CHICAGO, Dec. 28, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- John W. Baird, prominent Chicago real estate developer and champion of fair housing, open space and historic preservation, died on December 27 in a Glenview hospice after suffering a stroke eight days earlier. He was 98.
Mr. Baird was known for his understated style and dedication to causes that often seemed at odds with his personal financial interests—prompting the architect Laurence O. Booth, with whom he worked on many projects, to deem him "the ultimate American, the Gary Cooper of real estate."
A native of Evanston and longtime resident of Winnetka, Mr. Baird received a degree in history with distinction from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, in 1938 and a master's degree in business from Harvard University in 1940 before serving as an Army captain during World War II.After the war, he joined Baird & Warner, the venerable Chicago real estate company founded in 1855 and owned by his family since 1860. In 1963, he succeeded his father, Warner G. Baird, as president of Baird & Warner and moved aggressively to open sales offices throughout the city and suburbs and expand the company's commercial mortgage operation. Mr. Baird served as president of the company until 1991, when he was succeeded by his son, Stephen W. Baird, the fifth-generation member of the family to lead the company. Until shortly before his death, Mr. Baird served as chairman of the board of Baird & Warner, which currently operates 23 brokerage offices with sales of more than $5 billion annually in northern Illinois as well as mortgage and title units. Beginning in the 1960s, Mr. Baird led efforts to end housing discrimination in Chicago. As president of the Metropolitan Housing and Planning Council, in 1962 he became something of a pariah to fellow members of the Chicago Real Estate Board by appearing before the Chicago City Council and calling for enactment of an open-housing ordinance. The ordinance, which passed after a heated debate in 1963, ostensibly barred discrimination in real estate sales "against any person because of his race, color, religion, national origin or ancestry"—a promise that would long remain unfulfilled—in the face of industry policies that perpetuated de facto discrimination against blacks, Hispanics, Jews and other minorities.