My Memory of My Brother,
Baldwin Stephen Schmidt
of Cincinnati, San Francisco and Reno, Nevada.
by "Brother Bill", as he called me....10/31/2011 Brother's Tom's Memorial for Steve
12/21/2011 - I've added an email about Steve from our friend David Wentworth..
My brother Steve has died. I want to tell folks something of his life, as I remember it. His
life is, I think, quite inspirational. I know I was in awe of him as we grew up, and even
more now thinking about his life and his influence on me.
Steve was very special in many ways. Though I was a little older, he was often my guide.
Amazingly, we never argued or fought. He never said anything remotely unkind to me
at any time in our whole life. He was much more highly evolved than I was He was
uncomfortable with negatives. He was very loyal. He cared deeply about his friends
and the people he loved. That many of his friends had little or no money mattered not at all
to him. Always, he was very curious about the world and intrigued by different cultures and lifestyles.
The truth is that I have never met anyone so eager to experience life to the fullest as
Steve sought to and did. While I will miss him deeply, I know that he tasted and enjoyed
nearly everything in life, everything except having his own family, something which he
probably missed, but never complained to me about.
He made love with gusto and no shame But he made war only once and with
much later regret. He traveled widely, to Europe, Asia, Australia, South America.
He loved Mexico. He knew Spanish well enough to speak at conferences in Columbia
and to travel by train around northern Mexico and Baja.
He meditated. In his Hippie Days in the Bay Area, his curly hair, round face and bright
eyes and smile, made him look more like the young Gene Wilder than the actor himself,
who he admired. He told me one of his favorite movies was "King of Hearts", the
story of a Scottish soldier in World War I, who comes to prefer the company of the
inmates of an insane asylum to the barbarous soldiers outside making war.
(This is not Steve.)
Steve accepted and embraced many of the contradictions of the world. He fasted to try to experience
Enlightenment. He wanted to know everything anyone could tell him about Zen Buddhism and Nirvana. He wanted to be "one with the World" . Then, if he had money, he would ask us to share his favorite new ethnic restaurant and eat Peruvian chicken, Thai shrimp or Indian vindalloo. He loved ethnic dishes almost as much as he loved to make for guests his own burritos or Belgian waffles or, as he did as a child, gorge himself on bananas, cherry popsicles, sauerkraut and hot dogs..
Perhaps, he drank too much. Certainly he smoked way too much. And he inhaled deeply, fully
and deliberately, as with life. whether it was from a hash bong or his favorite unfiltered cigarette. .
(This is not Steve.)
I know he constantly sought edification. Psychedelic hallucination freed him. It loosened the grip
of the ever present mind that already has all the answers. Studying for a statistics exam one night,
aided by some kind cannabis, he told me everything fell into place, all the laws of probability, from
binomial equations to multiple regression analysis.. Wisely, in my opinion, he did not to my knowledge, ever use LSD or cocaine..
This is not Steve.
He read and re-read all the Carlos Cataneda books about the teachings of a Yaqui shaman named
Don Juan. He visited me in New Mexico and we talked and talked about these books which he had sent me to read. It was in this spirit that he mediated with the aid of mushroom psilocybin, and saw, he said, colors one afternoon that he had never seen before, looking down on the Pacific from the cliffs of Marin Country.
The only thing that Steve loved more than laughing and smiling was to make others laugh and smile
at a party he would painstakingly arrange. In fact, the only time I ever saw him get a little gruff
was when his apartment in Oakland was taking too long to clean up, just before 20 dinner guests
were to crowd in. I remember how hard he laughed during the movie Animal House. When I said
he was embarrassing me, he just laughed and laughed until I, at last, joined him.
I am listening now to one of his musical favorites, Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven
He loved women. Respected them and loved the Beauty of their red hair in the sunlight.
Steve talked eagerly of wild eagles, California condors and ring tailed hawks he'd seen.
He relished monarch butterflies and brilliantly colored moths. And cats. He loved cats, giving
them names like "Blue Gom" and "Pinky" when we were children. Not surprisingly, the love of his
life has the name "Kat". I think Steve fell in love with her the first time they met, When she was away,
he called and talked endlessly about his progress in convincing her to marry him.
