L. David Baldwin
February 26, 1925 to March 3, 2021
L. David Baldwin '49 loved science and revered scientists—especially those from his alma mater. In the latter half of a remarkable life, he quietly and generously supported Case and its researchers to an extraordinary degree.
Upon his death March 3 at age 96, Baldwin was one of the largest donors in the history of Case Western Reserve University. Thanks to endowments he established through the Case Alumni Association, his impact will resonate forever.
Baldwin’s gifts rebuilt labs, helped to hire faculty, launched student programs and scholarships and, most notably, supported researchers in pursuit of breakthroughs. He gave thoughtfully and almost always anonymously.
“It’s phenomenal what he did. He was certainly one of the biggest donors I had,” said Cyrus Taylor, PhD, referring to his 16 years as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “He was adamant he didn’t want any publicity.”
That modesty fit his personality and his lifestyle. Quietly, Baldwin became a self-made millionaire who excelled in physics and electronics and established an enduring legacy.
He grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and graduated from Shaker Heights High School in 1943—in a class that included future actor Paul Newman. Baldwin’s father was a leader of the American Contract Bridge League and David Baldwin became an avid and expert bridge player.
After serving in Europe during World War II, Baldwin enrolled at Case Institute of Technology, where he was active in the physics clubs and was a brother of Sigma Nu. He earned a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1949 and his master’s at Columbia.
Baldwin worked for General Dynamics in its Radio Communications Lab before launching Frequency Sources Inc. (FSI) in the mid 1960s. The startup developed technology for the microwave industry.
“He developed a better technology for building microwave cavities,” said Taylor, the Albert A. Michelson Professor of Physics at CWRU. “He clearly had a great idea and the skills to turn it into a fantastic company.”
The sale of the firm to Loral Aerospace established his fortune. Baldwin taught himself computer programming, which led to other ventures, and lived quietly in St. Petersburg, Florida, with his wife Virginia.
In 1995, Roger Cerne ‘63, then executive director of the Case Alumni Association, received a surprising phone call. Out of the blue, Baldwin called to say he wished to support science innovation at his alma mater with a major gift. It was the start of a long and impactful relationship.
“He was a very quiet guy. A real gentleman. He cared about education. He was just one of those rare breeds,” said Cerne, who now serves the Case School of Engineering as an executive advisor for development.
Baldwin became reacquainted with campus through people like Cerne, Taylor and Don Schuele, PhD ‘63, a physicist and the vice dean of Case institute of Technology. He made annual visits to campus, where he met faculty and toured labs that he later re-equipped and endowed.
He helped professors like Arnold Caplan, PhD, perform transformative research. Virginia Baldwin suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and Baldwin was keenly interested in Caplan’s expertise in cell regeneration therapies.
“I felt Arnold Caplan’s research was very promising,” Baldwin said years ago. “I wanted my gift to make a difference, and his research has shown its potential to have applications in several diseases.”
Over the years, Baldwin became a recurring contributor to Caplan’s projects, enabling him to explore treatments for cystic fibrosis, lung diseases and, most recently, Covid-19.
“It just changed the way I could collaborate with people, because I had resources,” said Caplan, a Professor of Biology. “I started five or six unique research projects because of him.”
Even as his health declined, Baldwin remained connected to the university and its research aims. He contributed to the College of Arts and Sciences’ “Expanding Horizons” Initiative, which first-year Dean Joy Ward announced just last fall.
She became the latest Case scientist to feel the Baldwin touch. After talking with her, he directed $4 million from an earlier broad commitment to projects within the College’s initiative.
“He always believed Case gave him the foundation to do everything that he did, and I think that was the basis of his long-term interest and loyalty,” Taylor said. “The university lost a great friend and alumnus—and the world lost a great person.”