WASHINGTON — Mormons throughout the D.C. area are in mourning this week after their Stake President, James Baird, passed away after being exposed to carbon monoxide.
The 61-year-old was the top local leader in the Latter-day Saints community, overseeing several churches and thousands of worshippers.
He died on Thursday after being hospitalized for carbon monoxide exposure.
“It was like being hit by lightning,” said Nathan Sheets, who is the First Counselor in the Washington D.C. Stake Presidency, making him Baird’s second in command in the church.
“I still don’t quite believe it,” he said. “Each of the last few nights I’ve woken up and thought that must have been a dream but sadly it’s not.”
Sheets said Baird moved to the area about 10 years ago and became active in an LDS church in Rockville, Maryland, before climbing the ranks into a supervisory role throughout the region.
“There are many, many wonderful qualities,” about Baird, Sheets said. “The thing that particularly sets him apart was the capacity to be a friend to so many different people.”
A memorial page for Baird on Facebook has seen messages from around the country continue to pour in since the news broke: friends near and far are posting pictures, describing tears and sorrow at the sudden loss, remembering funny moments, selfless acts and inspiring words he spoke as a leader in the church.
“In these formal capacities he was instrumental in leading our efforts and teaching and helping people,” Sheets said. “But it was this combination of both the official responsibility and the great heart, almost sort of the unofficial parts of who he was, that just made him so powerful. It was really a wonderful combination.”
Baird was one of three people found unconscious inside a home near Rock Creek in Montgomery County.
Washington Gas said the carbon monoxide leak was in the furnace of the home, which was under renovation.
James Baird leaves behind a wife, Lindy, four children and several grandchildren, according to Sheets.
“He will be missed profoundly as the religious leader of 4,000 members of the LDS church in the Washington D.C. area,” Sheets said. “But he will be missed even more profoundly for the kindness that he showed, for the examples that he set, for the words of encouragement that he provided people. For us, it’s an almost inexpressible loss.”
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