By Emily J. Minor
GULF STREAM — Walter Helmut Baum, a well-known lifeguard at Delray Beach’s Anchor Park S5 beach lifeguard station for nearly two decades, died June 17 from complications of a stroke he suffered five days earlier. He was 55.
Jill Baum, his wife — whom he met on the beach, at that very station about 15 years ago — said it was all quite a shock.
“He had no history of heart trouble, high blood pressure, cholesterol. Nothing,” she said. “He was a stud.”
Mr. Baum was also quite the character.
He loved to be called by all sorts of names, which he often pulled from nowhere. Among his favorites? Rocket Wildcard, Perry, Waldi, Wally, Helmut and Papa.
He often dressed like a caricature of himself — maybe a soccer cap, a Dolphins jersey, and sports socks pulled up to his knees. And he often carried a to-go cup when he walked out of the house, a sweet cottage the couple bought in 2014 several years after their daughter, Juliet, was born.
Mr. Baum was born in Graz, Austria, on July 23, 1961, the only child of Walter and Gerda Baum. After living through the war, the couple left Austria, eventually ending up in Washington, D.C. Mr. Baum, only 3 years old at the time, spent the rest of his youth there, his wife said, and attended the German School Washington D.C.
After high school, he moved to Florida to study hospitality at Florida International University. It was then that his love affair began with the ocean and surfing.
After a decade or so of working in hotels, Mr. Baum decided to go for his dream — ocean rescue. He worked out, schmoozed the beach-patrol secretary, worked out some more, and made the Ocean Rescue Lifeguard/EMT team.
And he was loved.
When his boss visited him in the hospital a few days after his stroke, as he was very much slipping away, he came to for a moment and winked at her, his wife said. “Walter was a character,” she said, simply.
But while he was usually the life of any party, Mr. Baum was also extremely emotional, she said. After his mother and stepfather were killed in a car accident about five years ago, “he was a mess,” she said.
His own father lived nearby and — oddly, in retrospect — suffered a stroke during a family birthday celebration about a year ago. He then lived five days, just like Mr. Baum.
Through all that sadness, Mr. Baum latched onto the two big loves in his life: his wife, Jill, whom he married in 2004, and their daughter, Juliet, now 6. About two years ago, he even left beach patrol and took a lifeguard position at a city pool so he could spend more time with family.
His wife said he was hit hard in 2014 when their daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, a chronic disease that requires insulin delivery. Indeed, the family is asking that memorials for Mr. Baum be made in his name to: Juvenile Diabetes Research, 1641 Worthington Road, Unit 340, West Palm Beach, FL 33409.
“He was a sensitive guy,” his wife said. “But he was so handsome and he had such charisma.”
Services were June 21 at the family’s church, First Presbyterian Church of Delray Beach. Besides his wife and daughter, he is survived by longtime family friend Marguerite Rosner, whom he called his ”fairy godmother.” His dog, Brandy, also survives him.
By Emily J. Minor