On the day she died, Lisa Baird, an immigration lawyer, called an immigration officer. Though weak and woozy, she left a detailed message carefully spelling out her client's name. When her brother Jonathan protested that she shouldn't exert herself, she said: "You don't understand. If this guy gets deported, his life is over."
Ms. Baird, 56, of Mount Airy, died of breast cancer Oct. 21. at her mother's home in Wynnewood.
"Lisa used her expertise to the great benefit of a marginalized and often despised group," said Jonathan Baird, also a lawyer. "She took cases that others would not take. Her fee scale was off the charts. If a client came in and said, 'Miss Lisa, I only have $250, but I'll pay you when I get some money,' she would take the case."
Ms. Baird represented a diverse group, including Chinese boat people, African victims of female genital mutilation, and persecuted Indonesian Christians, her brother said.
In 2002, she joined two other lawyers fighting for political asylum for Bernard Lukwago. At 15, Lukwago had been kidnapped from his African village by a rebel group who slaughtered his parents and forced him to fight in Uganda's civil war. He escaped after four months and began a long journey to the United States.
Immigration agents detained him upon his arrival and held him for two years in prisons in Pennsylvania while his application for asylum worked its way through courts. Jennifer Kramer and Danielle Beckwith became involved in Lukwago's case as students at Villanova Law School.
After the Board of Immigration Appeals revoked the protection Lukwago had been granted in an earlier proceeding and he faced deportation, the two women decided to take his case to the U.S. Court of Appeals. As new law graduates, however, they needed experienced assistance and contacted Ms. Baird.
She helped the women with the appendixes, tables, and exhaustive analysis involved in a federal appeal. In their brief, the women argued that Lukwago, if forced home, would be targeted by Uganda's government for becoming a rebel and by the rebels for escaping from their army.
In August 2003, Lukwago was granted political asylum. "If Jen and Danielle hadn't done this," Ms. Baird told an Inquirer reporter, "I don't know what would have happened. Bernard had no one."
Before becoming a lawyer in the mid-1980s, Ms. Baird spent more than a decade as an activist, including participating in anti-Vietnam War and civil-rights demonstrations, fighting for better public transportation and tenant rights in Philadelphia, working for the Council on Aging, and volunteering with the neighborhood Latino group Padres Unidos.
After earning a law degree from Rutgers University, she was an attorney for Lehigh Valley Legal Services and then for Philadelphia's City Council, drafting ordinances and conducting surveys. In 1993, she joined the staff of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and Council Migration Service of Philadelphia. She had maintained a solo practice in Center City since 1998.
Ms. Baird grew up in Lower Merion and graduated from the Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr. She attended the University of Texas and earned a bachelor's degree from Temple University.
"She could be strident and bold when it came to social issues, but she had a great sense of fun and loved to giggle and laugh and was a great storyteller," said Sherri Grasmuck, who met her when they were students at Texas.
Ms. Baird had numerous friends from every facet of her life, including the "Texas Posse" - people she had known at the university, Grasmuck said.
"She was incredibly giving and interested in others," said Eva Gladstein, a friend of 30 years. "She was a terrific matchmaker and introduced me to my husband," Gladstein said.
In recent years, Ms. Baird's friends included other women fighting breast cancer who raced together in dragon boats on the Schuylkill. She was a good athlete and loved swimming off the Jersey Shore, her brother said. She was training for a triathlon even while fighting cancer, he said.
In 1988, Ms. Baird married Roger Ashodian. They had a daughter and a son before separating. She was devoted to her children, her brother said, and very close to her family, especially her father, Donald, who died in May.
In addition to her brother, Ms. Baird is survived by her children, Molly and Louis Ashodian; her mother, Deena; another brother, Robert; and her husband.
A memorial service will be held at noon Nov. 22 at the Germantown Jewish Centre, 400 W. Ellet St. A graveside service was held Oct. 23 at Roosevelt Memorial Park, Trevose