Somewhere is a favorite picture of Steve wearing his PBR black beret guding a canoe,
not in Vietnam, but along the shores of Lake Pocomoonshine in Maine in search of monster small-mouth bass with me.
Ferry to San Francisco
Steve was so very much fun to be around. He was easily the most enthusiastic person
in any room. He always wanted to share what he had just learned or talk about the fascinating
people he had just met. He knew people from every walk of life. He knew street people
and he knew savvy and connected politicians, like Willie Brown, the former Mayor of San Francisco.
When he lived in the Bay Area, I would come on vacations and visit him. I so loved
being around him, I even quit a secure college teaching job to partake in his life.and company.
Willie Brown later tried to recruit Steve to run for the California State Assembly. At the
time, Steve was Director of the Marin County Conservation League, which weatherized
homes to save energy in the 1970s.. I remember how proud he was was of Marin County.
We walked up Mount Tamalpais among the redwoods early one morning. He listened, laughed
and applauded while I sang from the amphitheater there.
Steve and I played a lot of chess in those days I would put on Mozart serenades late at night. He grew to love Mozart in these quieter moments as much as he loved The Who and Jimmy Hendrrix. He was so vital and open to everything. God, I miss him.
Amphitheater atop Mount Tamalpais, Marin County.
Restored 170-year old wooden farm house, somewhat bigger, but not
not much different than the one we grew up in College Hill in Cincinnati.
Where did Steve get all his energy? Good genes, I guess. He was 6'2" and very strong.
His childhood was spent running everywhere, first around the small farm that he grew up
on in the outskirts of Cincinnati and then around the bases after hitting a long home run
over the right fielder's head, or playing basketball or scoring touchdown after touchdown.
As fullback, Steve scored more points than anyone in the city for two years in a row.
Steve never seemed to need much sleep. Now he can catch up, I guess.
As a child, he read and read. He had the ability, even then, to turn all his attention to a book and
tune out everything else. By age 11, he had read and re-read all the Oz books. He turned eagerly to
Science Fiction: Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, To Asimov's I, Robot. Instead of buying
comic books with his birthday money, he saved up and bought a share of IBM's stock long
before the word "computer" was a household word. He was fascinated with the Tin Man from
Oz and the Robot who discovered too late that he is not human. He read Robert Henlein's
Stranger in A Strange Land. We discussed how hard it would be for intelligent, sensitive aliens
to cope with the selfishness and violence of this planet.
Archeology - especially the Mayan culture - he read about intensely. He wanted to know their secrets,
how they organized their society, why they engaged in cruel sacrifices and why they disappeared.
Years later, he learned Vietnamese as the captain of a river patrol boat in the Mekong Delta
and then took courses in Cultural Anthropology in Oakland. I remember Steve becoming interested
in using photography to document how well children were learning in elementary schools. I
do not know what happened to the class work he did in this area, but it left an impression on
me and a few years later I took lots of pictures in Santa Fe grade schools to show the much keener
levels of attention among Head Start children than kids in regular classrooms.
This is not Steve.
He went to the Naval Academy. His yearbook, the Luckybag, wrote that his "sense of humor
... made him one of the best liked men in (the Tenth) company... A more likeable and friendly guy
was hard to find". In football, he was briefly turned into a guard for the Midshipmen's
football team. At the time, I thought he had been influenced by Don Winslow of the
Navy comic strips and shows on TV in the 1950s I know we all watched the Victory at Sea
documentary series on TV with its stirring music by Richard Rogers. He came home
one Christmas and put his formal officer's uniform on for a party. He was very dashing.
He even had a sword. But serving on a River Patrol Boat in Vietnam seemed to destroy all
such glamorous notions about military service. When his 5 years service in the Navy was
completed, he chose not to come to San Diego and go to submarine school. Instead, he
moved to San Francisco and tried to recapture his youth there at the height of Haight Asbury.
Here is a note I got from a boyhood friend of ours, David Wentworth, about Steve.
"I first got to know him when he returned to the Bay Area from Vietnam.
He was still in the navy and teaching others to do what he had been doing.
