Joan Baird

Joan was born and raised in Hampton, VA where she graduated from Ferguson High School. She went to Mary Washington College for a year and then transferred to the University of Georgia, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a master’s and a specialist’s degree in Special Education. Joan taught at the Rutland Psychoeducational Center in Athens for seven years, then was the Director of Special Education in Madison County for thirty years. Currently retired, Joan loves to play tennis and has been captain of a Clarke Oconee Tennis Association team for 15 years. She also plays Pickleball and serves on the Athens Area Pickleball Association Board. Joan served on the Board of Directors of Extra Special People for many years and now serves on the Advisory Board. She has been involved with the Madison County Special Olympics and the Georgia Department of Education Parent Mentor Network, as one of two Special Education Director Advisors. She is also active with her church, Covenant Presbyterian. Joan lives in Hull with her husband, Robert, and their daughter Hannah, who is one of the original Joyristas for ESP’s Java Joy mobile coffee cart. Joan has two other children, Laura Hammond a Kindergarten teacher in Fitzgerald, GA and Spencer Baird who is in his Medical Residency in Oklahoma City.




What did you love most about your career?


As a teacher, I loved helping students see what they could do rather than what they couldn’t do. Then, as a special education director, in addition to helping the students, I had more insight and influence as to ways I could help families. I was often involved in situations where there was disagreement about the appropriate instruction for the student so I worked with the IEP committee to reach agreement on how to best meet the student’s needs. I also worked with teachers and school administrators to support our students in the community and increase their participation in general education classes ( with support services.)


Where do you love to eat in Athens, and what do you love there?


I love to eat at all of our local restaurants. Especially with COVID, I don’t go inside places, but go where we can sit outside. I have always loved in the spring and the fall sitting outdoors at restaurants like George’s Low Country, The Pine, The Last Resort, Depalma’s and The Table. Now that I am retired, Monday through Friday I play tennis or pickleball and two or three times a week after we play we will go to lunch at one of the outdoor restaurants.


What advice would you give your younger self?


I would make friends with positive people. Listen more to older people. Dance every chance you get. I love to dance, at ESP we dance all the time. No one there cares what they look like dancing, we just dance.


Do you have a favorite book, or a book you find yourself re-reading, referencing or gifting most often?


I read a lot of historical fiction and memoirs about the Holocaust. I remember reading the Diary of Anne Frank when I was a young girl. I couldn’t believe there were so many people who committed such atrocities but there were also good people. Growing up in Virginia, two of my best friends were Jewish and I didn’t know much about the Holocaust other than what I learned when briefly studying World War II. I read the Diary of Anne Frank and was captivated by the amazing resiliency of the human spirit. To me, my Jewish friends were no different than my other friends, they just were not supposed to eat ham. They would come to my house on Thanksgiving night to eat leftover ham since it was not served in their homes. I didn’t know about kosher laws and the long history of persecution of Jewish people. After reading the gripping account of Anne’s life in hiding, I had a better understanding of the Holcaust and Jewish customs. I still read books on the Holocaust because they validate my faith in people knowing that many people risked their lives, the lives of their children, the lives of their family to help other people, when they didn’t have to.


Do you have a favorite movie, or do you remember the first movie you saw in a theatre?


I do have a favorite movie which is probably a lot of people’s favorite movie, Forrest Gump. It follows a timeline which correlates to my youth, adolescence and young adulthood so the music brings back so many memories. And, of course the message of the movie is powerful- respect for people and tolerance of differences. My work in special education and raising my daughter who has Down Syndrome brings this message close to my heart – promoting tolerance of everyone and unconditional love. Hannah ( my daughter), the kids I worked with as a special educator and her friends at ESP have the same kind of unconditional love that Forrest exemplified. They don’t care if somebody is rich or poor, what race or ethnicity they are and what religion they practice. I don’t rewatch movies because there are so many others to see, but Forrest Gump is one I will see again because there are hidden details I missed in the first, second or third time I watched it.


If you could see any band or show anywhere, who would you see and where?


Easy: The Beatles, ( but impossible in this life.) I was one of the millions who watched the Ed Sullivan Show on our black and white TV in the living room with my four sisters and my parents. I always loved The Beatles because I grew up with them along with my four sisters. Several years ago, I did get to attend a Paul McCartney concert in Atlanta, he was my favorite Beatle. I would love to see them at Chastain Park outside under the stars.


If you could go anywhere in the world right now, where would you go and why?


I have been fortunate enough to travel in Europe and the Caribbean after I retired , but Australia has been on my list for many years. My dad worked for NASA so he traveled all over the world, particularly Europe and he went to Australia quite a few times. Unfortunately, shortly after he retired he died at the age of 63. He had planned to take my mom to Australia because he said it was so incredibly different than any other place he had visited. Approximately one year after my dad’s passing, my mom travelled to Australia with some friends and highly recommended the trip. In addition to my parents’ recommendations about Australia, I have a good friend who is from Australia but has lived in the US for 30 years. She wants to show me the continent – I am going one day.


If you could put anything on a billboard, what would you put?


It is a quote from Helen Keller I used on my work email signature – “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart.” As a special educator, the story of Helen Keller overcoming incredible adversity was always an inspiration.


If you could have lunch with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and where?


It would be with my parents. My dad died and he was only 63, but fortunately, my mother lived to 93. Since COVID first started and we were really stuck in our homes, my four sisters ( three live in Virginia and one lives in Florida) and I would Zoom every night at 9:00. We are now down to Zooming on Monday and Thursday nights. There are so many things that have come up in our conversations that we wish we could ask mom and/or dad about. I would love to hear more of their life stories, especially my dad’s since I did not get as much time with him. I would love to have our lunch at a small outdoor cafe in France because French food and wine are my favorite.


What is something interesting about you that most people don’t know?


I had my head run over by a truck! I guess I should explain. It was the summer after I graduated from UGA. I was with about twenty college friends who went to St. George Islan, FL over the July 4th weekend. Forty years ago St. George was pretty desolate so we camped right on the beach, no campsites or amenities. We were packing to leave St. George on Monday, July 4th and I took one more float time in the Gulf. I was on a flimsy float laying on my stomach in the water and fell asleep once I floated up on the wet sand. As I was enjoying my nap in the wet sand, a friend’s truck was loaded with all the trash from our weekend of camping. My friend backed up over the wet sand to get some traction in order to get over the sand dunes and didn’t realize I was there- he ran over me! I literally had tire tracks on my head and shoulder. He saw people running towards me and thought the truck’s movement had blown sand in my eyes. I went to the hospital in Tallahassee where the doctors said that being totally relaxed asleep on the air mattress in the wet sand probably saved my life.


What three words or phrases come to mind when you think of the word “home?”


Family, comfortable and love.

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