Coming from a civic-minded family, Merrily Baird has, throughout her lifetime, looked for ways to give. Those ways have varied over the years but her focus has always been on helping those who are most in need. Baird, 78, grew up in Long Island in a liberal Jewish family whose father was an importer and exporter of chemicals. She has now retired from a long career in the Central Intelligence Agency – yes, the CIA – and lives in Atlanta.
She has been to Pascagoula. She has never been elsewhere in Mississippi. She did not attend Hinds Community College and, in fact, has never visited the college. None of her family members are Hinds alumni. “I’m not sure if I’d ever heard of a community college before,” she confessed.
Her path to becoming a Hinds fan and consistent donor to the Foundation, however, stems from her lifelong commitment to helping others as well as a personal experience that inspired her to appreciate health care workers who were taking classes to advance while they worked.
Baird had gall bladder surgery and wound up for a few weeks in a nursing home while she recovered.
“What I discovered during my six weeks at the A.G. Rhodes Nursing Home was that most of the employees – be they floor cleaners or wound specialists, CNAs, LPNs and nurses and even doctors – are from overseas,” she said. “And the women in particular were amazing. They work, they almost all were married with children and husbands, and they almost all were going to school at night or weekends to move up that ladder.
“A light bulb went off. And I said to myself, ‘This is just amazing. I’ve never seen such a profession that allows people, especially people who come to the United States from elsewhere, to move up the economic ladder, become more professional and live better lives.’ ”
Baird wanted to donate money to the nursing home, but that wasn’t allowed. In a conversation with her long-time friend Bob Purks, who is vice chairman of the Vicksburg Medical Foundation, she learned about Hinds Community College and its health care programs. The Vicksburg Medical Foundation funds a number of nursing scholarships for Hinds students.
Purks connected her with Jackie Granberry, now retired as Executive Director of the Foundation. The two of them began a telephone relationship.
“I told her what I wanted to do was benefit people who are doing health studies. I asked her to specifically focus on hardship cases or special needs that arise very quickly,” Baird said.
One of those situations, for instance, was a dental hygiene student who didn’t have $100 to pay for scrubs she needed for the program.
Baird began donating “a few hundred dollars here and there a couple of times a year.”
That has evolved to her donating to other Hinds projects. Through reading Hindsight magazine and the stories of how Hinds has helped strengthen the Mississippi economy, particularly the Delta region, she became intrigued with the Maritime Training Center in Vicksburg. That drew her to donate a small amount of money to it. “It caught my attention and my fancy,” she said.
Baird says she is not able to give much at a time, but she is committed to continuing to support Hinds as much as she can. “It has been eye-opening dealing with Hinds, and I really admire it,” she said.
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