My View from South Hill
Thursday, November 13, 2008
On November 8, a memorial service for Dr. Robert "Bob" Baker was held at Ithaca College, where he had been a trustee for the previous 17 years. Dr. Baker was one of those special people who manage to pack several lifetimes' worth of achievements into one -- he was a naval officer, an orthodontist, an innovator in the organization of orthodontic practices, and a business and real estate entrepreneur.
None of those elements of biography, though, capture Dr. Baker’s true legacy. He lived his life by a code and was not afraid to share that code with others. Indeed, part of his code was the obligation to instruct others in how to live life to its fullest. The two key elements of that instruction: fulfill your potential and give back.
Friends, family, and professional acquaintances testified at the memorial service to the lessons they learned from Dr. Baker -- on the benefits of education, on the practice of orthodontics, on strategies for good investing, on the importance of leaving your community a better place. As Dr. Baker walked through the offices of the real estate development company with which he partnered on a variety of projects, he would look into the mouths of employees and say "I can fix that" -- and then would proceed to do so, sometimes on the spot using the bag of tools he carried with him. He once took his young grandson to the Tompkins Trust Company, led him to the office of the president, and had him open his first savings account. The grandson learned that he was the fifth generation of his family to do his banking in that building.
You don't get much more Ithacan than that.
Dr. Baker believed in education. The first in his family to go to college, he quizzed his children and later his grandchildren beginning in elementary school about what college they would attend. He himself was a graduate of Cornell (baccalaureate), Penn (school of dentistry), and the University of Illinois (orthodontics). Later in life, he was a benefactor to all three of those universities, as well as to Ithaca College, which he adopted as an extension of his love for Ithaca. True to his code, Dr. Baker gave back at every opportunity.
More fun-loving than formal, Dr. Baker’s larger than life personality nonetheless commanded respect. For years his son-in-law called him Dr. Baker rather than Bob. Asked shortly before the birth of his first grandchild what he wanted to be called as a grandfather, he twinkled and said "Dr. Baker, sir."
I never met Bob Baker -- he was in his final illness by the time I arrived in Ithaca. Had we met, I would have thanked him for helping the Ithaca College community fulfill its potential, and for giving back. And I would have been pleased to call him "Dr. Baker, sir."
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