In Memory of Asa Baber

Menstuff® has compiled the following in memory of Asa Baber - June 19, 1936 – June 18, 2003

Asa Baber, 66; wrote Playboy's 'Men' column, passed away June 18, 2003

"I am here to urge you to be a little more brave, a tad more courageous and self-controlled," Asa Baber wrote in his last column, which appears in this month's issue of Playboy magazine, "and to take some private time to contemplate the mysteries of the universe and ask yourself how you plan to spend whatever time you have left.

"How can you avoid wasting your life?"

Mr. Baber, the longtime author of Playboy's "Men" column, died Monday morning at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. He'd been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, in September 2001.

Mr. Baber and Gehrig, his childhood hero, shared a birthday: June 19. Mr. Baber would have turned 67 on Thursday.

A public memorial service is planned for Monday, June 30 at the Thorne Auditorium, 375 E. Chicago, at 6:30 p.m.

Mr. Baber grew up on the South Side of Chicago, a self-described "gutter snipe" with a penchant for small scale trouble that might have gotten bigger had his grandmother not intervened and shipped him off to the Lawrenceville Academy, a posh New Jersey boarding school, and then to Princeton University.

But Mr. Baber's elite education was always tempered by the tough-guy streak that had been born on 47th Street and honed in the U.S. Marines' Platoon Leader Corps, which he joined while in college. He served in the Marines, after his 1958 graduation, until 1961.

Mr. Baber had grown up wanting to be a writer in the style of the hard-boiled journalists he'd met on his summer job as a newspaper copy boy. A chance meeting with William Faulkner set him on a more literary path.

After graduate work at Northwestern University and the prestigious University of Iowa Writer's Workshop, Mr. Baber published his first novel,The Land of A Million Elephants, a story of military intrigue in Southeast Asia clearly influenced by his own--top-secret--experiences in the Marines.

Mr. Baber was a professor of English at the University of Hawaii from 1969 to 1975. He was so beloved by his students there, and those he later taught at a series of visiting professorships, that a Chicago Sun-Times feature about him published in February 2002 prompted more than two dozen former students to get in touch with him.

Mr. Baber's writing, which included fiction, essays, journalism and drama, appeared in several major national magazines and garnered many awards. But he was best known for his work in Playboy.

In 1982, after writing an essay called "Who Gets Screwed in a Divorce? I Do!," Mr. Baber launched the "Men" column. Developed with his mentor, longtime Playboy editor Arthur Ketchmer, the column was a touchstone for the men's liberation movement. With humor, often raunchy and usually wry, and an utter disdain for political correctness, Mr. Baber waged a battle of the sexes that celebrated difference but never surrendered to stereotype.

After going public with his ALS diagnosis in an appearance on the 2002 Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon, Mr. Baber was elected to serve as a national vice president of the MDA. Colleagues there loved his humor, his sprit and, of course, the quintessentially manly courage with which he faced his disease.

"He wasn't 'Tuesdays With Morrie'," said Lauren Webb, an MDA health care coordinator at the ALS clinic at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, "He was Asa."

"Even at his bedside, when he was dying, he was still cracking jokes," said his son Brendan, "and there was still laughter in the room."

Mr. Baber is also survived by another son, Jim; his fiancee, Sherri Stubbs, and his sister Dorothy, best known as Ducky. His first grandchild, a boy, is due to arrive in September.

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