The world became a little dimmer early Friday, January 7, 2022, as Cleveland’s premier raconteur moved on to spin yarns in heaven. Donald Bruce Baldree (Don, Donnie, Don Juan, DB, The Donald, Baldree, Papa), came into this world on December 31, 1930, delivered to J.P. Baldree and Naomi Bruce Baldree by his paternal grandfather, Dr. Francis Marion Bruce in the family home in Homerville, GA. Awaiting his arrival were nine maternal aunts and uncles to spoil the first and favorite grandchild. However, the doting lasted only three years as J.P. moved the young family to Cleveland, TN where Don’s four younger siblings were born. Diphtheria would nearly claim Don shortly after the child prodigy started first grade at the tender age of five.
Don began his working career at the age of twelve as a bag boy after school, but at age 14 the untimely death of his father necessitated that he quit school to become the family’s primary breadwinner. He was able to return to high school while continuing to work second shift at Hardwick Stove Co., graduating with the Bradley Central High School class of 1949. At this point, Don joined the Navy, but his mother petitioned to have him honorably discharged soon after boot camp because she and his siblings needed him at home. His siblings remain indebted to him for stepping into the role of father for them.
After working in construction for an uncle in Birmingham, Don was able to secure a management job at Hardwick Clothes in 1952 through the encouragement of several former teachers. He spent the next 34 years as a personnel director at Hardwick’s, Brown Stove Works, and Magic Chef. Don retired from human resources work when Magic Chef merged with Maytag in 1986 and launched a successful second career as a real estate agent and broker at Hoskins-Botts, later Prudential Real Estate.
Don was married for 45 years to Edith Beard Baldree before cancer robbed them of her golden years. They shared a love of crossword puzzles, playing the stock market, and collecting antiques and other treasures. Sometimes she let him go fishing. Don’s son and grandson were beneficiaries of many life lessons shared on the banks of a bream pond.
Don was a great believer in the value of education, and following the birth of their son, he encouraged and supported Edith to pursue the graduate and postgraduate education he had never been afforded. He educated himself by reading through his son’s encyclopedias and served with distinction on the Cleveland City School Board for 17 years.
An avid reader, genealogist, and armchair historian, Don would regale any who would listen about the successes of the robber barons of the Gilded Age and the rich history of Coca-Cola bottling. He was also a repository of knowledge of SEC football history and the Vols’ biggest fan.
Don was gifted with a strong singing voice and an ear for harmony (traits, which like his good looks and sharp mind, skipped a generation to his grandchildren), and he and his two middle siblings performed as a gospel trio as young adults. Don shared his musical gifts as a chorister at First Cumberland Presbyterian Church where he worshipped for over 65 years. He also served there as an elder and assisted with the youth program for many years.
Don’s grandchildren were the highlight of his life, and as a widower for over 22 years he faithfully participated in every aspect of Bruce’s and Anna’s lives. Papa never spared them his praise, nor his gentle ribbing and often embarrassing prevarication of their antics. Friends and family knew that Don never let the truth stand in the way of a good story.
Don spent his final five years as chief sage and story-teller at Garden Plaza of Cleveland, where he quickly became a favorite of the staff and residents alike, especially of the ladies. The family is grateful for the love and care given by Garden Plaza staff and to Helping Hands and Hospice of Chattanooga in his final days.
Welcoming him to his eternal rest are Don’s father J.P. Baldree, mother Naomi Bruce Baldree, wife Edith Beard Baldree, infant son Donald Bruce Baldree, Jr, infant daughter Elizabeth Ann Baldree, brother Jim Baldree, and sister Marian Lawson.
Survivors include his son Dr. Mitch Baldree and daughter-in-law Dr. Marie Farrar Baldree of Chattanooga, TN, grandson Bruce Baldree of Houston, TX, granddaughter Anna Baldree of Chattanooga, TN, youngest brother Hobart “Terry” Baldree of Woodstock, GA, baby sister Paula Crye of Cleveland, TN, and several nieces and nephews.
A Celebration of Life will be held Monday, January 10, 2022, at 2:00 pm at First Cumberland Presbyterian Church (Cleveland) with the Rev. Jennifer Newell officiating and Bill Brown eulogizing. Interment will follow the service at Sunset Memorial Gardens with Julian Sullivan, nephews Jim Baldree, Todd Baldree, Marc Crye, Ken Guthrie, and Tom Norwood serving as pallbearers.
The family will receive friends for two hours prior to the service at the church and respectfully request that guests follow Covid protocols. If you are unable to attend in person, you may share a memory or send a condolence at www.ralphbuckner.com.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Edith Baldree Memorial Youth Fund of First Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 200 Church St. NE, Cleveland, TN 37311.
Ralph Buckner Funeral Home and Crematory is in charge of the arrangements.