Gloria Butler Baldwin is the ultimate do-it-yourselfer. Rather than sit around and wait for others to take action, she embraces the self-sufficiency of knowing how to do things herself and has long set seemingly unachievable goals.
For example, early on, the oldest (and ringleader) of three girls born to the Butler family in Vicksburg, Baldwin wanted to attend the national DECA convention in Chicago, where her boyfriend was attending college. “I really had no idea what (DECA) was, but only the first place chapters from each state were invited,” recalled Baldwin, a student at R.H. Watkins High School in Laurel at the time. “I knew I had to not only get elected president of DECA, but take it to first place.”
Not only did Baldwin’s chapter earn the top prize and a bid to attend the Delta Epsilon Chi Association’s national convention of high school and college students studying marketing, management and entrepreneurship, but the small group also took third place in the national competition. “A bonus,” she says.
After earning a social rehabilitation degree from the University of Southern Mississippi, Baldwin shifted gears and spent approximately a year scheduling commercials for WTOK-TV in Meridian when her husband’s work took the couple to East Central Mississippi. After convincing television station management to promote her to creative services producer so she could write, direct and produce commercials, she received an ADDY for Best Commercial in Mississippi on her first try.
“This was a turning point for me and I discovered I loved the media,” says Baldwin, who received a special commendation for her work as executive coordinator for the Keep America Beautiful Commission, where she supervised the actions of six committees and 27 government-appointed commissioners, helped write legislation, and continued to write, direct and produce “some pretty amazing” TV promos and video presentations.
After a short stint as promotions manager for FOX 40 in Jackson, Baldwin, who had just gone through a divorce and “needed a therapist so I thought I’d just become one,” earned a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Reformed Theological Seminary. While serving as a mental health therapist and later the employee assistance counselor at Methodist Medical Center with Southern Farm Bureau, she wrote numerous workshops on topics focusing on conflict resolution and dealing with difficult people. That work caught the eye of other statewide healthcare leaders who were interested in having her customize presentations for their organizations. Around that time, she became pregnant with her son, Patrick, now 14.
Determined to spend as much time as possible working from home, Baldwin got her real estate sales license. She worked briefly as a peer review coordinator for the Mississippi Society of CPAs and freelanced for The Clarion-Ledger’s weekly real estate section. A year later, the daily newspaper hired her as a full-time staff reporter.
Then, with five years of salaried writing experience under her belt and a Mississippi Press Award on the shelf as co-writer for a series, Baldwin returned home to freelance full-time for publications including Brentwood, Tenn.-based Medical News Inc., The Clarion-Ledger, Pointe Innovation magazine, Jackson Parents & Kids, and others.
After a Fox news anchor in Virginia saw her work online, she contracted Baldwin to write the Mississippi portrait on the late Larry Kenyatta Brown for the best-selling book, “Faces of Freedom: Profiles of America’s Fallen Heroes: Iraq and Afghanistan,” published last year by Wentworth Printing Corp. This year, Arbor Books published Baldwin’s first children’s book, “Lighthouse Lindy,” which The New York Times reviewed favorably in its Sunday edition March 9.
“I used to make up stories to teach lessons to tell my son when he was little,” explained Baldwin, also an award-winning poet. “And I’ve always been intrigued by the mysteries and stories surrounding lighthouses. So one day, I just sat down to write a children’s book combining a lesson about self-worth, materialism, acceptance and friendship, using a lighthouse to do it.”
Drawing on her experience working with elected officials, Baldwin recently pursued her latest passion — convincing lawmakers to add “next of kin” contact information to the back of driver’s licenses through the “Kin Contact” campaign she founded.
“As a mother whose son is getting to the age he’ll be driving soon, I worry about his safety on the road,” said Baldwin. “I hear in the news all the time about accidents or bodies found and they’re searching for relatives to notify before they say who it is. I thought it would be a great idea to put next of kin numbers (there) to help paramedics, hospitals, law enforcement or just passersby who stop to help … to see who the person is and be able to contact their family immediately instead of having to wait for hours, days or weeks before they’re found. It would save valuable time for workers and would allow families to get to their loved one sooner. It may mean the difference in seeing them alive one more time versus them maybe dying at a hospital alone.”
So far, Baldwin has received some interest from a Mississippi legislator who plans to introduce it as a new bill in the 2009 legislative session. “I’m trying to encourage all states to implement this,” she emphasizes.
Full of surprises
Even though Baldwin’s résumé is packed with more experience than people typically achieve in a lifetime, she is full of even more surprises. A trained hospice volunteer, she has worked as a Red Cross volunteer and taught ESL (English as a Second Language.) She admits to being “stuck in the ‘60s and ‘70s” and having a “walking to a different drummer” personality.
A tomboy by nature, “God knew what he was doing when he gave me a boy,” joked Baldwin. “I don’t care for the fishing and hunting stuff, but I love taking my son to car races like the Indy 500 and Road Atlanta. We like going to sporting events, so I’ve taken him to see the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, Chicago Bulls, Boston Celtics, Dallas Stars, New Orleans Saints and the 76ers in Philadelphia. We love to go to New York to see Broadway shows and eat at Tavern on the Green and to Santa Monica and ride bikes on the beach.”
What’s next for this bundle of energy? “I continue to write and explore all possibilities,” Baldwin hints.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.