Al Baum, seen here at Miller's Deli in San Francisco, died March 28 at the age of 90. (Photo/Rajat Dutta)
Al Baum, seen here at Miller's Deli in San Francisco, died March 28 at the age of 90. (Photo/Rajat Dutta)

S.F. Jewish and LGBTQ icon Al Baum dies at 90 after ‘full, rich life’

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Alvin H. Baum Jr., a philanthropist and activist known as Al to his friends and admirers, died March 28 at home in San Francisco. He was 90.

“Al lived a full, rich life,” his husband, Robert Holgate, told J. “Through his example of giving, he taught many how to live, love and give back,”

As a philanthropist, Baum was a generous donor to Jewish and LGBTQ causes, the arts, civil liberties, and a host of other causes and interests. In 2019, the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation awarded Baum its Robert Sinton Award for Distinguished Leadership, and a J. profile at the time painted a full picture of his background and his longtime activism on multiple fronts.

Born into an affluent Jewish family at the height of the Great Depression, Baum grew up mostly in Highland Park, which in the 1930s was emerging as one of Chicago’s most prosperous Jewish-identified suburbs. He went to Harvard University as an undergrad and again for law school, then spent two years in the Army, in Berlin, during the Korean War.

Al Baum (right) with husband Robert Holgate in 2014.
Al Baum (right) with husband Robert Holgate in 2014.

Upon his return, he visited San Francisco to see how he liked it; at the time, he was living his life as a closeted gay man. He came out publicly in 1975, when he was in his 40s and living in San Francisco. It was a momentous step and not really planned.

“You know they say, ‘When you’re drowning, your whole life passes before your eyes?’” he said in an interview with OUTWORDS, an LGBTQ history archive, in 2017. “Well, it was like that. But I had been telling people, friends, that they should come out. And I wasn’t. I said to myself, ‘You have to be willing to do it yourself or you’re just being hypocritical.’”

From there he became an activist, working with the ACLU and Lambda Legal and many other organizations. Also, he worked as a city planner and attorney for many years and then, late in life, began a third career as a therapist, getting a degree from UC Berkeley in social work. In later years, with his husband, whom he married in 2014, he devoted himself to philanthropy.

Baum served on the boards of many organizations, including S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the ACLU of Northern California, and the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. He also founded the Federation’s gay and lesbian task affinity group. He was a founding member of the New Israel Fund, and has been an active supporter of the LGBTQ senior organization Openhouse. In 2014, he served as grand marshal of the San Francisco Pride Parade, accompanied by Holgate.

Baum was a longtime member of Congregation Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco. Holgate said details of a celebration of Baum’s life and a shiva would be forthcoming.

Al Baum as S.F. Pride Parade grand marshall in 2013. (Photo/Lisa Finkelstein)
Al Baum as S.F. Pride Parade grand marshall in 2013. (Photo/Lisa Finkelstein)
Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.