Article in Corporate Counsel

October 20, 2016

A GC’s Battle With Parkinson’s Gives Hope to Others

Stephanie Forshee, Corporate Counsel

October 19, 2016

John Baumann worked in-house for 22 years at Exxon, Tosco and Steel Technologies. After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s, he was forced to quit his dream job. Now he’s a motivational speaker and author, but he still misses his days as an attorney.

John Baumann loved being a lawyer. He was sure he’d be one his entire life.

“I always thought I’d be one of those lawyers who worked until I had a heart attack at my desk,” he says.

One thing got in his way and forced him to quit his general counsel job at Steel Technologies in 2008: Parkinson’s disease. He’d been diagnosed in 2002 but continued to work as long as he possibly could.

“I had to quit,” he says. “Maybe it was premature but I didn’t want to continue to work and commit malpractice.”

After a 22-year career in-house with Exxon, Tosco and Steel Technologies, Baumann couldn’t believe he was going to have to retire at the age of 48. But he had been feeling constantly fatigued and was “freezing up” when he had to multitask. His handwriting had become illegible and eventually his right arm wouldn’t swing when he walked. His doctor recommended a specialist, and within minutes of visiting the neurologist, he was told: “You have all the signs of Parkinson’s.”

Naturally, he was in shock and started to think about all of the things that would change. One being the dream he’d had since he was in high school, watching Perry Mason on TV and imagining himself in the courtroom questioning a witness and making a dramatic closing argument.

After graduating from University of Massachusetts Amherst with a business degree, Baumann took a year off to save up money by working as a paralegal. He studied around the clock for the LSAT and was rewarded with a spot at Cornell Law School.

During Baumann’s final year of law school, he interviewed with Exxon Corp., which came on campus to recruit. Baumann made an impression and landed a job.

He worked as one of more than 300 attorneys for the oil and gas giant and in his first nine months found himself able to work on his first trial. The company had been accused of flooding the land of a tenant adjacent to one of Exxon’s properties. So for Baumann’s first trial in federal court in Galveston, Texas, he prepared a 17-page closing argument that he’s still proud of today.

Ultimately, he and his colleagues measured all four corners of the Exxon plant’s land, and determined it was naturally higher than the neighboring tenant’s so it couldn’t have avoided the flooding. Exxon also undermined the plaintiff’s credibility by getting him to acknowledge that he hadn’t filed federal income taxes for several years. “That was it. We won,” Baumann says.

That was one of the first victories Baumann had during his seven-year tenure at Exxon. There, in addition to being a litigator, he resolved employment disputes and advised on environmental issues—experiences that rounded him out and made him a desirable GC. He moved a few times with the company—working from Houston, New Orleans and New Jersey.

In 1992, a company called Tosco, which later became part of ConocoPhillips, acquired Exxon’s Bayway refinery in Linden, New Jersey, and Baumann stayed put to become the assistant general counsel of Tosco. He worked in that role for three years before being offered the role of general counsel with Steel Technologies in Louisville, Kentucky.

Six years into his role as GC of Steel, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Although doctors told him he wouldn’t see debilitating symptoms for five years or so, he informed his employer right away. “I told them, ‘I’m going to fight this thing and be transparent. When I’m not able to work anymore, I’ll let you know,'” he recalls.

And six years later, he told them it was becoming too much and he would no longer be able to fulfill his legal responsibilities. The company hired a lawyer to help Baumann and fill in for him after he retired.

After leaving Steel, Baumann decided to handle one more trial that was supposed to last two days and wound up lasting four. And the trials that had once been so easy for Baumann, like his very first with Exxon, quickly turned into an unbearable task. Those 18-hour work days—between being in court and conducting additional research afterward—put him over the edge. “I was in bed for two weeks after that. I was so tired,” he says. “I recognized again that I couldn’t be a trial lawyer.”

Now, he is a motivational speaker and gives speeches to people affected by Parkinson’s as well as doctors and nurses at hospitals. His 2016 schedule has taken him to places like Florida, Kansas, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Saskatchewan.

Sometimes it’s a small crowd and other times he has spoken for an audience of 1,100 people. In a recent speech in New Jersey, he recognized a few faces.

“I saw five people from the refinery that I haven’t talked to in years. They came to my talk just to say hello. That made me feel so good,” he says.

