brother, David. Precocious at a young age, he was told he could identify car models at the age of two. Al struggled with a severe speech disability as a young child, but was always accomplished in school, ranking in the top three of his class at Highland Park High School. In advanced English, he wrote papers for his friend (which invariably received A’s, higher grades than even his own essays). He also began a lifelong passion for history and the humanities.

    Al attended Harvard University from 1948–1952. During his undergraduate years, Al became fluent in French and went on the first of what were to be many international trips to London, Amsterdam, and Paris. After graduating magna cum laude, he remained in Cambridge, attending Harvard Law School, graduating cum laude in 1955.

    Al was drafted into the U.S. army in 1955 and was stationed in Berlin, with responsibilities for security records. Al resolved to learn German after his German exchange friend from Harvard told him that German middle-aged housewives were insulting them. In Berlin he discovered symphony, opera, museums, and—though not yet openly gay—the plaza where “the boys hang out.”

    Honorably discharged in January 1958, he moved to San Francisco. He was hired by Heller, Ehrman, White & McAuliffe, where he spent five years as a young associate lawyer. Al always preferred maps and architecture over law and decided in 1963 to leave law practice and attend UC Berkeley to obtain a master’s degree in city & regional planning. Upon graduating, he joined the newly-created SF Bay Conservation & Development Commission (BCDC) and in his 6½ years there became its deputy director and wrote the regulations that to this day protect the Bay. From 1962–1964, he was a member of the San Francisco Planning Commission and hosted a talk show about the Bay, one of his proudest accomplishments given his difficulties stuttering as a young boy.

    Al inadvertently came “out of the closet” in the mid-1970s when, well into his 40s, he was prominently featured in a San Francisco Chronicle article about a short-lived LGBT venture called Lavender University, a continuing education institute. Although he knew that being an openly gay man 45 years ago had repercussions, Al had the courage to reveal his true identity and dedicated his life to LGBTQ+ inclusivity.

    He left BCDC in 1972; for the next 12 years, Al led a small private firm practicing city planning. Somehow, he managed to also spend four months as a Peace Corps trainer in Botswana, and developed a sideline real estate investment and renovation business. After two successful careers as lawyer and city planner, Al retired, spent four months in France perfecting his French, and travelled with a group to Israel who would later become the founders of the New Israel Fund. 

    But Al stepped back into work in 1984. In the midst of the AIDS epidemic, Al felt his calling was to become a psychotherapist. A natural-born listener, Al was often the one to whom friends turned to for a compassionate ear. He returned to UC Berkeley and obtained a master’s degree in social welfare. As a licensed clinical social worker, Al built a successful private practice, seeing clients until he was well into his 80s. Al also raised significant funds to help provide long-term outpatient psychotherapy and was a founding board member of the Access Institute for Psychological Services (2002–2004).

    Al will be most remembered as a brilliant and strategic philanthropist. Although for years he resisted the label of philanthropist, and fondly recalled being shamed into the world of philanthropy by a Catholic gay friend, he emerged as a pillar in the Jewish, civil rights, and gay communities. Given his background in law, Al’s initiation into advocating for the rights and liberties of others began with joining the board of the ACLU of Northern California in 1976.

    Al brought his illimitable energy, compassionate heart, sage advice, and charitable contributions to every endeavor. Appreciative of his heritage, Al worked tirelessly within the Jewish community for over 50 years, and inspired many others to be generous in spirit and pocketbook. He was the founding board member of the New Israel Fund, advocating for equality and democracy in Israel, and traveled to Israel fourteen times. In 1984, while serving as the only out gay board member of Jewish Family & Children’s Service of San Francisco, Al established an endowment committed to educational and therapeutic outreach to children, the alienated, and the aged. Deepening his roots in the Jewish community, he became director of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, and was a longtime member of San Francisco’s LGBTQ+ Congregation Shamar Zahav.

    Al emphasized his dual identity as both a gay and Jewish man and broke barriers in both worlds. “When I decided to come to San Francisco after the army, I had no idea that I would ever have any role as a gay person, or as a gay Jewish person. I feel so lucky that I’ve been able to express those aspects of my identity, and to help bridge those two communities.”

    Self-described “Gay Jew in Chief,” Al fought passionately for inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in the Jewish community and in the broader society. His background in law inspired him to become director of Lambda Legal (1994–2000), dedicated to achieving full equality for lesbian and gay people. Having personally lived through the climate of prejudice toward gay people, Al actively championed those fighting discrimination, and was the founding chair of the LGBT Alliance in 1975.

