Augustus "Gus" Baxter, 88, of Philadelphia, a former educator, activist, city planner, and member of the Philadelphia Board of Education, died Tuesday, Jan. 17, of heart failure at Chestnut Hill Hospital.
Those who knew Mr. Baxter described him as a "big man, with a big smile, a big heart, and a hearty laugh."
"Gus Baxter was a larger than life gift to Philadelphia. He was dedicated to making a difference by using his intellect, confidence, booming voice and gift of laughter," Rep. Bob Brady said in a condolence letter to Mr. Baxter's family. "This city has lost a mighty warrior."
In the 1950s and 1960s, Mr. Baxter worked with the Gang Control Unit of the Friends Neighborhood Guild. He later worked for the Model Cities Program, the Philadelphia Housing Development Corp., and the Philadelphia Architects Workshop to help communities get involved in city planning for their neighborhoods. He served on the Philadelphia Board of Education from 1971 to 1983.
Mr. Baxter was born Dec. 25, 1928, the second of nine children of Allen and Lillian Olivia Baxter. The family lived in the East Poplar section of North Philadelphia, where Mr. Baxter's father had a moving and storage business. As young boys, Mr. Baxter and his older brother, Allen, would get up early in the morning and work with their father before going to school, his sister Elaine Baxter-Johnson said.
After graduating from Benjamin Franklin High School, where he played football and ran track, Mr. Baxter attended Morgan State College and was part of Morgan State's national championship football team of 1949. He later received a degree in social work from Cheyney State University.
In 1950, he married his high school sweetheart, Delores Evelyn Hill. Their union lasted 59 years until her death in 2009. The couple had five children.
"My father was a no-nonsense man," said a son, Gus Baxter Jr. "If he asked you a question, he expected you to give him an answer. He was a serious man."
Mr. Baxter taught history and social studies in Philadelphia public schools before joining the Board of Education, his sister said.
He loved jazz, sports, and spending time at the ocean, she said.
Mr. Baxter was a member of the Philadelphia Bicentennial Committee in 1976 and was named to "Who's Who in America" in 1977. Through his work with Model Cities and the city housing development office, he was honored by the American Institute of Architects and the International Institute of Architects.
At St. Paul Baptist Church, Mr. Baxter served on the Deacon Board for 50 years, and for 10 of those years, he also served as chairman of that board. He was a member of Kappa Alpha Phi Fraternity and was a 33rd Degree Mason, a member of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge's Mount Olive Lodge No. 27
In addition to his sister and son, Mr. Baxter is survived by three daughters, Deedra Baxter-Rice, Stacey Francis, and Lisa Baxter; another son, Donald; a brother, Allen Baxter Jr.; a sister, Lillian Baxter-Taylor; and 11 grandchildren.