Although he’s frequently traveling, he doesn’t overextend himself. On his website, he offers workplace consultations of up to 15 hours per week. When he’s not on the road, he lives with his wife in Florida. And he’s proud that his son is in his final year of law school and hopes to become an in-house lawyer.

Just as he tells people in his speeches, he says, “I have good days and I have bad days, but you have to make the best of it.”

For Baumann, he’s proud of all the encouragement he’s been able to share with others in the past decade—whether they’ve been diagnosed with Parkinson’s or have a friend or family member who has. But there’s no denying he misses his days of working in-house.

“I loved being a lawyer. It’s a shame I can’t do it anymore,” he says. “I was a really good lawyer and I was one of the good guys.”



What a wonderful presentation, John! You were wonderful and I am so grateful you shared your story. We were receiving excellent feedback in the chat too:

That was fantastic information, thank you for your candor and humor! Awesome 🤩 talk and info ! Thanks much. It’s hard, thanks for sharing. Thank you for sharing your story and for your positive attitude. It’s important to hear this message. This was just what I needed. Thank you so much. you are an inspiration, thank you!

As we stated, we hit 100 participants at 3:09!

Thank you again,

Eden Feldman, LCSW Associate Director, Community

I do not have the words to thank you enough for making the trip to Dallas to do two presentations for us at CC young. You truly are special and a rockstar and clearly touched many lives today. It is a victory! I was able to run all over campus and welcome guests and host you. It was a victory. Thanks to you for helping me think that way. We will catch you on the next round. Get some rest my friend. Safe travels. And know we love you from CC Young and Dallas!

Patty CC Young and Dallas

“After two years of not being able to hear speakers in person , I was thrilled to have John Bauman as a speaker at our “ Living Well With Parkinson’s’ Gala!. Not only was John engaging and inspiring to get to know off stage , on stage he truly drove home the theme of empowerment to our audience and left our growing community of attendees with several “ aha “ moments and desire to hear more. He spoke from personal experience as a Parkinson’s patient ,inspiring the audiences motivation to truly wish to make a difference and uniting us all in our humanity. Attendees after listening to John , felt inspired to make a difference in the world and do their part to create change for those living with Parkinson’s. My only regret was not being able to spend more time with John and I look forward to having him speak again to our audience.”

Naomi Wong WPP Program Manager

John’s message of hope, inspiration and laughter was ideal for anyone living with PD. He was extremely flexible and a delight to work with.

Leisha Phipps, MSW Program Director - Dallas Area Parkinson Society

We all felt inspired and enjoyed listening to your presentation. Even though we are not living with Parkinson’s, we felt boost of motivation to continue helping those who are living with this disease. I am motivated to make more personal phone calls to people living with PD and asking how they are doing. Sometimes that “extra” bit of kindness truly makes a difference to someone. I am also motivated to research program ideas and partner with other organizations that may have similar values.

I learned that life is unexpected and that you cannot control it. What matters is your attitude!

-Great way to end the day, brave man, thank you very much!

-Good, excellent, great, outstanding speaker, very moving!

-Inspirational who just “gets it”

-Positive thinker and very funny!

-Honest speaker but also humorous!

Parkinson’s Society of Southwest Ontario, Canada, Symposium Keynote Presentation

“whatever hand life deals you, whatever life changing adversity you have to endure, you still have some control over it.” “You don’t have to just to live well,” he advises,” but live an Amazing Life.” The formula he proposes: Faith in yourself, discipline, determination, desire, intensity, and inner strength.


Yes, you touched every person at our conference, who will in turn change and impact so many others. The feedback from our participants was overwhelmingly positive. You are the only speaker to ever receive a standing ovation. Thank you for taking time to share, motivate and inspire. We are blessed to know you.


I will be honest. During the first 10 minutes of your presentation, I started reading work related material on my laptop. For surely, I had watched your You-Tube and seen your videos and knew what to expect. Surely, as a therapist I had studied this disease, the pathological components, the psychological components, the treatment alternatives……..Surely, I understand it.

Not so much. You caught my attention and I was enthralled. You were able to couple the impairments you experience with the emotions felt. You walked us through your life with the disease through “your eyes”. A perspective that a therapist/nurse rarely has the chance to hear. We get so busy telling patients how to deal with x, y and z, but our eyes are blurred by the science of it all most of the time.

You did it through truth, Through your humor, humility and determination to tell your story. One that most deservedly needs to be shared.

I will advocate to have you share your story. I appreciate your determination, diligence and dedication.