Giving Back: Joe Bain '41

Bain is forging bonds, link by link.

By
Lynn Horowitch '81; P '19
October 27, 2017
Curt Perry ’69, Kelly Teevan ’69, George Bain ’69 and Joe Bain ’41 at Exeter Leadership Weekend.

Curt Perry ’69, Kelly Teevan ’69, George Bain ’69 and Joe Bain ’41 at Exeter Leadership Weekend.

“Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain … that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.” —Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

 

Since his arrival on campus before the start of World War II, Sherwood “Joe” Bain, class of 1941, has been assembling a chain of connections between himself and the extended Academy community, which includes three generations of the Bain family and a long line of younger alumni. Through the establishment of the Ninoy Scholarship, which covers part of the cost of an Exeter education for Asian students, Bain has forged strong relationships with students of Thai, Filipino and Hmong descent, among others. To understand how the scholarship came into being and to fully appreciate Bain’s lasting connections with its recipients, including Tchao Thao ’01, it is necessary to go link by link, beginning in 1939.

After attending high school in Maine, Bain came to Exeter that year for a two-year postgraduate term. He says, “It was an eye-opener! The mixture of students, the Harkness table, the faculty and facilities — it gave me a whole picture.” After leaving Exeter, Bain was stationed in the Philippines with the Army during World War II, and he came to have a strong appreciation for the Filipino culture and people. He graduated from Harvard and Harvard Business School after returning to the States, and later he and his wife, Carol, served as a host family for Filipino students at Harvard.

Bain also paid particular attention to events in the Philippines. “I followed the political situation, and the leader, really a dictator, was Ferdinand Marcos — a scoundrel!” Bain says. Marcos, who served as president of the Philippines for more than two decades, established an authoritarian regime criticized for corruption and jailing opposition leaders. He was deposed in 1986.

Joe Bain with Tchao Thao '01

Marcos did one positive thing. He permitted Benigno S. Aquino Jr., a leader of the opposition party, to come to the United States in 1980 for open-heart surgery. Aquino later lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, while he underwent medical treatments. Around the same time, Bain befriended Rene A.V. Saguisag, a Filipino doing graduate work at Harvard Law School, who later served in the Senate in Manila. Through that friendship, Bain got to know Aquino, known by his nickname “Ninoy,” and his wife, Corazon.

“I realized what a dynamic person Ninoy was,” Bain says. “I treasure the handmade place mats, still in use, a hostess present.”

Bain, a loyal Exonian, reached out to the Academy and arranged for Aquino to speak at an assembly. While on campus, Aquino met with Asian students, including Rafael Ongpin ’83 and Kamal Ahmad ’83. Their classmate Rick Travers ’83 said, “It was the best assembly talk in my four years!”

On Aug. 21, 1983, Aquino returned to Manila and was assassinated on the airport tarmac. His wife, Corazon, later served as president of the Philippine Republic  (1986-92), as did his son, Benigno S. Aquino III, from 2010 to 2016.

“Exeter was a tremendous influence in my life — one of the best institutions I’ve been in touch with.”
Joe Bain '41

While Bain was building connections to the Aquino family and the Filipino people, he also was adding links to his Exeter chain. He says, “Exeter was a tremendous influence in my life — one of the best institutions I’ve been in touch with.” Over the years, Bain stayed close to Exeter, as Carol worked in Boston as secretary to Principal Emeritus Lewis Perry, the school’s eighth principal. When their son, George, was born, Bain called Perry to share the good news. He also expressed his hope that his son could go to Exeter. Perry replied, “You tell Carol: He’s in!”

George Bain is a member of the class of 1969. Both Bains share the distinction of being honored by the Academy for their longtime service to it: George in 1989 as one of the first recipients of the President’s Award, given annually by the General Alumni Association president, and Joe in 1992 with that year’s Founder’s Day Award. And another generation continues the chain: Joe’s grandson David Huoppi has been teaching math at Exeter since 2014.

Bain has known each Exeter principal dating back to Perry (1914-1946) and Bill Saltonstall (1946-63). He has been an active volunteer and reunion attendee, and when he and Carol decided to leave their home in Cambridge, they settled at River Woods, a continuing care retirement community in Exeter. Carol passed away two years ago; Bain still lives there.

In his professional life, Bain met with some success in his career as a chartered financial analyst — a “stock picker,” in his words. He decided to endow the Benigno S. Aquino Scholarship at Exeter. His goals with the gift were to memorialize Ninoy Aquino and to support young people of Philippine extraction. Over the years, the scope of the scholarship has broadened to include the wider Asian community.

“When I give back to my community, that stems from my experience with Joe, who has dedicated his life to giving back to others.”
Tchao Thao '01

Bain has made it a point to get to know each of the scholarship recipients, and he has remained particularly close with Tchao Thao ’01. They first met during Thao’s prep year, for breakfast in the dining hall. Thao’s parents had come to the United States as refugees from Laos, settling first in Rhode Island, then in Milwaukee, and then Minneapolis, where they lived with their son in a tight-knit Hmong community. Exeter was the first place that Thao lived where there wasn’t a Hmong population and where he wasn’t surrounded by extended family. Bain helped him make the adjustment.

“He’d tell me about his experiences, when Exeter was so different,” Thao recalls. “He listened.” When it came time for Thao to apply to college, Bain provided helpful advice and supported Thao in achieving his goal of attending Harvard.

Thao returned to Minneapolis and earned legal and medical degrees in a joint degree program in law, science and technology from the University of Minnesota. He practiced patent law with a firm in Minneapolis for five years, but recently took a position as a senior attorney in the life sciences sector at a private equity firm in Seattle. While he is busy planning his move and a new career path, he says that when it comes to Bain, “I’ll always make time.”

While at Harvard, Thao was a 10-minute walk from the Bain home and occasionally joined Joe and Carol for lunch. Now that they live in different time zones, they stay in touch mainly through email. “Joe forwards articles to me that he thinks I would like,” Thao says. While Bain wasn’t able to make the trip, Thao invited him to his wedding to Susie Vang three years ago. And whenever Thao returns to Exeter for a reunion, he makes a point of calling on Bain.

Bain has provided a lot of practical advice and life lessons. Thao says, “When I started at Harvard, many of the decision-makers there were of Joe’s generation. Because I knew Joe, it gave me confidence that I could have mentors from that era.”

And Thao will continue to add links to the chain that has connected him with Bain. He has been an active volunteer, serving on the board of the Minnesota chapter of March of Dimes and mentoring Hmong students.

“When I give back to my community, that stems from my experience with Joe, who has dedicated his life to giving back to others,” he says.