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Friends, family celebrate life and career of Andy Baum

Andrew 'Andy' Baum, October 3, 1948-November 22, 2010
Andrew 'Andy' Baum, October 3, 1948-November 22, 2010

Whether it was mentoring a student or junior faculty member, debating a point over coffee or helping coach one of his kids’ youth league sports teams, Andy Baum’s heart for people was always on display.

Dr. Baum, a psychology professor at UT Arlington since 2006, used that innate sense of caring for others to do groundbreaking work in health psychology - a field where his influence will forever be felt. He took immense pleasure in helping younger colleagues grow and reach their potential. He cherished his family and friends, of whom there were many. He had a soft spot in his heart for animals, and never turned away a stray from his family’s ranch, which he, his wife Carrie and children Jesse and Callie shared with many cats, dogs and horses.

Family, friends, students and colleagues came together December 6 to celebrate Dr. Baum’s life at a memorial service in the Planetarium at UT Arlington. Dr. Baum was just 62 when he died of cardiac arrest Nov. 22. He had struggled with health issues for the past year, but was resolute about not allowing his illness to affect his work. He was involved in academics to the end - on the last day of his life, he participated in a thesis defense by phone.

Those who spoke during the service made clear that Dr. Baum made a lasting impact on the lives of themselves and countless others. While Dr. Baum’s prominent place in the field of psychology, his trailblazing research, and the copious awards he received were all mentioned, the things most emphasized were the relationships he fostered and cherished with so many, and the gusto with which he lived.

"It is appropriate that this memorial service for Andy is being held in the planetarium, for we are reflecting today on the life and death of a star," said Paul Paulus, psychology professor, former dean of the College of Science and a close friend of Dr. Baum for over 30 years. "As well known as Andy was for his scholarship, he was also revered in the field for his personality and his warmth. His sense of humor, his broad-ranging intellect, and his genuine interest in and concern for others made him one of the most liked people in his field. Basically, Andy was all heart."

Paulus recalled first meeting Dr. Baum during conferences in the 1970s, and said Dr. Baum could often be found surrounded by students and colleagues.

"He was like a pied piper," Paulus said. "He just had a way to draw people to him by his personality. At every university where he established a research program, there was a large and lively group of students involved."

Robert Gatchel, chair of the Department of Psychology and a close friend of Dr. Baum since their days together as young faculty members at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md., recalled how he and Dr. Baum pushed each other while writing what became the first non-edited textbook in the emerging field of health psychology.

"We actually had a non-verbalized competition in terms of writing our chapters," Gatchel said. "I remember that, after we signed the contract for the textbook, Andy produced his first chapter in two weeks. I was amazed at this unexpected production speed and subsequently had my first chapter written in two to three weeks. Meanwhile, Andy was writing his second chapter and had it completed shortly after I completed my first chapter. And so it went."

Gatchel said he, Dr. Baum and fellow faculty member David Krantz temporarily had to share an office when they arrived at USUHS in 1978, and said he felt sorry for their secretary, who had to endure the antics of "three new ‘young Turks’ trying to talk over one another, competing with one another, and collaborating with one another."

Gatchel read portions of some of the large number of emails he received in the days following Dr. Baum’s death. They spoke of how much Dr. Baum meant to them, how he affected their lives and how large a void his passing will leave in their own lives.

"We are left with big shoes to fill and a person of great compassion to honor," one said. "It is a testament to his character that he leaves such a large wake."

Another said, "Andy, I miss you. You were the tree that sprouted many roots, and careers were made under your tutelage. ... Rest in peace. ... You will always be in my heart."

Krantz, who expressed great regret at being unable to attend the memorial in a written message read by Paulus, recalled with affection how Dr. Baum would arrive at work in the early days in his white Datsun 240ZX, wearing his trademark cowboy boots, cowboy shirt, and carrying his "briefcase," which actually was an over-the-shoulder saddlebag.

"I initially assumed he was from the western U.S. until I found out that he grew up in Silver Spring (Maryland), and to that point hadn’t lived any further west than Pittsburgh," Krantz wrote.

Krantz recalled being somewhat intimidated by Dr. Baum when they first met, due to how much Dr. Baum had already accomplished so early in his career. He was already one of the brightest stars in the field of environmental psychology and was doing groundbreaking work, at a prodigious pace, Krantz said. In those days, long before word processing software, Krantz said Dr. Baum frequently brought in thick stacks of manuscripts and book chapters he had written the night or weekend before to be typed by the secretary.

