Butler “Buzz” Baylis ’64

Alumnus focuses on the future by researching our past.

Buzz Baylis ’64 describes his parents as “brainiacs.” (His father, J. Robert – or Bob – who graduated from Williams College in 1932, was the kind of guy who could take a cursory glance at a restaurant check and hand it back after adding it in his head and finding mistakes.) And while it’s not how he would have described himself as a young person on his way to Perkiomen School, Buzz ended up working in cryptography after enlisting in the US Air Force. If you didn’t know, cryptographic work is protecting information through the use of codes. With this information in hand, any lay person can reasonably deduce that Buzz is, in fact, a brainiac, too! He simply needed to find what motivates his brain.

According to Buzz, when he arrived at Perkiomen during the summer of 1962, he simply could not see the purpose of sitting in a classroom and completing school. It wasn’t until Hal Cragin, a beloved English teacher, provided a TIME magazine subscription to each of his students. Buzz read each one cover-to-cover. One day, he found himself engaging in conversation within the classroom, raising his hand, and talking about current events. Mr. Cragin, likely with a smile and a twinkle in his eye, offered a lightning bolt when he observed out loud, “Buzz, I always knew there was an above-average brain between your ears. We just needed to find your motivation!”

Buzz loved the stories. There is something about personal histories that appeals to him. At home, he would devour not only TIME, but Look and Fortune magazines, too. His mom, Sarah – or Sally – “the busiest stay-at-home mom you’ve ever seen” and a brainiac like his father, volunteered in the community throughout his lifetime, and she spent her time looking up their family’s ancestral history. Before the age of the Internet and mainstream DNA tests, she sat down and carefully wrote thoughtful and detailed letters to cousins and other distant relatives. Those relatives wrote back with answers and stories. It’s in this way that she began to build a family tree. A year after she passed away in 2009, Buzz took the baton and continued her work.

“It’s better than watching YouTube,” he says with a chuckle. The mindless hours spent looking at the television or scrolling through social media are, in his mind, better spent learning things about people. Sometimes, he admits, the information is useless, but other times – wow! Researching ancestry for his own family and also for friends (currently, he’s helping about 20 others trace their family lineage!) is more than simply a fascination or a hobby.

Thoughtfully, Buzz reflects that often, “the human condition has us looking forward, not backward.”

Sometimes, we do not investigate our own histories and what brought us to the present. If we can find people who are connected to us, we can know ourselves better.

“There will always be stories,” Buzz says. “By asking questions, the trick is to try and get these stories to flow. Sometimes, they’re easy to get started, and sometimes, they’re not— but it’s all family.”

Therefore, it’s all meaningful.

Buzz has enjoyed a full life of sunshine and beautiful scenery in “the pretty part” of California around the Bay Area. The Air Force sent him there early in his career, far away from New York state where he grew up, and he knew he’d found home. From the Air Force to a job at Texas Instruments, to starting a small distribution company with a friend, to retiring from a career at a representation agency for the manufacturing industry. It all began with finding his motivation at Perkiomen School where he has now given back in the form of a multiyear pledge to support construction of the new student center in addition to scholarships towards Advanced Placement exam fees.

Buzz’s other loves: His wife (whom he met as a young man when his own story was just beginning), his two daughters, his three grandchildren, and his cars (currently, a 2016 Volvo V60 station wagon!) will all be found on his family tree someday when someone investigates his story. (Well, maybe not his car!) Someone will discover that Buzz and his family are connected to as many as 19 people who arrived on the Mayflower. And that his mother Sarah Adams is the 4th great granddaughter of President John Adams. But what you might not find on a map of his family lineage is representation of Buzz’s spirit and love of friendships and family. To Buzz, looking into a person’s family is about helping. It’s being of service to a community of people who he feels connected to. It’s not always about looking forward. Sometimes, the greatest gifts are pausing to understand where we’ve come from. Thank you, Buzz, for supporting Perkiomen and for reminding us of this lesson!

Since 2016, Buzz has generously provided exam fee assistance to Perkiomen students taking Advanced Placement tests. Associate Director of College Counseling and Director of Testing, Erin Davidson-Kellogg says, “It’s always such a rewarding experience to see our students’ reactions when we tell them that their exam fees will be covered. Acts of kindness like this truly make a positive difference for our students and their families.”

In honor of Buzz’s gift in addition to his longstanding support of the School’s college counseling programs, Perkiomen School will acknowledge the gift by providing a naming opportunity for the College Counseling Suite Meeting Room inside the new student center. Located on the ground floor, this room serves students as they prepare for and execute the college search process. In addition to being a day-to-day meeting space for the college counselors, this room will allow small groups comprised of students, faculty, and parents to connect with one another.