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James David Baldwin, age 72, died peacefully on Monday, October 23, 2023, after living with a complex cancer diagnosis for many months. David was a storyteller with a penchant for lengthy historical contexts, concise personal opinions, random anecdotal asides, and a nostalgic flair. He is remembered tenderly by his former partner Denise, and their children (and partners) Mara (Sarah), Will (Chloe), and Dennis (Dikshing) who will pass on his stories to present and future grandchildren, including Ellis and Nora.
Born to Martha (Frances) Wisehart Baldwin and James Joseph Baldwin in Bloomington, Indiana on March 5, 1951 he was the first of a large network of cousins on both sides of the family. Growing up in Indiana he played in several bands, and collected baseball cards, stamps, coins, and records. Some of these interests became lifelong pursuits; he was an ardent audiophile, Cubs fan, numismatist, and philatelist, and he shared these interests with his children. He graduated from North Central High School in Indianapolis in 1969. Frequent road trips to Indianapolis were taken over the years, where his only brother, Frank Arthur Baldwin, still resides. His children have many memories of time shared there, and at extended family gatherings in Middletown, Indiana.
David attended Wesleyan University where he was a member of Chi Psi fraternity, graduating in 1973 with a major in Biology. His photographs of tortoises at the Galapagos Islands taken during a study abroad program, and the environmental curiosity that experience inspired, were a cornerstone of his lifelong interest in and advocacy for the natural world. Despite his enthusiastic and frequent deliverance of the Wesleyan fight song, his daughter Mara eventually enrolled there years later. After graduating, David taught life sciences at Milton Academy where he led bike trips for students across Europe during the summer. His stories of the adventures with his students were amongst his favorites to tell.
He began his doctoral studies at the University of Iowa where he focused his research on milkweed bugs (Oncopeltus fasciatus). This is also where he met Denise Costich, a newly-arrived fellow graduate student in the Biology Department, on the staircase outside the library of the Biology Building, a meeting which began with a bicycle repair and continued into four decades of partnership and family. While in graduate school, they married in 1983, becoming parents in 1984 when their Hawkeye baby, Mara, was born. They moved to New Jersey following David’s graduation in 1986 to start a postdoc at Rutgers University. Sons Will and Dennis were born in Somerville, New Jersey, before the family moved on to Ithaca, New York in 1996.
David was a passionate reader and keen listener, which suited him well for a career in editing manuscripts. David laid eyes upon thousands of pages through his editorial work for the journals Evolution (1984-1989), American Economic Review (1990-1998) and the Ecological Society of America publications (1996-2014). His position at ESA is what brought him to Ithaca, NY where he would spend the last 27 years of his life. His friends and colleagues at ESA shared that, “he ran a creative if not tight ship and was a friend and advocate to so many of us who were lucky enough to work with him.” David was heartbroken when ESA shuttered the Ithaca publication office in 2014, but wasn’t ready to stop. After his retirement, he taught classes in scientific writing at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) in Mexico City (2015-2017), coaching a new generation of young scientists through the publication process.
David worked hard so he could play hard. He took advantage of time off before and after ESA annual meetings to take his children on extended car trips across the United States and Canada. These were meticulously planned affairs designed to maximize the number of stops at national parks, presidential homes, battlefields, and other historic sites. These trips were formative experiences for his son Dennis, who is now pursuing graduate studies in archaeology and geography. Similar car trips were undertaken during his retirement years in Mexico, and we estimate that during his lifetime David visited 49 states, 10 Canadian provinces, and 20 Mexican states. After passing, his family discovered itemized lists of these trips in one of his notebooks, as well as droves of travel guides, pamphlets and catalogs from museums and playbills from Broadway shows from many shared family outings. These trips were moments when our family came together in body (and sometimes boredom), and feature in some of our fondest memories of our father.
David’s generosity was unapologetically huge, much to the embarrassment of his children when they were teenagers—his love language was giving gifts, and he was methodical in his commitment to his starring roles as Easter Bunny, Cupid, Santa, and Dentisha the Tooth Fairy. In these roles he always strove to find the perfect gift, seeking to support his childrens’ interests instead of trying to impose his own. David was also a cat whisperer– Moonshadow, Midnight I & II, Heather, Missy, Spike, Einstein, Cisco, Kringle, Chumley, Tlaloc, and Coco came into his life by appearing in alleys, jumping into his car after work, and showing up bedraggled on the back porch on Christmas Eve. They joined an evolving cast of mostly unnamed reptiles, rodents and fish, among them Common degus called Dangermouse 1, 2 & 3, and Bert the Tortoise.
Dave, David, Dr. B, Dad, Bidi: our father wore many hats. He was confident and unafraid to take on new challenges, balancing a laid-back nature with intense ambition. His relationships with friends and family were intermittent but dedicated and loyal; spending time with him alone always felt special and unforgettable. A romantic procrastinator, he lived life and enjoyed it on his own terms until the very end. His legacy will live on through the boundless curiosity he instilled in his children.
In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to the Delaware Water Gap, a National Park David drove through hundreds of times between 1995-2023. If you find yourself in the area, be sure to stop by Hot Dog Johnny’s and think of him over a deep-fried dog and a glass of ice-cold buttermilk or rootbeer.
Checks to: National Park Service
Memo: In memory of J. David Baldwin
Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
1978 River Road, Bushkill, PA 18324
A memorial gathering to celebrate David’s life and memory will be held on December 3, 2023 at The Watershed (121 West Martin Luther King Jr. Street, Ithaca, NY) in the afternoon from noon-3:00 pm. A burial will take place at Miller Cemetery in Middletown, Indiana in the Spring of 2024. Condolences for his family and RSVPs for either gathering may be sent to David’s email at firstname.lastname@example.org.