John Baigent, Founder of Partners in the Horn of Africa died at the beginning of December 2016 in Enderby, B.C.
For many years before I was involved in Compassionate Eye Foundation, I was a labour lawyer in both Alberta and British Columbia. Starting in 1980, I worked in this profession and got to know many other lawyers doing similar work. One name I learned early in my work life was John Baigent. John was a renowned figure in the labour law field and in the labour movement, creating an impressive reputation as the leading practitioner in Western Canada.
I never ran across John on a case, however, as shortly after I moved to Vancouver in 1990, John moved to Enderby B.C. to carry on his practice and to fly fish. He moved there because he could—his clients would seek him out.
Eventually, John stopped practicing and returned to his true love—Africa and community development in Ethiopia. John had a vision of building schools, footbridges, and wells and generally helping people in rural Ethiopia improve their lives. John started Partners in the Horn of Africa and, through his sheer force of nature and persistence, turned it into a $1 million per year organization that changed the lives of Ethiopians, particularly young girls and young women.
John cajoled and persuaded dozens of his former compatriots and adversaries to donate thousands and thousands of dollars to his cause and John was the volunteer Executive Director for the first 12 years at Partners in the Horn of Africa. He travelled to Ethiopia at least once a year to meet communities and oversee operations, then would come home and personally raise the funds for the projects he had promised to the locals.
I got to know John when I became a monthly donor to Partners in the Horn, and was inspired by his energy and passion. He was clearly my inspiration to get involved in the Compassionate Eye Foundation. I could see through his example that my skill set could be useful in helping others in faraway places.
After I joined the Board of CEF, I introduced Partners in the Horn to CEF and, after the Board vetted the organization, we commenced to fund projects with them starting with a school in 2011. It has been a truly wonderful partnership as we have funded for a number of years a program that allows AIDS orphans to go to school. One of the great weeks of my life was spent with other Directors of CEF travelling in Ethiopia with John and Yehalem (the country director for Partners at the time). We saw the change work close up. It was amazing.
John announced a couple of years ago he was going to step aside as Executive Director. That was a difficult transition for the organization. Partners announced last year it was going to stop operating. I remember when John phoned me to tell me. I was very sad but he was clear eyed that it was time—Partners had run its course. I saw John at the 2016 AGM and he was comfortable with the decision. I didn’t know then that he would die 6 months later after a lengthy illness.
I was meeting the week before he died with a former member of the Partners’ Board. We were talking about John and this fellow said “no one I know has done more for poor people than John Baigent.” I totally agree.
A Celebration of John’s life will be held at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, February 4, 2017 at the Riverside Community Hall on Trinity Valley Road, 10 km east of Enderby.
–Dan Rogers, Chair, Compassionate Eye Foundation Board of Directors