Washington — After working nonstop for 21 days, Malcolm Baldrige had high hopes of taking a couple of days off earlier this month for his favorite pastime: cow roping in a big Denver rodeo.But he couldn't go, after all, because the President-elect had called a Cabinet meeting.
"I reassessed my priorities," he joked in measured words that come straight from his Nebraska upbringing.
The news secretary of commerce neatly blends East and West. A business with impeccable Eastern credentials, Mr. Baldrige graduated from Yale University and, after World War II, went to work as a foreman in a Connecticut foundry owned by the Eastern Company.
He eventually rose to become president of that company and later moved to Scovill Inc., a Waterbury, Conn., manufacturing firm with sales of $1 billion a year. He has been both president and chairman of the board at Scovill and has served on a half- dozen boards of other major corporations.
But he has never lost touch with his Western roots. As a child, he "fell in love with horses and cowboys," says his sister, Letitia (Tish) Baldrige, A New York public relations executive who served as social secretary in the Kennedy White House.
As a teen-ager, he used to hire out as a ranch laborer, living in the bunkhouse with the other wranglers, she recalls.
Today he wears a Western belt with the requisite dark business suit, has kept horses and cows at his home in Woodbury, Conn., and several times a year goes to rodeos.
A longtime Republican whose father was s GOP congressman from Nebraska, Baldrige came to the Reagan administration through his association with vice-President George Bush. Baldrige managed Mr. Bush's presidential campaign in Connecticut and later helped spearhead fund- raising for the Reagan-Bush ticket.
At Scovill, which manufactures a variety of items, including Yale locks and Hamilton Beach appliances, he is paid to have had a low-key managing style. "He's not gabby," says a company spokesman, who adds that Baldrige dislikes long meetings, keeps tight fiscal controls, and relies on "finding good people and then giving them authority."
The new commerce secretary's wife, Margaret Murray Baldrige, is active in civic affairs; she was the first woman to join her community's volunteer fire department. The Baldriges have two daughters, both graduates of Yale.