I was living in north Oakland on the Berkeley border in a condo with 3 other guys.
Steve started coming over regularly, at first in his naval khakis, for dinner and to j
ust hang out. I think that was the beginning of his transitioning, growing, and
searching. At first he was enjoying the material things..Jaguar XKE...
"As you say, Steve was always low-key, easy going, laughing and smiling,
but I sensed he was looking for something more. He didn't talk much about his
Vietnam experiences, but I had the feeling he was not at ease or comfortable
with some of the things he had to do there. I recall him talking about having to
apply fire along the shores of the river and not really knowing whether people in the
distance were simple innocent farmers or active Viet Cong trying to kill him.
Similarly, he talked about the problem of how to handle all the small boats going up
and down the river near his boat. Are the people going to fire on him and his crew
or are they innocent fishermen? For someone as open and naturally trusting of people
this must have been a hard problem for him to wrestle with, and as you suggest must
have concerned him for the rest of his life..At heart he was a curious person...
He was a good, decent person who always wanted to do the right thing...
"I will always have fond memories of my times with Steve. He was always friendly
and a joy to be around. He was interesting and interested in people and things.
I recall at least 2 backpacking trips to 2 of my favorite spots in the High Sierra.
As the strongest, he liked being in the lead heading up the trail. We always had our
SLRs with us. I'll look in the coming year to see if I still have any photos from those
happy, distant days."
He joined The Vietnam Veterans against the War and marched against the war at the
Alameda Naval Air Station. The MPs there tricked his group of protestors into trespassing
on the Navy's property so that they could be arrested. I attended his trial. The judge
paid no heed to the protestors' defense that they had not intended to trespass. Steve
was fined $50.
This is not Steve, though he once had a glorious red beard.
Thirty years ago my Father asked if Steve would be able to succeed him in running the LeFiell
Company. "Definitely", I told him. He had been trained as an Engineer at the Naval Academy.
He had had experience leading others in the Navy, in Vietnam and as a Conservation Director
in Marin County. And, I added, he always seemed to win all the board games we played as
I've regretted that advise from time to time. LeFiell produced steel products at a time
when imported steel was starting to flood America. As Steve's business has suffered, the
pressures on him grew and grew. Perhaps, he would still be alive, if my father had simply sold
the business. But that was not the way he or Steve was raised. Both took very personally
the responsibility to provide decent jobs to the men and women who worked for them. Unlike
Wall Street, they never for a moment considered outsourcing LeFiell jobs. This is another
reason I am so proud of Steve and my father, too. . .
How did he die? A few years ago he went to Cabo or Zihuatanejo (he loved to
and decided to go diving, even though he was not certified.
Before that he was healthy and clear-thinking. I talked to him most weekends. After the dive,
and how many dives did he have that day, I don't know,. he climbed up onto the boat and felt
dizzy, weird and blacked out. Later he was told that he had had a "stroke". But it could
easily have been an air embolism, made worse by not waiting 24 hours before flying back.
Not getting any diving instruction, he could have come up too fast or held his breath when surfacing.
He could have ignored the need for decompression delays when surfacing if he went very deep.
Or he could have made his deepest dives at the end of a series of dives.
I don't know if an air embolism at the time from diving was ever ruled out.
When he got back to the US and Reno, they ran a series of tests. His doctors first said his
speech impairment was due to a stroke. Then as it got a little easier for him to talk,
they decided he had MS, muiltiple sclerosis, based on brain scans. This was five years ago.
Sadly, it was MS and he got worse and worse. When I called on Sundays, he would say "Hi,
Brother Bill" as though he knew me, but after that he could only muster "Yes" and then "I don't know". It is said that "Good soldiers don't die, they just fade away." Steve must have been a very good soldier.
Thanks for reading this.. Readers are welcome to add their stories and pictures of
Just send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
My mother was an artist. Here is how she saw him. He had Pail Newman's blue eyes, huh?
This IS Steve in high school
Steve in the mid-1970s.
Steve and Kathy, his wife.
Steve as CEO of LeFiell Company
Steve at the top of the pyramid. At bottom is our Mother, Uncle Dave and Aunt Ann. That's me with the Oakland A's cap.