The Baker-King Family Foundation Fund represents four generations of philanthropy -- so far

June 26, 2018

For more than 60 years, the Baker-King family has gathered each year for a reunion of succeeding generations of cousins and a business meeting of the family charitable foundation. They are grateful to the founders for providing a philanthropic purpose which centers their family. (story continues below)

The 1969 family portrait captures four siblings—three brothers and their sister—standing almost at attention behind the loveseat on which their parents are seated. While all three brothers are outfitted in coats and ties, the youngest to the left, James Sydney "Syd" King, seems the most relaxed, sporting a jaunty grin that mirrors that  of his sister, Virginia King Whittlesey. The expressions of the two elder brothers—Dr. Joseph D. B. King and John T. King III—are more reserved but not without a deeper warmth. Seated in front of them, their father, Dr. John T. King, Jr., celebrating his eightieth birthday, wears a flower in his lapel. Lanky and white-haired with a piercing gaze, he appears at ease, with the hint of a bemused smile playing on his lips. To his right is his wife of 56 years, Charlotte Baker King, who in a flowing patterned dress leans slightly forward, her hands folded on her lap. Her head cocked slightly to the right, she levels a quizzical gaze directly at the camera’s lens as if to say, though not unkindly, “Thank you, but that’s quite close enough.”

Together, they form the nucleus of a philanthropic family in Baltimore that continues to this day, spanning four generations. And today, with a fifth generation nearly ready to take the reins, the Baltimore Community Foundation has given the Baker-King family foundation a new and enduring life as an endowed donor-advised fund. “Because of our Baltimore roots, both in terms of our family and the mission of our philanthropy, choosing  BCF was the easiest and most logical of transitions,” says Lee Gordon, an estate planning attorney based in Easton MD, who is a fourth-generation family member and one of the four current senior “advisors” for the 25 family members engaged in the fund’s management and grant-making decisions. “For all of us, converting the family foundation to a BCF donor-advised fund was the best way to ensure that we could preserve it in the most efficient manner,” says Gordon. “BCF takes a majority of the administrative burden off of us through the management expertise and experience of their advisers. Our family can continue their involvement in this charitable legacy without any concerns.”

But for a truer appreciation of the Baker-King family’s charitable legacy, it helps to understand the personalities of its founders, Dr. John T. King, Jr, and Charlotte Baker King. Born in Baltimore in 1889, Dr. King attended Boys’ Latin School and Princeton University before graduating from the Johns Hopkins Medical School in 1914. After completing his residency in 1916, he married Charlotte Markell Baker, the daughter of a prominent industrialist, financier, and philanthropist from Frederick, MD. 

“My grandmother graduated from Hood College, which was very unusual in those days,” notes Leighton Wheeler, mother of Lee Gordon and a third-generation family member. “Her family, while very successful, lived a very modest, stoic Methodist lifestyle. They believed one should just spend money on what was really needed and then give the rest of it away. That was their charitable perspective.”

Dr. King served in both World Wars, as a first lieutenant in WWI, and as a colonel and chief of medical service at Walter Reed General Hospital during WWII. In addition to his private medical practice, he taught medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine for 65 years, publishing two books and 44 articles during his lengthy career. His best-known work was a study on cardiology of which he was the co-author. From 1939 until 1942, he also was the physician-in-chief at Baltimore City Hospitals.

The couple lived for their entire married life at 219 West Lanvale Street in Baltimore's Bolton Hill. It was there in 1954 that the couple pooled their assets and established the family foundation. “My grandfather was more influenced by my grandmother, because philanthropy was part of her upbringing,” says Wheeler. 

However, even with this shared vison, both grandparents retained their distinctive personalities. “My grandfather was very quiet and formal but had a wonderful sense of humor. Once, my father John T. King III and his brother Joseph, who were a little wild when they were younger, didn't arrive home until dawn,” Wheeler recalls, chuckling. "My grandmother was furious and said to my grandfather, 'John, say something to the boys!' My grandfather looked over at his sons and said, 'Good morning.'”

“On the other hand, my grandmother was a personable, no-nonsense lady who kept track of everyone in the family. She had a way of quietly helping anyone who was in need, slipping a little something their way without a lot of fanfare."

Wheeler, just three years old when the foundation was established, grew up with the knowledge that along with her siblings and cousins, she would be called upon eventually to help administer the foundation. She was familiar with the tradition: every year on a Friday or Saturday in June, the family gathers at a relative’s home for their annual fund meeting and reunion, conducting business and then socializing over lunch or dinner. Younger family members who have turned 18 in the previous year are eligible to join. 

"Over the years, we've all taken turns at wearing different hats in working with the foundation,” says Wheeler. “And, none want to give up our annual get-together. Now that people move around so much, it's an opportunity for cousins to meet each other, and our children to see their grown-up children.”

However, as the family has grown larger and geographically dispersed, Wheeler worried that the logistics of managing the “nuts and bolts” of the foundation were becoming too challenging. Gordon initially proposed the idea of moving the foundation to BCF. “It became clear that it takes a lot of time to manage the fiduciary aspects in the best way,” she says. “When we saw the team that BCF had assembled, we had a high level of confidence in their expertise,” she says. “The entire family voted in favor of moving the foundation to BCF. Everyone felt that it was a good logical step that solved our concerns without giving up our important family tradition.

“It is so wonderful to be released from the management part of the fund but still retain the fun part. And when you don't have to pay a lot of outside fees to accountants and lawyers, you have more money to give away!”

In reflection, both Wheeler and Gordon recognize that their family’s philanthropy has touched many lives for the better, including their own. “Our family culture is such that one tends to look at the world through a philanthropic point of view,” says Wheeler. “It's really an education in empathy.”

Lee Gordon agrees. “That's probably what my great-grandparents' goal was—to bring us together as a family to do good work,” she says. “With our deep ties to Baltimore, we want to make sure that we are putting our money to the best use possible.”

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