    Importantly, Al nurtured many grassroots and progressive LGBTQ+ organizations, providing advice to their leaders and consistent philanthropic support. Activist, legal, and service organizations, local and national, all benefitted from Al’s wisdom and generosity, including benchmark groups such as the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), and San Francisco’s Openhouse, providing LGBTQ+ seniors housing and other community services. In 2013, at the age of 82, Al was given the Lifetime Achievement Award and served as Grand Marshal of the San Francisco Pride Parade, one of the highlights of his life. Consistently droll, he remarked to friends he received the award simply for being around so long, but deeply cherished the honor.

    For his activism, community service, and philanthropy, Al  has been the recipient of numerous awards acknowledging his invaluable contributions, including the Silver SPUR (San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association) Award (1996), the San Francisco AIDS Foundation’s Community Service Award (2006), the Human Rights Campaign’s James C. Hormel Community Service Award (1996) and Charles M. Holmes Award (2006), the Adelman-Gurevitch Founders Award given by Openhouse (2012), and the Jewish Community Federation’s Robert Sinton Award For Distinguished Leadership (2019).

    In addition to his work in the community, Al had a lifelong passion for art. Although he eschewed the title “collector,” he filled his home with well-renowned paintings, photographs, sculpture, and artifacts from around the world. One of his most beloved pieces, a ten-foot sculptural piece by Viola Frey he affectionately named “Doris,” greeted visitors as they entered his home. As an ardent supporter of the arts, he served as Director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and as a member of its executive committee (1996–2006). Al was also passionate about theatre and contributed to the New Conservatory Theatre Center and Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

    For many years, beginning in the 1960s until the early 2000s, Al had a home on Green Street and was a familiar sight zipping around town on his iconic red scooter. It is in these years that Al, gregarious, sharp-witted, and affable, entertained at his home and developed his many life-long friendships. A bachelor for many years, in 1977 he wrote to the members of the Harvard class of 1952, “I have become more open, more accepting, less ‘uptight,’ in both my professional and my personal life … if I were ever to have what I’d thought I wanted—the house ‘with the white picket fence’—the partner there would be a man rather than a woman.”

    In May 2004, in connection with moving from the Green Street house where he had lived for 40 years, Al met that man, his true love Robert Holgate, an interior designer, who was helping Al on his project. Al loved to recount that, after five minutes, he decided he wanted to work with Robert; after five weeks he realized he was in love with him; and after five months Robert succumbed to his entreaties. Their relationship endured and grew in the seventeen years since that first encounter. They were legally married on their tenth anniversary in 2014, and enjoyed worldwide traveling, collecting art, and working side-by-side on philanthropic endeavors in the LGBTQ+ community.

    In a 2017 interview, when Al was 86, he said, “It would be very nice if 100 years from now, my name isn’t going to be on a building, it could be, but I’ve decided not to do that. So, it would be very nice if somebody had something that would remind them of me, of my existence.” His many loved ones will cherish wonderful memories of this amazing man and dearly miss him. He is survived by his husband, Robert. 

    A virtual Celebration of Al’s Life will be held on April 13th at 4 pm Pacific Time followed by a virtual Faux Shiva the next afternoon, April 14th at 4 pm Pacific Time. More information regarding both services can be found on his memorial page at https://tinyurl.com/3zr6k9vw

    Al loved a good party so all are welcome to attend one or both events. 

    Charitable donations can be made in Al’s honor to any of the following organizations: New Israel Fund, ACLU, Openhouse and/or the New Conservatory Theatre Center.


    I first met Al when I moved to San Francisco in 1993 and I have an enduring image of him riding down the street on his Vespa motor scooter with the jauntiness of a much younger man. For me it matched his sparkling spirit and dedication to his communities and his friends. I’ll always have the picture of him with me in my heart.

    —Jewelle Gomez, author, poet, critic, playwright, and a San Francisco Bay Times columnist

    Al Baum was a profound force for good, who advocated, organized, and mobilized to advance historic change for the LGBTQ community, Jewish community, and so many others in the Bay Area and across the nation. His great spirit of generosity, compassion, and kindness inspired countless people and will be deeply missed. May it be a comfort to his husband Robert and all his loved ones that so many mourn with and pray for them at this sad time.

    —House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

    Al was a man of many talents and interests whose generosity was limitless. As a dear friend, he was always present and loving. As an activist, philanthropist, and civic leader, Al was impassioned, focused, and determined. He was the embodiment of the term “mensch.” We’re all beneficiaries of Al’s remarkably accomplished life.

    —Mark Leno, former supervisor and state legislator

    Published on April 8, 2021