"How could I possibly keep up with that?" Krantz wrote. "But despite his impressive body of work, there was nobody less personally intimidating and more welcoming and informal than Andy, and we quickly became close friends. I mean, how can you be intimidated by a guy who had a large inflatable green jet plane hanging from the ceiling of his office?"

From early in his career, Dr. Baum was interested in investigating biobehavioral aspects of cancer causation, control and treatment. He fostered projects to better understand the basis of individual susceptibility to cancer, conditions that promote cancer development, and barriers to effective prevention, early detection and treatment of cancer. His research explored all possible angles of any given subject.

Angela Dougall, a UT Arlington assistant professor of psychology and former student of Dr. Baum who was a collaborator and friend of his for 18 years, recounted studies done by Dr. Baum of victims of the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor accident in 1979. Dr. Baum studied not just the victims who lived near Three Mile Island, but also used control groups of people who lived near other nuclear reactors and those not near any reactor. Another of his studies involved victims who were seriously injured in motor vehicle accidents, utilizing control groups of accident victims with minor injuries.

"He was interested in the whole person, and he studied it all," said. "Each study was one piece of a puzzle leading to a fuller picture of what was going on," Dougall said. "He realized that all of it affects the big picture. He was amazing to have that vision from the earliest work in his career."

Dougall also hailed Dr. Baum's writing abilities, and his commitment to mentoring.

"He didn't like big words; he crossed those out and used smaller ones," she said. "He always used to say, and I now say the same thing to my students, ‘Write it so your grandmother could understand it.' His colleagues, friend and students all agreed that he had a big heart, and he really enjoyed mentoring, helping us blossom into scientists."

After leaving USUHS for the University of Pittsburgh in 1993, Dr. Baum ably managed multiple responsibilities as a director at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute. There were three deputy directors - basic research, clinical and Dr. Baum, who was "Lord High Poobah of everything else," Gatchel said. He had 80 people working under him. All the while, he was never too busy to mentor a junior colleague or to savor a cup of coffee and good conversation with a friend. He was also regularly involved in coaching teams on which his young kids, Jesse and Callie, played.

In 2006, Gatchel - by then head of UT Arlington's psychology department - asked Dr. Baum to come to Texas and join the faculty at UT Arlington. Inspired by the challenge of helping raise the department's profile and moving it closer to Tier I status, Dr. Baum accepted the offer.

"When Andy, his wife Carrie, his son Jesse, and his daughter Callie arrived, they all became instant Texans," Gatchel said. "One of the selling points I gave Andy was the fact that since he already wore cowboy boots, he would be able to purchase them at a lower price down in Texas cowboy boot country."

Kelsey Downum, UT Arlington senior associate vice president for research and a biology professor, arrived at UT Arlington around the same time as Dr. Baum, and the two became close friends. They shared a love of Thai food and coffee.

"Andy was such a keen observer of behavior," Downum said. "I'm a biologist and a lot of that just escaped me, but Andy took me under his wing in that regard. He enjoyed mentoring junior faculty and he took that job very seriously."

Paulus recounted Dr. Baum's love of fun, friends and fellowship.

"One of Andy's real joys was to share stories about the people and events he had experienced. He loved real people and real places. ... Andy was always a hall wanderer. He had trouble sitting still for a long time, so he would go down the hallways to chat or say hello," Paulus said. "I experienced that syndrome at all three of his major institutions. He was the department's number one socializer and connector. You could always hear him coming because of his cowboy boots."

The service concluded with a slide show of photos produced by Lara Trevino, one of Dr. Baum's graduate students, and Micah Eimerbrink. The planetarium's giant screen was filled with photos of a smiling Dr. Baum with family, friends, colleagues, his beloved cats, his kids' youth sports teams - visual memories of a full life, well-lived.

"Andy made a real difference, and influenced many people in his life that ended way too early," Krantz wrote. "He made a difference in terms of his contributions to the psychology field, to the lives of the many students he trained (who themselves are training the next generation of psychologists), in his important role as a great father and husband, and in the unforgettable effect he had on many of us who knew him as a colleague and friend."

A memorial fund has been established in Dr. Baum's honor. Contributions may be made to the Dr. Andy Baum Memorial Fund at the University of Texas at Arlington, Box 19047, Arlington, TX, 76019.