Morton "Jerry" Baum

Morton "Jerry" Baum

Morton "Jerry" Baum, founder and executive director of the Fund for Educational Excellence and a retired clothing manufacturing executive who was a tireless champion of city public schools, died May 5 from complications of Parkinson's disease at his Roland Park home.

He was 87.

"I first met Jerry in the 1980s when he was executive director of the Fund for Educational Excellence," said Brian C. Rogers, chairman of T. Rowe Price, who had served as a member of the organization's board.

"He was always so committed to the kids and believed that there were ways to be creative and innovative when it came to education. His dream was to find ways to improve things for both the students and teachers," said Mr. Rogers.

"He was such an idealist and believed that every kid deserved the same shot. Jerry was really a great man," he said.

"Jerry had a clear understanding of what had to be done with city public schools," said Dr. Walter G. Amprey, who was superintendent from 1991 to 1997. "He was actively involved and helped me with the strategic planning of schools."

The son of the president of Hickey-Freeman, a manufacturer of men's suits, and a homemaker, Morton Baum was born and raised in Rochester, N.Y.

After graduating from the Harley School in Rochester in 1943, he entered Yale University, where he studied for a year before enlisting in the Navy in 1944. He served aboard the USS Stribling, a destroyer, until 1946.

Mr. Baum returned to Yale, where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1948, and two years later, earned a master's degree in business from the Harvard Business School. In 1985, he earned a master's degree in liberal arts from the Johns Hopkins University.

He began his business career in 1950 working for Hickey-Freeman in Rochester. He worked there for a decade before joining J.P. Stevens in New York City.

In 1965, he joined L. Greif & Bros., the Baltimore clothing manufacturer, in New York. Two years later, he transferred to the Baltimore office and moved to a home on Midvale Road.

His interest in public service and education was sparked while serving as president of the Roland Park Public School PTA in 1969. After retiring from Greif in 1974, he went to work as a special assistant to the director of the Mayor's Office of Manpower Resources.

In 1984, Mr. Baum founded and served as first executive director of the nonprofit Fund for Educational Excellence, a foundation established to finance innovative projects in Baltimore public schools that was modeled on a pioneering public education fund in Pittsburgh.

The Fund for Educational Excellence raised private funds that in turn were used to improve Baltimore public schools.

Mr. Baum championed efforts to give schools more autonomy "in matters ranging from curriculum to the length of the school day," reported The Baltimore Sun in 1993.

"My job exposes me to many schools, teachers and parents," Mr. Baum wrote in a 1992 op-ed article for The Sun.

"I know magnificent teachers, strong principals and decent buildings in which learning takes place. These schools provide the order, security and love children need in stark contrast to the streets from which so many come," he wrote. "Despite the horrendous problems, I see the strengths on which we can build."

"He was always very clear about what should be happening to the kids and he understood core education very well," recalled Dr. Amprey, who was a director of the Fund for Educational Excellence.

"He helped bring about great changes, and I credit him with a lot of the strategic planning that took place. I relied upon him heavily and was extremely indebted to him," he said.

By the time Mr. Baum retired in 1996, the fund had grown from a part-time staff of one and a budget of $45,000 to a staff of eight and budgeted revenue of more than $780,000 in its fiscal year 1996.

Not content to be retired, Mr. Baum became involved with the National Association of Olmsted Parks, where he served as co-chair from 2001 to 2005. He remained on its board from 2000 until his death.

Established in 1980, the organization protects and promotes the legacy and landscape designs and work of Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. and his sons, who landscaped Mr. Baum's Roland Park neighborhood.

He also was a past treasurer and emeritus director of the organization's Maryland affiliate, Friends of Maryland's Olmsted Parks and Landscapes.

Mr. Baum was an avid runner, mountain climber and reader.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. May 28 at the Maryland Club, Charles and Eager streets.

Surviving are his wife of more than 50 years, the former Serena Savage; two sons, Jonathan Baum of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Matthew Baum of Chatham, N.J.; a daughter, Susan Baum Finizio of Pittsburgh; a sister, Helen Oakes of Philadelphia; and seven grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com