One of the Righteous Few

By Stanley M. Aronson / January / February 2003
June 22nd, 2007
When historians ponder Brown’s transition from a small and comfortable university-college to the university it is today, they will inevitably seek out those visionaries who initiated this transformation. Certainly there have been charismatic academics, farsighted and courageous administrators, and creative researchers who materially aided in this institutional maturation. But there were others, exerting no visible leadership other than moral, who motivated a striking change in the character of this campus. One of these moral leaders was the Reverend Charles A. Baldwin II, Brown’s chaplain from 1958 to 1990.

Baldwin, who died November 9, was trained at the Yale School of Divinity before joining the ministerial staff of Central Congregational Church in Providence. President Barnaby Keeney, who was deeply impressed with Baldwin’s rhetorical skills and with his fervent belief in a proactive religion, named him University chaplain with the mandate that he abide by his conscience, speak his mind—and let the president’s office worry about the possible consequences.

Under Baldwin’s leadership the chaplaincy expanded beyond its comfortable role as deliverer of Sunday sermons into a campus center actively concerned with civil liberties, probity, and individual responsibility. His ecumenical attitude brought the various campus faiths closer to one another and encouraged the medical school to recruit clergy to teach medical ethics. Through open debate and social action, he brought the Brown campus into a new era.

Baldwin structured his chaplaincy to confront social injustice and inequity on and off campus. He joined in peaceful demonstrations against entrenched racial segregation in the South, accumulating an impressive arrest record. He also coordinated the cooperative relationship between Brown and the historically black Tougaloo College in Mississippi and even served for a year as Tougaloo’s interim president.

In the early 1970s, in association with the medical school, Baldwin initiated an independent program to train hospital, missionary, and prison chaplains, Interfaith Health Care Ministries. It is now one of the largest such organizations in New England. Baldwin also helped inaugurate Rhode Island’s first comprehensive hospice program and served as its first president.

An ancient Jewish legend, called Lamed Vovnik, declares that there are thirty-six righteous humans in the world chosen by God to maintain islands of sanity, generosity, civility, and social justice in this world. Many who knew Charles Baldwin are convinced that he had been one of these righteous few. He was a giant in our midst.

Baldwin is survived by his former wife, two sons, three grandsons, a sister, and a brother.

Stanley M. Aronson is dean of medicine emeritus.
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