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Richard Baum, a professor emeritus and a prominent scholar in Chinese comparative politics and Chinese foreign relations, died Dec. 14 at his home in Westwood after a four-and-a-half-year battle with cancer. He was 72.
Baum’s friends, colleagues and family members remember him as a humble and intelligent man who was dedicated to his work.
“He was a really brilliant guy who was very humble and had no pretense,” said his son Matthew Baum, a professor of global communications and public policy at Harvard University. “He self-consciously and aggressively lacked pretense.”
Richard Baum focused on China’s political development and tried to understand policies and what they meant globally, said Clayton Dube, executive director of the University of Southern California U.S. China Institute and longtime colleague and friend of Baum’s.
Baum studied political science at UCLA in the 1960s as an undergrad, and went on to receive his master’s degree in 1963 and his doctorate degree in 1970 in political science at UC Berkeley. He returned to UCLA to teach political science for 44 years.
While at UCLA, Baum launched ChinaPol, an online platform where about 1,300 journalists, professors, scholars and government officials can discuss China and its culture, politics, economy and military. Baum monitored the site for 15 years, before Dube took it over when Baum’s health deteriorated, Dube said.
Baum continued to teach at UCLA, even after he was diagnosed with cancer and underwent chemotherapy sessions later on, Dube said.
He was an animated storyteller and taught people about China with a tremendous passion, Matthew Baum said of his father.
In 2000, Baum took about 10 UCLA students to a small town in China. Dube recalled how excited Baum was when he returned from China and shared his stories with his colleagues.
“This was a major highlight of his life. He cared enough to want these kids to experience a part of China that wasn’t as well-known,” Dube said. “It was just the kind of guy he was.”
Baum retired in June 2011 because of health reasons, Matthew Baum said.
“He has been part of the UCLA community forever,” said Mark Trachtenberg, a professor of political science at UCLA. “He loved to teach. Even when he retired he continued to teach.”
Trachtenberg and Baum had neighboring offices and would visit each other often to joke around and enjoy small talk.
“All I have to say is, I miss him,” Trachtenberg said.
To his colleagues he will be known as a man who made an impact with his knowledge of China and its politics. But to his family, he will be remembered as a husband, father, and grandfather, Matthew Baum said.
Baum was also a longtime supporter of athletics at UCLA and shared his interest in sports with his family.
He played basketball when he was younger and tennis as he got older. He was an avid L.A. Dodgers fan, but was first and foremost a UCLA sports fan, his son said.
“My dad and I went to UCLA basketball and football games together all the time,” Matthew Baum said. “We are a family of Bruins.”
His father was the most important teacher he ever had, he said.
“My dad was very resistant, very well measured and thoughtful. I had a lot of faith in his judgement,” Baum said. “Journalists would ask me questions in my profession and I would email my dad and ask, did I blow that?”
Baum would often express to his son how satisfied he was with his life, both professionally and personally, Matthew Baum said.
“He told me he did everything he sought to do in life before he died,” he said. “In the end, he had no regrets.”
Baum is survived by his wife Joffe, his son Matthew; daughter-in-law Jeeyang; daughter Kristen; son-in-law Jan Wilcox; grandchildren Téa and Alec Baum and Sophie Wilcox; and brother Steven.
Baum’s friends and family plan to hold a memorial service for him at the UCLA Faculty Center on Jan. 19 at 2 p.m.
Correction: Richard Baum retired in June 2011.