Navy veteran and longtime union member and advocate James Allen Baldridge died Dec. 20 of lung cancer at his Govans home. He was 71.
Mr. Baldridge was born in Hastings, Neb., the son of Mary E. West and Joseph R. Baldridge. The family moved to Ohio in 1951.
Mr. Baldridge attended Mentor High School in Mentor, Ohio, where he played second clarinet in a 120-piece band, and was active in the Boy Scouts, attaining the rank of Eagle Scout. He attended Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio, for a year, where he sang in the men’s glee club and was on the wrestling team.
He joined the Navy in 1965 and did his basic training at the Great Lakes Naval Center. He attended aviation electronics school before being assigned to a patrol squadron in Norfolk, Va.
Mr. Baldridge was later assigned to Patuxent Naval Air Station in St. Mary’s County in Southern Maryland, where he met his future wife, Margaret Harmon. He spent about a year on a deployment in Iceland. While there, he researched the Vietnam War and soon became involved in anti-war activities on and off the base, family members said.
After finishing his tour, he moved to Baltimore and was married in 1970.
His anti-war activism continued in Baltimore. In one instance, he and his wife were arrested and spent the night in jail after spray-painting a peace sign on a military recruiting sign on a Waverly median strip, Mrs. Baldridge said.
“I probably got him into it,” she said. “By that point, we had been coming to Baltimore from St. Mary’s County for demonstrations and meetings and such. We were pretty well … convinced that we needed to do something to show some kind of solidarity with the anti-war movement.”
But his passion largely was in union activity and advocating for workers’ rights, she said.
In February 1973, he began working as an apprentice at the Bethlehem Steel ship repair yard in Sparrows Point, where he joined the Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers of America.
Mr. Baldridge worked in the facilities department of Johns Hopkins Hospital from 1981 to 2011, where he was also a union member. He also earned an associate’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Johns Hopkins University in 1994.
Mr. Baldridge dedicated himself to a range of causes, including the Baltimore Committee to Free Angela Davis, which advocated for the California activist’s acquittal in 1972, and became involved in community politics, serving as treasurer of the Govans Community Association.
In 1983, Mr. Baldridge became a representative to the Baltimore Central Labor Council. In 2013, he became president of the Maryland-D.C. chapter of the Alliance for Retired Americans. The position involved lobbying Congress to fight proposed cutbacks to Social Security and Medicare.
Richard Bissell, executive vice president of the Maryland-D.C. chapter of the Alliance for Retired Americans, said Mr. Baldridge was a highly effective advocate for labor unions.
“This is the greatest union heart that I have ever known. He was union through and through, and it came out in everything he did,” said Mr. Bissell, who worked with Mr. Baldridge for about a decade. The two would often meet for a “good brew” in Ellicott City, a midway meeting point between Mr. Bissell’s home in Mount Rainier and Mr. Baldridge’s in Baltimore.
When Mr. Baldridge became ill earlier this year, Mr. Bissell filled in as president of the alliance chapter.
“Just in general, every time we were demonstrating together or testifying on [Capitol] Hill, he was just, the epitome, if you, will, of unionizing,” said Mr. Bissell. “He was a tremendous leader.”
Mrs. Baldridge said her husband was also a great listener and a supportive parent to their two children. At one point, she said, Mr. Baldridge even took up kung fu with his son, but gave it up after he injured his toe twice during practices. He was also passionate about the Baltimore City public school system, she said, and served as president of the Govans Elementary School’s PTA.
Mr. Baldridge enjoyed camping and tending to his backyard full of bird feeders, which attracted a variety of birds. He also enjoyed singing bass in the Charm City Labor Chorus and was a member of the Veterans for Peace, family members said. He enjoyed blues music and going to blues music festivals, and collected guitars.
Plans are being made for a memorial service, Mrs. Baldridge said.
In addition to his wife of 47 years, Mr. Baldridge is survived by his daughter, Mary Jean Baldridge of Central City, Neb.; his son, Paul Baldrige of Fullerton, Neb.; sisters Kathy Miller of Lyndhurst, Ohio, Peggy Foster of Streetsboro, Ohio, Jeannie Toomey of Mentor, Ohio, and Nancy Hedrick of Conneaut, Ohio; and many nieces and nephews.