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Ken Baldwin: A tribute

Kenneth W. Baldwin Jr., one of the most dedicated benefactors of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications, died Monday, June 13, at the age of 96. See obituary»

A keen observer of life and charming raconteur, Baldwin rose from early days working in radio to a career as a newspaper executive supervising hundreds of employees. In retirement, he lived independently at the Still Hopes retirement community in West Columbia with his wife Phyllis, who died in 2020.

Baldwin, a 1949 graduate of the university, donated more than $3 million to the program to support the Baldwin Initiative that funds research, symposia, guest lectures, visiting professors and other related programs to advance the study of business and financial journalism.

Baldwin leaves a tremendous legacy of giving back to his alma mater and supporting the next generation of business journalists through his philanthropy and involvement with the program over the years. He was genuinely interested in students and their success. 

Michelle LaRoche, Baldwin Business and Financial Chair in Journalism, on Baldwin's impact ...

Please indulge me for a few moments while I sing Ken’s praises. His investment in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications was far more than financial, and it’s that legacy I hope to see continue for many years to come.

Ken took as many opportunities as possible to connect with our school and students in person. Every semester he found a reason to visit us for a lecture, lunch with students and more. Even during the pandemic he stayed connected and was on campus as soon as he was vaccinated. He wrote congratulatory notes to students about awards, internship placements and they did the same for him.

At the behest of a student, he visited senior semester at the end of April — one week before his 96th birthday. During that April visit he spent hours with students, first in the newsroom then in a luncheon, regaling us with stories about his career and antics as a Daily Gamecock editor “back in the day.” That day he also had an opportunity to hear directly from students about the work they published that won them national business news awards. He was exhausted but fulfilled by this meaningful interaction. (The students had a blast, too!)

On a personal level, I could not think of a better partner to help me launch my second career in academia. We spoke in person and by phone about our hopes and dreams for the Baldwin initiative. We swapped books, talked about the economy and, most of all, shared ideas for how to continue our success with students. I’m fortunate to have had a benefactor who shared my student-focused values. More importantly, many current and future SJMC students will benefit from that spirit.

Ken’s financial largesse was motivated by a desire to give students opportunities he knew would help them flourish. And that is exactly what he has done. So while it is sad we won’t be able to share moments like these with Ken again, we should be grateful for his lasting impact.

Michelle LaRoche's signature

In other words ...

Tom Reichert, Dean of the College of Information and Communications
Ken Baldwin was a terrific alum and human being. He was a perfect example of how donor generosity can make a great program even better. He had a tremendous impact in the area of business and financial journalism that will continue to blossom into the school’s next century.

We will continue to build upon the Baldwin Initiative to place even more emphasis on this area. This will include teaching business fundamentals for all media and communications students. As Ken always said, “We need more people who can follow the dollar.” His gifts to the school have done that — and will continue to do so. That is Ken’s legacy.

Many of us have been touched by Ken‘s kindness, passion and desire to make an impact in an area so important to the future of our country and our society.

Charles Bierbauer, Dean Emeritus of the College of Information and Communications
Ken Baldwin was many things to us, but always a gentleman and a friend. As a journalism alumnus, practitioner and executive for decades, Ken knew not only what journalism has been, but what it might be. He was prescient in focusing his philanthropy on business and financial journalism. Over more than a decade, Ken’s philanthropy grew to support students and create a faculty chair as components of the Baldwin Initiative. His generosity was accompanied by his curiosity and kindly reminders. It was not unusual for Ken to call or drop by to ask “how are we doing?”

Carolyn Click, retired Senior Semester Instructor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications
Ken Baldwin loved journalism and this journalism school. He was particularly happy for the arrival of Michelle LaRoche, who occupied the first Baldwin Business and Financial Chair in Journalism and helped shape his vision for strong business reporting.

He was always keen to know students. When he found out that Ashley Miller, a part-time employee at the Still Hopes retirement community where he lived, was in Senior Semester this spring, he engaged her constantly about the stories she was writing.

When we invited him to come to Senior Semester he was so enthusiastic (although advising us that he would have to wait until warm weather). Resting on his cane, he stood for 45 minutes and regaled the students with exploits of his  journalistic career. When he offered up a cheery and slightly ribald endorsement of journalism, you could tell he had the students in the palm of his hand.

He was not reluctant to share the infirmities of his 90s (“96 and in a fix!”) but the lesson he left was this: Life and career is what you make of it. Go for it!

Rob Wells, the first instructor hired under the Baldwin Initiative
Ken Baldwin played a very active and important role in advancing business journalism education in South Carolina and beyond. His generosity funded new business journalism courses at the University of South Carolina, allowing significant talents such as Josh Dawsey, Cassie Cope, Colin Campbell, and Thad Moore to flourish as journalists.

I was the first instructor hired under the Baldwin Business Journalism Initiative in 2012 and met with Ken often as I tried to build the program, attract student interest, and industry opportunities.

I was brand new to academia at the time. I really didn’t know what I was doing and was making up a lot of things in the moment. Ken always was very supportive of any plan I brought to the table, and he showed up to every event I sponsored.

At the events, Ken always sat in the front row. He didn’t say much, but the message was clear. You needed to deliver a quality program. He kept me on my toes.

Ken wanted things to happen, and so we made things happen: sent a group of students to Washington, D.C. to attend the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing conference; brought in veteran investigative journalist David Cay Johnston to discuss the importance of business reporting; and we crafted one of the few in-depth seminars to explore the media failures in the 2008 financial crisis (a subject I later explored as a doctoral student at the University of Maryland).

Thanks to Ken’s early support, I am now an active scholar of journalism history, particularly business journalism, and I’m pushing the profession to find new ways to better serve a broader audience. I owe a great debt to Ken Baldwin for helping craft the contours of my career, and for keeping me on my toes.

Mark Tatge, recipient of the Baldwin Business and Financial Graduate Fellowship for Business Journalists at the University of South Carolina. 
When I first met Ken Baldwin, I was immediately struck by his ability to call out something that was obvious nonsense — a trait he no doubt developed while working as a business journalist. Ken’s generous donation, which created and financed a business journalism chair, brought me to University of South Carolina. Over the next three years, we became good friends. We frequently met for breakfast, trading stories about life and the importance of business journalism. Ken was a good man with a big heart. He will be missed. 

Elaine Arnold, Senior Director of Development of the College of Information and Communications
Ken was one of the best donors I’ve ever had the opportunity to know and work with in my career. His spirit of giving was inspiring and the way he lived his life exemplifies what it truly means to be generous. He gave of his time, expertise and resources. I will miss our visits and will think of him when I enjoy some tasty cornbread or red wine. Ken was genuinely invested in helping our students succeed and learn about business and financial journalism. We will be forever grateful and will miss him tremendously. 

Josh Dawsey, one of the students involved in the initial business journalism  classes
Ken was always a generous and lovely person to see at events. He had a historical perspective on our industry, an astute take on the news and a quick wit that I very much appreciated. His support of the J-school helped fuel my career, and I will miss him.

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