Social Grace Also Serves in Times of Adversity
Except for a few theater outings, DeeAnn and Al Baldwin of Laguna Beach have kept a low social profile since their home building company went into bankruptcy in July.
Once mainstays on the charity circuit, the couple who regularly opened their Emerald Bay home to benefits closed the door on their public life.
Until last week.
Arm in arm, the Baldwins wore brave smiles Thursday as they swept into the new Twin Palms restaurant in Newport Beach to co-chair a Futures for Children benefit.
“It’s time to be out in public, doing positive things again,” DeeAnn said as she wended her way through the 350-strong crowd. “It’s great to be here.”
The Baldwins are not alone in returning, heads held high, to the Orange County social scene after weathering a storm of negative publicity.
County Supervisor William G. Steiner came back to support his favorite charities after the county’s much-publicized bankruptcy. UCI Chancellor Laurel Wilkening has maintained her social commitments despite the fertility clinic scandal that has rocked the university. Charity activist Mary Dell Barkouras of Newport Beach has not let the tabloid-publicized suit by soap opera star Deidre Hall against her late husband’s estate keep her away from the social scene.
It hasn’t been easy, they all say.
It is one thing to have your support for charities reported on the society pages and quite another to have professional or personal struggles detailed on the front page.
They all agree that support of family and friends has enabled them to maintain their social equilibrium.
Manners expert Letitia Baldrige advises people to reserve judgment and offer support to those undergoing publicized setbacks. “When you see that person in public, don’t ignore him or her,” she said during a phone interview from her Washington home. “Get them out of earshot, touch their arm, and say, ‘I just want you to know that we’re all sorry this has happened and we’re pulling for you.’
“Everybody makes mistakes in his or her life,” said Baldrige, who was Jacqueline Kennedy’s White House chief of staff. “And most people have bad times. You don’t take it out on somebody when they’re going through a tough period. You help them, support them.”
To those in the midst of negative publicity, Baldrige offers this advice: “Say nothing in a public situation about your bad fortune. If someone brings it up, say something like, ‘we’re doing fine,’ ‘putting it behind us,’ ‘moving on.’
“If somebody makes an undiplomatic remark, don’t snub them,” she suggested. “Just remove yourself from their presence without expressing anger--smile and walk away.”
Like many who have been the subject of negative news, the Baldwins pulled back at first.
“It seemed no matter what I said I felt misunderstood,” DeeAnn said.
But the couple felt it was important to keep their commitment to co-chair last week’s event--something they had agreed to do well before the Baldwin Co. went into bankruptcy.
“Mostly, people have been very kind,” she said. “And they know what we have given to the county. But without our family and friends, it would have been far more difficult. There’s a lot of jealousy out there.”
Said Al Baldwin: “I have a wonderful family, a great wife, a great group of friends and my health. What’s more important than that?
“I have tried to keep everything in perspective,” he said. “I realize I have become a target, and so I live with it.”
Al is a board member of the Orange County Performing Arts Center, and DeeAnn belongs to the the Angels of the Arts, a center support group. They plan to continue with their charitable commitments, including Catholic Charities of Orange County.
“DeeAnn and I will always do what we can to make a difference,” Al said. “And that includes doing business in Orange County. I’ve been in business for 38 years. And I intend to continue into our sons’ generations.”
When news of UC Irvine’s fertility scandal hit the front pages in May, Wilkening endured one of the most difficult times in her career.
“There was a period when I couldn’t be available simply because we were trying to complete the investigation,” she said at a university benefit in Costa Mesa.
“Then, I really did suffer. I couldn’t be out explaining things. There was an absence of leadership, visibility. I hate not being able to talk about things.”
Overall, people at community events have treated her kindly, she said. But she doesn’t expect kindness from anyone. “Why should people be kind?” she asked. “People are never kind to chancellors and presidents. I mean, it’s a job where you have to make decisions that are sometimes tough, and that’s just part of it.
“I’m not in this job to have people be nice to me. That’s not my goal. I’m in it to be nice to people. Leaders expect this.”
Not only was news of soap opera star Deidre Hall’s suit against the estate of George Barkouras reported on television, it also made the tabloids. The publicity over their loan dispute cast a shadow upon the otherwise bright life of his widow, charity activist Mary Dell Barkouras.
Through it all, Barkouras continued to make regular social appearances. “There was no reason to hide,” she says now, 10 months after she and the “Days of Our Lives” star reached a confidential settlement. “I had nothing to hide from . Nothing. I am a very good, ethical person. I am what you see.”
Barkouras is no stranger to adversity. “I have lost a child, been through a divorce, lost a husband,” she said. “The spirit of the charity scene is something that keeps me going.
“I have given back to the community since I was a kid. That’s the way I was raised--if you’ve been given much, you give back. People have been wonderful through all of this. I have received cards, letters, flowers.
“Of course there are those who are disturbed when they see you trying your best. And they try to disturb you,” she said. “I’ve learned to stay away from them. When you have experienced life’s tragedies, you learn that what is mundane will forever be mundane. You move on.”
With the Orange County Board of Supervisors under attack over the county bankruptcy, Steiner received his share of negative publicity in the past year.
But he continues to participate in charity events, appearing last week at a benefit for the Adam Walsh Center and coordinating an upcoming fund-raiser for the Orangewood Children’s Foundation.
“I’m able to stay out there because of a network of loyal friends who believe in me,” Steiner said last week. “Also, I feel I have a responsibility as a public figure not to hide. “Part of the way I deal with it is by keeping a balanced life, so that the politics of all of this doesn’t consume me.
“I’m still very much involved in charitable work for children,” he said. “And, in that context, when you’re dealing with children who have gone through so much adversity, the burden of your own problems lessen.
“Another source of balance for me is my family--my wife, five children, seven grandchildren,” he said. “They unconditionally love me, and that keeps my self-esteem intact.
“I’m able to hold my head up high when I’m out in the community.”