Entertainer, teacher Leo T. Baldwin leaves legacy of laughter and love

  • Leo T. Baldwin died June 13 at 65 from complications related to dementia. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 6/19/2019 11:50:20 PM

After an eight-year battle with early-onset dementia, Leo T. Baldwin of Conway, a radio announcer, comedian and Mohawk Trail schoolteacher, died at Western Massachusetts Hospital last week at age 65.

Baldwin had a varied career, spanning radio, stand-up comedy and teaching. After returning from California in 1979, he took a job as an announcer at a Vermont radio station before moving to other local stations and eventually Greenfield’s “The River” at WRSI. Locals may remember Baldwin for his humorous advertisements as Fernando from the Bedroom Factory on WRSI. He was also a colleague of the late Buddy Rubbish, a.k.a. Louis G. Roscher.

It was in this time that he began to work as a stand-up comic, traveling to Boston, New York and Las Vegas to perform, among other cities. He also took part in countless local shows, including for many years in the annual production “Transperformance,” held by the Northampton Arts Council.

Judith Roberts, who worked with Baldwin at “The River” for about 20 years, said she most appreciated his sense of humor. “He was a great friend and a brilliant colleague,” Roberts said. “He had both a comedic sense but was also a deep thinker and very original in the things that he wrote and spoke.”

Baldwin is survived by his wife, Sally Boutiette, and their two daughters, Carey and Emily Baldwin.

This October would mark Baldwin and Boutiette’s 42nd anniversary. The couple met in 1974 at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, after they lived across the hall from each another in their college dormitory. After about a year of friendship, their relationship grew into something more.

“We just got to like each other more and more, and ended up starting to date,” Boutiette said. “I was very attracted to someone who was so bright, and so funny, and so good.”

The couple married in 1974 and moved to Boston, where Boutiette worked as a nurse and Baldwin tried to find radio jobs, working as a cab driver to pay the rent. After Baldwin worked on a film set, he “caught the movie bug,” and the two drove across the country to California. They soon tired of Los Angeles and returned to western Massachusetts, moving first to Shelburne Falls and then to Colrain, before settling down in Conway to raise their two girls.

Among Boutiette’s reasons for falling in love with her husband was his ease with children, she said.

“I knew he would be a great father. He was absolutely wonderful with children,” Boutiette said. “I thought someone like that has got to be good all the way around.”

Boutiette’s theory appeared to be correct: Their daughter Carey Baldwin gushed about her father Wednesday, describing him as kind, funny and involved. She said her dad was “always showing up,” whether it was to volunteer as a field trip chaperone, coach a sports team or whatever was needed.

“He made it obvious that we were just the most important thing to him,” Carey Baldwin said.

Many of Baldwin’s colleagues turned into his longtime friends. Joe O’Rourke, who worked alongside Baldwin in the early 1980s at a local radio station, said the pair became “great friends” in their five years of working together, and maintained the kinship until his death. In particular, O’Rourke recalled being invited to Baldwin’s home for a family dinner.

“I was 21-year-old kid, and it was lovely to see his family life and how important that was to him and how it was a life to aspire to,” O’Rourke said.

When Carey and Emily were teenagers, Baldwin decided to return to UMass to become a teacher. He received a bachelor’s degree and then a master’s, and worked at Mohawk Trail Regional School as a social studies and history teacher for 10 years. He also coached the soccer team — despite a lack of experience in the sport, Carey Baldwin joked.

“He learned from my sister and I,” she said.

In 2011, when Baldwin began to show signs of dementia, he left his job at Mohawk Trail.

“He was showing clear symptoms of something being off,” Boutiette said. “He was starting to have cognitive difficulties.”

Baldwin’s condition gradually deteriorated from there, she said. Eventually, he lost the ability to speak and understand information.

“It’s so amazing, he was a great communicator and he lost the ability to process language,” Boutiette said. “For a couple of years he really could not converse or seemingly understand some very simple questions or suggestions, like, ‘Do you want to sit down?’ It’s a horrible, horrible disease.”

Two years ago, Baldwin moved to Westfield to live at Western Massachusetts Hospital. Finding the near-daily commute tough, Boutiette sold the family home last fall and moved to Northampton to be closer to her husband.

“It’s just tragic, to watch someone who was so full of joy and mirth have to struggle so much,” Boutiette said.

While she was grief-stricken throughout her husband’s illness, Boutiette said she refrained from feeling angry.

“I don’t think there’s much value in that,” Boutiette said. “I don’t live with the expectation that life is fair.”

In honor of Baldwin, his family will donate money to two nonprofits: The Literacy Project in Greenfield, which offers adults free reading, writing and math classes, and Riverside Industries in Easthampton, which seeks to help people with disabilities become employed.

To donate or to view the obituary: https://www.westfieldfuneralhome.com/notices/Leo-BaldwinJr.

Reach Grace Bird at gbird@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 280.

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