James Leroy Baird Jr., 77, of Nantucket and Mashpee, Mass., and formerly of Old Mystic, died suddenly on July 12 at Hartford Hospital, after suffering a stroke.
He was director emeritus of the University’s Avery Point Campus, having retired from his UConn post in 1996. During his 21-year tenure, Baird oversaw the evolution of the oceanfront campus, from its modest beginnings with a small undergraduate student body to a thriving campus community. The growth of the now internationally-known Department of Marine Sciences, the advent of the popular Bachelor of General Studies program for adult learners, and the development of the Alexey von Schlippe Gallery of Art all happened on his watch. Baird was also particularly proud of the “Pointers” baseball team and the major league successes of some of its players.
Baird led a life devoted to public service. He led or served on boards for the Boy Scouts of America, Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center, Mystic Aquarium, Lyman Allan Art Museum, UConn Alumni Association, Groton Public Health Nurses, and Junior Achievement. Among other duties for his church, he served as senior warden at St. Mark’s in Mystic.
In retirement, Baird combined his love of history, teaching, and public speaking in museum work, serving as a docent with the Morse Museum of American Art, the Nantucket Historical Society, and the Coast Guard Heritage Museum. He was also a member of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary on Cape Cod, Mass.
Baird was born on Aug. 5, 1934, in Bridgeport, and graduated from the city’s Bassick High School in 1952. A biologist by training, he earned his bachelor’s degree from Tufts University in 1956, his master of science from the University of Minnesota in 1958, and his doctorate from the University of Connecticut in 1964. His area of expertise was the physiology of insect flight. He taught at Lafayette College before moving on to the Rochester Institute of Technology, where he headed the biology department and served as vice president for student affairs. He was named director at Avery Point in 1975. Because of his long career in academia, his children joked that their father started school as a child and never left.
Baird was married three times, but predeceased twice; he often wondered at the remarkable course his life had taken. He married Ellen Elliott Baird in 1956, with whom he had three children. After Ellen’s death from cancer in 1991, he married Margaret Sasseville Pollard, but their marriage was also cut short when Pollard died in 2003. Baird married his third wife, Sharon Lapseritis Baird, in 2005.
In addition to his wife, Baird is survived by two daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret; a son, James; a brother and a sister; and numerous stepchildren, grandchildren, and in-laws.
A funeral Eucharist will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Saturday, July 21, at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Mystic. Arrangements are under the direction of Dinoto Funeral Home, 17 Pearl St., Mystic, where the family will receive friends from 5 to 7 p.m. on Friday, July 20.
Gifts in Baird’s memory may be made to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Mystic; St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, Falmouth, Mass.; or to the Coast Guard Heritage Museum, Barnstable, Mass.