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Opinion

June 28, 2014

Shribman: Howard Baker lived a giant and gentle life

(Continued)

He spawned unusual loyalty among his colleagues, aides and associates. “There was a gentleness to him that was remarkable for people who operated at his level,” remembered Thomas D. Rath, a former New Hampshire attorney general who met Baker while the senator stumped in 1980 for Senate candidate Warren B. Rudman, whose victory in that race helped provide the GOP majority that thrust Baker into the leadership of the Senate in 1981. “There was a twinkle in his eyes always.”

Those eyes could, however, flash with anger. One afternoon, Baker found himself delaying the conclusion of a close Senate roll call while Republican aides searched for a GOP lawmaker whose vote Baker needed. In a stage whisper that he intended for the denizens of the press gallery to hear with unmistakable clarity, the Senate majority leader told the missing lawmaker — who returned to the chamber in a tornado of urgency and discomfort —­ that he didn’t mind if his colleague conducted an extramarital affair, but he did mind if he romped with his mistress on Baker’s time. He did not, however, phrase his remarks with the care applied to crafting the previous sentence.

Mr. Griscom was presiding over a meeting of the Chattanooga Rotary Club on Thursday when he received a message from Sissy Baker, the senator’s daughter, of his mentor’s demise. “He was like a second father to me,” Griscom said. “The Howard Baker you saw in public was the Howard Baker we all saw in private.”

Baker’s first wife was the daughter of Sen. Everett Dirksen, the celebrated Republican senator from Illinois. After Joy Baker died of cancer, he married another former GOP senator, Nancy Landon Kassebaum, the daughter of Gov. Alf Landon of Kansas, the 1936 Republican presidential nominee. Later, George W. Bush appointed Baker ambassador to Japan.

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