Flint, MI— Depending on who you talk to, Mark Baldwin was many things.
He was an urban farm owner, a photographer, a neighbor, a friend, a lunch buddy, a community organizer, “a force,” or the best person to call when you needed just about anything.
But if you talk to Dr. Ladel Lewis, who regularly worked with Baldwin during neighborhood clean-ups and now as a Flint City Council member, she’s happy to summarize.
“Mark,” she said, “he was the heartbeat of Flint.”
Baldwin grew up in Flint, Mich. and graduated from Ainsworth High School in the 1970s, before it was combined with Carman High School.
After graduation, he and his childhood friends Tom Quinn and Dave Pieper took a fateful road trip to California, where Baldwin would eventually meet his now ex-wife and start a family.
“The three of us were thick as thieves back then,” recalled Quinn of himself, Baldwin, and Pieper during a memorial event for Baldwin on Oct. 23, 2022. “Then he falls in love with a girl out there and moves to Sacramento.”
Quinn said he and Pieper lost touch with Baldwin for a few decades after that, until seeing him one night in the background of a local news broadcast.
The pair then reconnected with Baldwin, who had moved back to Flint in 2013.
Though Pieper couldn’t say exactly when they began, he said he, Quinn and Baldwin had been meeting up nearly every Thursday since.
“We’d go on walks together. Once a week we’d try anyway,” Pieper said. “There’s about four or five of us, and we walked together and we picked different locations: downtown City of Flint for a while, out in Genesee for a while.”
Because of their regular visits, Pieper was one of the few people who knew Baldwin had passed away in August. Others found out just last month, as news about Baldwin’s death made its way to social media.
“The community of Flint lost a warrior,” wrote one Facebook commenter. “Mark Baldwin, you planted the passion for gardening in my heart. You were everyone’s biggest fan. You saw the beauty in all things and all people. You never gave up, never stayed quiet. You will be sorely missed. May we all continue your legacy and fulfill your dream of a flourishing Flint.”
Such a sentiment was shared broadly among the mourners at Baldwin’s memorial, which was held during the painting of a new mural in his honor.
There, beneath the mural’s larger-than-life pigeons and the words “Spread Your Wings,” dozens of friends and acquaintances of all ages and backgrounds swapped their memories of Baldwin.
“I don’t actually remember when we met,” Flint community organizer Carma Lewis told Flint Beat. “I know it was community meetings that we used to attend. He used to participate with Flint Neighborhoods United.”
Many talked about him walking around the city, carrying his “goofy camera,” attending every public meeting and encouraging people to get involved in neighborhood clean-ups and local legislative concerns.
Lewis remembered Baldwin as generally jolly and kind but “fierce” in the face of a challenge.
“There was one time when someone from the land bank was out mowing grass … and they mowed down a tree. He reported it. They said it didn’t happen,” Lewis recalled with a smile. “Well, guess what? He has cameras on his house, and he shared it on Facebook. And I was like, ‘You go! Watch you go!’”
She said that was just one of many examples of her friend standing up for what he thought was right for the community.
But Lewis and her fellow mourners also talked about Baldwin’s constant support of others’ ideas alongside his genuine passion for the City of Flint. He was called “an inspiration” many times over, and one person simply called Baldwin “a doer” for the Flint community.
“We need more Marks,” Lewis said during the memorial.
“We need a hundred more Marks,” another responded.
Mark Baldwin passed away on August 21, 2022, soon after learning of a cancer diagnosis. Many weren’t aware he died because even after entering Hurley Hospital, Baldwin was posting online in support of local initiatives and checking in now and again with friends.
“I am not surprised at the way he left us, left this world,” Lewis said. “Because he was never—he never complained about himself. It was always about the neighborhoods, community, everyone else.”
The night before he died, Baldwin met with Pastor Brian Grundy of Greater New Bethel Church, whom Pieper and his wife Randee had called upon to visit their friend.
“I had never met him before. I was just told he had a beard,” Grundy said. “When I went to go visit, and I went into the hospital, there [were] two gentlemen there: both of them had beards!”
Grundy chuckled while he explained that he quickly sorted out who “Mr. Baldwin” was, as Mark was immediately “a very warm spirit” that welcomed the pastor over to him.
“He didn’t seem like he was ill at all,” said Grundy. “He just looked like the picture of health and talked the picture of health, but he told me he was sick.”
Grundy said Baldwin also told him he wasn’t sure he was deserving of heaven and of God, so Grundy sat and shared scriptures and a prayer before handing Baldwin a chain with a short inscription from the book of Matthew.
“[It’s] concerning how everyone has an angel standing in the face of God waiting on us to ask, whatever our petitions are, and God grants them by dispatching those angels,” Grundy explained.
Fitting, it seemed to Baldwin’s friends, that one of Flint’s angels, its forever petitioner and advocate, is now resting among his own.
Baldwin is survived by his children and ex-wife, along with a legacy of work in Flint. A legacy which, Councilwoman Lewis noted, is still unfolding.
“He gave us recommendations for ARPA,” Lewis said, adding that Baldwin had suggested some of the city’s American Rescue Plan Act funding go toward fire safety training.
“We were able to allocate [to that],” Lewis confirmed. The council’s ARPA allocation plan passed Oct. 24, a day after Baldwin’s memorial event.
But, she said, so many things in Flint beyond ARPA funding are “absolutely courtesy of Mr. Mark Baldwin”—including the tapestry of Flint residents and friends that came together in recognition of the now-softer heartbeat of a city without its fiercest advocate.
“His legacy will live on,” Lewis said. “He was a great man.”