Ridgefield’s first social services director’s legacy is her smile, devotion to those less fortunate

Mary Ann Baldwin, former school board chair and social services director in Ridgefield

Mary Ann Baldwin, former school board chair and social services director in Ridgefield

/ contributed photo

RIDGEFIELD — From her programs to help seniors to her leadership on the school board, Mary Ann Baldwin is remembered for her dedication to giving back to the community and helping people less fortunate.

“She was very devoted to her job at Social Services and spent all hours of the day doing what she could to help people,” said Sue Manning, her friend and former Ridgefield first selectman from 1987-1997.

Baldwin, 78, passed away on June 22 after a long battle with cancer. A 52-year resident of Ridgefield and active member of the community, she spent nine years on the Ridgefield Board of Education, including four years as chair. In 1991, she became Ridgefield’s first director of social services and served there until her retirement in 2010.

While Baldwin supported Ridgefield through the Board of Education and at Social Services, her husband, Dr. Randall Baldwin, said she was good at one other job.

“Mary made an impact in the community, but what I remember the most is her being a wife and a mother,” he said. “She did a good job of that too. When she became director of Social Services it was only a part-time operation. She was most proud of being able to eventually take that to a full-time operation to better serve senior citizens and people who were down and out.

“When she was chairman of the Board of Education, it was a tumultuous time in town with some schools closing. She dealt with it as best she could and got through it.”

Manning also recalled her as someone who was fun, happy-go-lucky, always upbeat and full of ideas.

“As director of social services she was always coming to me with new ideas, including ways to help senior citizens, and we implemented some of them,” said Manning, adding they quickly became “very good friends.”

Supporting seniors

Randall Baldwin said two of the noteworthy programs she created was Ridgefield Loves Seniors and the Seniors Coat Initiative. Ridgefield Loves Seniors involved a Senior Gold Card that gives seniors a 10 percent discount on purchases at organizations, businesses and restaurants. It is currently sponsored by the Senior Positive Initiative Forum.

Through a generous donation of an unnamed person and with support from Kohl’s, with the Seniors Coat Initiative seniors could go to Kohl’s and get a coat.

Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi said Mary Baldwin was dedicated to serving the town and made an impact through her work at Social Services. This included a tax assistance program.

“Mary created programs that got seniors involved in the community,” Marconi said. “She made them feel like an important part of the community.”

“She also worked to help people with mental issues, made sure they didn’t fall through the cracks and were taken care of through various programs,” he added. “She did her best to help people and you can’t help everyone. But she always made people feel good when they left her office.”

Tony Phillips, the current Ridgefield director of Social Services, never met Mary Baldwin. But he has experienced the impact she made in Social Services.

“When I started as director of Social Services I immediately found that Ridgefield residents were incredibly generous with their time, efforts and donations with regard to our department,” Phillips said. “I attribute that to my predecessors’ activity and their reputation to making Social Services a worthy charitable organization and department that people trust for help.

“When I started at Town Hall people would often relay that both Mary Ann and my immediate predecessor Carole Konner took good care of them. So naturally the pressure was on to live up to their expectations.”

Mary Baldwin had been sick with cancer for 10 years and treated for lung cancer, her husband said. The treatment affected other areas of her body, and she was housebound for the last three years.

“We thought she would have more time with us,” Randall Baldwin said.

Philanthropy was another area of importance for the Baldwins. While they made donations to many local organizations, nationally St. Jude’s Hospital was her No. 1 charity.

“When it comes to Mary’s legacy, I want people to remember her for her smile, friendliness and ability to solve problems,” Dr. Randall Baldwin said.