A young Fidel Castro, in army uniform sits and looks at Bob Baldock. The photo is black and white
Bob Baldock (right) with Fidel Castro in the Sierra Maestra mountains of Cuba in 1958. Courtesy of Baldock’s family

Bob Baldock, a longtime Berkeley bookman, KPFA events producer, poster artist and painter — and a combatant in the Cuban Revolution — died Oct. 22, 2022, at home in Berkeley at age 85.

He was born April 30, 1937, in Dayton, Ohio. He went to high school in Sewickley, Pennsylvania, where he was captain of the basketball team, made up almost entirely of African Americans, who were forced to put up with recurrent racist treatment when they went on the road as a team. That formative experience set him on a path of protesting social injustice.

Baldock wearing a beret outdoors
Bob Baldock in 2006. Credit: Kathleen Weaver

For two years, 1955–57, he attended Ohio University in Athens. The military training he received in a college ROTC program would serve him later as a combatant in the 26th of July Movement led by Fidel Castro in Cuba. Barely 21, he sympathized with the rebels and formed the idea of going to Cuba to cover that fight as a journalist. As it turned out, he ended up becoming a fighter. Bob was the only one from the U.S. mainland to be an armed combatant in the small unit led by Fidel himself in the Sierra Maestra mountains. He was there for five months in 1958. He traveled to Cuba with his friend Bill McIver, who stayed with him throughout, although he did not participate in armed actions. In 2007, Bob was filmed by The Discovery Channel for its documentary Lives That Changed the World: Fidel Castro.

Back in New York City after Cuba, he became a friend of Anaïs Nin and part of her circle. He then lived for several years in Paris, where he worked in the Cuban consulate, and as interim manager of George Whitman’s Shakespeare and Co. bookstore, then known as Le Mistral; there he finished his novel on Cuba. Back in New York, he found work copyediting for Doubleday and Macmillan, and worked for an ad agency. His first bookstore job was at Marboro Books on West 8th Street. His Cuban novel was accepted by Putnam’s but did not see publication, canceled presumably for political reasons.

By 1963, Bob was in Berkeley and working for Moe Moscowitz at Moe’s Books on Telegraph Avenue, where many knew him as a fixture on the night shift. For 20 years he worked at Moe’s, it might be said as de facto manager, helping build that store into a consequential Berkeley landmark. To separate out the more valuable books, Bob initiated the More Moe’s shop on the fourth floor, a space his brother Earl Baldock helped design.

On a year’s trip abroad in 1969 (with his third wife Jeanne) he was based in Folkestone, England, in Kent, where he studied drawing and painting with Kevin Hennessey, an associate of Henry Moore. Back at Moe’s in 1970 he created a series of letterpress broadsides with woodcut, linocut and silk-screened portraits featuring authors including Yeats, D.H. Lawrence, Anaïs Nin, Thoreau, and Virginia Woolf. In 1974 he began work on a series of some 60 easel paintings, portraits of African American subjects. He went on to paint expressively abstract landscapes and other easel works in mixed media.

In 1983, he left Moe’s to establish the highly successful Black Oak Books on Shattuck Avenue in North Berkeley, cofounded with partners Don Pretari and Bob Brown. The store, with its congenial ambience, was distinguished by its innovative series of author readings, including internationally acclaimed writers such as Isabel Allende, Edward Said, Alice Walker, Eduardo Galeano, Czeslaw Milosz, Barry Lopez, Nancy Morejón, Edna O’Brien, Carlos Fuentes, and others. Working with Eric Johnson, he designed and produced many fine art broadsides to give away.

In 1989 he was forced out of Black Oak Books, a hostile takeover by his partners, which disturbed many in the book community. He was then hired by KPFA station manager Patricia Scott to work for KPFA Radio, 94.1 FM, in Berkeley. He started producing events in 1990, first as a contract employee assisted by his fourth wife, Kathleen Weaver, then as a member of the KPFA union, co-producing the author events with Ken Preston. In 1996 he received recognition for outstanding service to the reading community by being awarded “The Decca,” in honor of Jessica Mitford, an award presented by the San Francisco Bay Area Book Council. 

In December 2021 he retired from KPFA, having produced hundreds of fund-raising author events over more than 30 years. As a poster artist he created original posters for each event. A number of his posters are in the collection of Oakland Museum of California and are available to view at bobbaldock.com. In his final years, he turned to revising his autobiographical novel on his Cuban experience. This vividly descriptive work, Wild Green Oranges, was published by the Clapton Press in London, 2021. He presented it in a Zoom event in January 2022, the last in his series of author events for KPFA.

An exceedingly cherished husband and beloved father, he is survived by his wife of over 30 years, poet and translator Kathleen Weaver, and by his sons and daughters, Mike Collins of Atlanta, and Lisa Raines, of Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, his children with his first wife, Maria Campion; and by Andrew Baldock, of El Cerrito, and Kita Baldock, of Berkeley, his son and daughter with his third wife, Jeanne Forrest Baldock. He is also survived by many grandchildren.

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