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    There Will Never Be Another Alvin Baum

    By Louise “Lou” Fischer–

    When I heard that Alvin Baum had died, it took a while to sink in because the Al Baum whom I knew for almost 20 years seemed immortal; a man capable of reinventing himself so many times that surely he was just going to morph into some form of eternal being and continue his legacy as a hero to the many communities he served and supported.

    If my mother were still alive, she’d say, “They broke the mold when they made Al Baum.” He was a true renaissance man who not only had three successful careers, but also made his mark in the LGBT and Jewish communities and additionally supported a broad range of causes including the arts, theatre, and civil liberties.  

    I’m proud to have known Al and am thankful to him for his mentorship and support when we first met in … let’s call it the early 2000s. One of my proudest achievements during my time in public service was honoring him with the 2013 SF Pride Lifetime Achievement Award when I served as a member of the SF Pride Board. This was no easy feat; my nomination was met with resistance and a chorus of, “Who?” and, “Why?” because Al was not a showman. He was humble and worked behind the scenes and shunned the limelight. 

    Knowing that I needed a bigger (and louder) voice than mine to get this done, I enlisted the help of the indefatigable Audrey Joseph who agreed, “It has to be Al,” and that she’d “take care of it.” To this day, I have images of Audrey wagging her finger in the face of my adversaries while saying in her mellifluous Brooklyn accent, “Now you listen here. Al Baum is this year’s Lifetime Achievement Grand Marshal or else.” One of my happiest moments was the day I finally connected with Al via phone and gave him the good news in real-time; in his inimitable style he responded, “Why me?” and, “Can Robert (then partner, now husband) ride in the car with me?”

    I first met Al when I joined the Board of the LGBT Jewish Alliance of the Jewish Community Federation (JCF), which was an affinity task force within the JCF. The Alliance was the first of its kind, an LGBT-focused group within the Federation dedicated to growing, sustaining, and inspiring the diverse LGBT community and ensuring representation within the powerful organization. Al founded the group and spearheaded change by demanding that the needs of the LGBT community be represented within the Jewish community. 

    Al’s tireless campaign was the equivalent of “we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it,” with the addendum of “but we’re also Jewish so we brought coffee and cake, let’s have a nosh and talk while you get used to it.” My favorite memory of Al’s involvement with the Alliance is from 2007 when he invited all the board members to his beautiful home to welcome the new director. While I’ve driven by the stately homes and apartment buildings of Pacific Heights, I’d never actually been invited inside any of them, so for two hours I got to pretend that I was the scion of an old-money San Francisco family. Al, being the mensch that he was, indulged my fantasy while reminding me that his home “wasn’t really a big deal”—yes, Al, it was, because you made it warm and welcoming.  

    Another “yup, that’s Al Baum” story involves the morning of the 2013 Pride March. At the time, I was on the board of both the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club and the Pride Board, so Pride weekend was doubly stressful and busy. I hosted Al at my table at the Alice Breakfast and arranged for one of our interns to “staff” him for the duration of the breakfast. This involved keeping him company, making sure he got enough to eat (we may have been in a Chinese restaurant, but we’re still Jews!) before his husband Robert could take him to the staging area of the parade to wait around in the blazing heat or freezing cold before being whisked up Market Street for the biggest moment of his life (well, for Al, one of many “biggest moments”).

    Robert, however, needed to rush away at the last minute to fetch a friend who was joining them, and I had no one to accompany Al from the breakfast through the phalanx of chaos that is the Pride staging area and safely deliver him to his waiting car. In a moment of panic, I approached the handsome and soon-to-be shirtless 20-year-old intern whose “staffing shift” was effectively over and who most likely had a go-go dancing platform on a float waiting for him. How was I going to ask this hot go-go boy to spend another hour or two with a kind elderly man?  

    Granted this is a Lifetime Achievement Grand Marshal and an historical icon, but still … hot go-go boy and elderly man; they don’t exactly go together like peanut butter and chocolate. The response matched what most people said after spending any time with Al Baum: “Are you kidding? This is the most interesting man I’ve ever met. I can spend the whole day with him if you need me to.”

    Farewell, Al Baum. Your legacy will live on through your hard work and philanthropic gifts to so many organizations. I’ll miss seeing you at the New Conservatory Theatre, but without your benevolence, the theatre might not have existed for so long (going on 40 years!). May your memory be for a blessing.

    Louise (Lou) Fischer is a Former Co-Chair of the Board of Directors of the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club and has served as an appointed and elected Delegate for the State Democratic Party. She is a proud graduate of the Emerge California Women’s Democratic Leadership program, was a San Francisco Commissioner, and has served in leadership positions in multiple nonprofit and community-based organizations.

    Published on April 8, 2021