Looking back on her long history of involvement in Baltimore’s Jewish community, Annette G. Saxon — the recent recipient of the Federation of Jewish Women’s Organizations of Maryland’s E.B. Hirsh Lifetime Achievement Award — credited her parents with instilling her with the values that pushed her along her path.
“They taught us it was part of life to give back to the Jewish community and volunteer in the Jewish community,” Saxon said.
From teaching Hebrew school to making financial contributions, her parents’ lessons stuck with her through her life. She remembered her mother working to collect toothpaste and brushes for the local needy. As for her father, she recalled how, once a month, he would be sitting next to a cigar box filled with envelopes asking for donations.
“He’d be sitting there, writing a check to every single one,” Saxon said. “And my parents weren’t wealthy, but my father supported everything that came. … Even though it wasn’t for a lot. He taught us the importance of supporting our Jewish community, and the community as a whole.”
On May 12, at the Federation of Jewish Women’s Organizations of Maryland’s virtual annual convention, Saxon received the E.B. Hirsh Lifetime Achievement Award. This award is meant to honor the special achievements of someone from the Baltimore area, said Marcia Bornfriend, who was president of the Federation until her term expired at its annual convention.
The committee that named Saxon as the winner, made up of past presidents of the Federation, made its choice based on a number of different criteria, said Bornfriend. These included being a woman who exemplifies Jewish values, outstanding leadership and achievement, and who has ties to the greater Maryland community. Bornfriend added that the committee “felt that Annette’s commitment to the Jewish community and her history, dedication and leadership qualities led to our selecting her for this award.”
Currently, Saxon is the chair of Associated Women and on the continental board of the Jewish Community Centers of America and of JCC Global. She has also been involved with the Macks Center for Jewish Education, the JCC of Greater Baltimore and Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, where she is also a member. She lives in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor area with her husband, Michael, and has two children, Jacob and Sarah.
Saxon grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, the eldest of three siblings. Her father worked in retail management while her mother worked for the state, she said. Saxon belonged to the local Conservative shul, Beth Shalom Synagogue, and to B’nai Brith Girls.
Saxon received a bachelor’s degree in journalism, with an emphasis in marketing, from the University of South Carolina.
After graduation, Saxon worked for many years in public relations for a number of PR and marketing agencies, as well as for the video game company Atari, she said. She recalled at one point doing a year-long promotion with actor Scott Baio, traveling around the country with him.
Saxon met her future husband in California. Wanting to get involved in his family business, he talked her into moving back with him to the Baltimore area, which they did not long after their wedding some 35 years ago. In Baltimore, she continued her work in marketing, advertising and public relations.
Wanting to become more involved in the community, Saxon went to The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore and asked how she might help their work. They directed her to the group now known as Associated Women, and she eventually joined its board and was asked to chair its campaign.
Saxon ended up enjoying fundraising so much, she made the decision to switch career tracks. She eventually became BHC’s director of development around 12 years ago, working there for over 11 years.
Saxon was also the chair of the board of the JCC of Greater Baltimore, a position her husband had previously held years before her. She recalled that, when the now-defunct Camp Milldale closed down, they chose to bring their day camp programs into the Owings Mills and Park Heights facilities, where they are now flourishing.
Saxon was also chair of the board of the Macks Center for Jewish Education.
Upon retiring last summer, Saxon turned her attention even more so to volunteering, becoming “busier than I ever was,” she said.
Much of the work Saxon has done at Associated Women and other organizations has revolved around what she called the “strategic visioning process,” which she described as building relationships with potential donors, learning more about what they might want to see from an organization and then shaping the organization to come closer to that vision.
“You can’t just go to people and say, ‘I have these wonderful programs or these wonderful opportunities. You should want to come and do them,’” Saxon said. “You can’t do that because you don’t know what they want. … It’s the same with fundraising. When you talk to someone about a gift to an organization that they’re connected to, or that they may have interest in, you can’t just go to them and say, ‘I work for this great organization … and you should want to give money to it and support it.’
“You have to talk to that person, you have to create that relationship, you have to ask them what’s important to them about the organization or about the world,” Saxon continued. “ … [And then] listen to what they have to say.”
Saxon added that organizations that don’t engage in visioning every five or 10 years can lose track of where they are headed and stagnate.
Saxon was also grateful for all the friendships she’s been able to make along the way.
“I so enjoyed meeting so many … involved, passionate women, and learning from them, getting to know their stories, helping them make a difference in our Baltimore Jewish community,” Saxon said. “To me, relationships are everything. I’ve been able to build relationships in all of these volunteer things I’ve been involved with. All of my good friends today I met through volunteering with The Associated.”