Howard Baker Jr. 'the great conciliator' from Tennessee dies

Howard Baker Jr. 'the great conciliator' from Tennessee dies

June 27th, 2014 by Louie Brogdon in Local Regional News

Former Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker

Former Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker

Photo by The Tennessean /Times Free Press.


Baker will lie in repose from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday at the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy, 1640 Cumberland Ave., Knoxville, on the campus of the University of Tennessee.

Funeral services will be held at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the First Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, Tenn.

In his memory, the family asks those interested to consider contributing to the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy or the Howard H. Baker Medical Scholarship Fund.


"Howard Baker was Tennessee's favorite son, one of America's finest leaders and for Honey and me an indispensable friend.

"He built our state's two-party political system and inspired three generations to try to build a better state and country. It is difficult to express how much we honor his life and how much we will miss him."

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.

Alexander was Baker's first legislative assistant in 1967 and 1968.

"When I think of the ultimate statesman, the very first person who comes to my mind is Howard Baker.

"Howard Baker was one of those people who had the unique ability to bring out the very best in those around him. He always put our country's interests first, and lived a life of service that everyone in public office should aspire to emulate. I have cherished the privilege of being able to sit down and talk with Howard on many occasions, and I will always value his words of encouragement.

"Elizabeth and I extend our thoughts and prayers to his wife, Nancy, the Baker family and all those who have been touched by Howard's remarkable life."

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.

"It is with deep sadness today that I learned about the passing of one of Tennessee's greatest statesmen, Mr. Howard Baker.

"As both the Senate Majority Leader and President Reagan's Chief of Staff, Howard had an unparalleled ability to lead and build consensus allowing him to shape our nation as few before or after him ever have. His impact on the Republican Party and our country as a whole will forever be remembered.

"Brenda and I offer our sincerest condolences to his wife, family, friends, and colleagues during this difficult time. I was blessed to have learned from Howard while serving as his Congressman and know that his spirit and legacy will continue to live on for years to come."

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn.

"Senator Baker was an institution, a legend, and a true Tennessee statesman. He will be remembered with great affection and deep appreciation for his service to the people of Tennessee and our nation during his years in the United States Senate, the Reagan White House and as Ambassador to Japan.

"Throughout his career Senator Baker worked tirelessly to ensure that the United States would forever remain a Shining City upon a Hill. His memory and hard work will forever guide freedom-loving people everywhere. My thoughts and prayers are with Howard's family today."

U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.

"Howard Baker served this country well, and he served it in a fashion that was worthy of admiration from both parties and from all people. ... He was an American first, Tennessean second, and a Republican third. ... His was a life well lived, and he should be remembered as a role model of a legislator who worked with both sides of the aisle and worked for America first."

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn.

"Howard Baker was a great statesman who brought Nixon to justice, made the dysfunctional Senate work, and rescued Reagan's second-term presidency.

"His sharp mind, gentle manner, and sense of fair play made him a beloved and indispensable figure in American history, whether living in Scott County, Tennessee, or Washington, D.C.

"He is not only sorely missed; America is starved for his kind of bipartisan leadership. He was our country's finest."

U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn.

"We have lost one of the greatest public servants Tennessee has ever had, and one of the greatest statesmen this Nation has ever known.

"I have known Senator Baker for most of my life, and he was a real hero to me. I admired and respected him almost as much as my own father."

U.S. Rep. John Duncan Jr. R-Tenn.

"I am deeply saddened to hear about the passing of Senator Howard Baker. His long and distinguished career serves as an excellent example for public servants and statesmen all across our great nation.

"I was fortunate to have the opportunity to meet Senator Baker while I was in high school, and it was an experience I will never forget. I would like to extend my sympathy to his family during this difficult time."

Tennessee House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga

"Howard Baker's name is synonymous with 'civility.' I first met him when I worked for Fred Thompson and instantly understood why Senator Baker had such a sterling reputation.

"When I became Chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party, he was one of the first to congratulate me. Instead of simply retiring to his Huntsville home, he helped us get on firm financial ground and was always there to offer advice for our Party. It's clear, when you think of the modern Republican Party in Tennessee, you think of Senator Baker.

"His legacy will always be bigger than the Party. He was more than just a legend in Tennessee-he was a titan in American politics. Senator Baker will be missed."

Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney

"Senator Baker was partisan, but he was patriotic. And his patriotism rose above his partisanship.

"Senator Baker earned the respect of Democrats as well as Republicans. He worked in a bipartisan way with presidents and colleagues on both sides of the aisle."

Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron

"Our country has lost a great statesman and a great Tennessean. Senator Baker will live on in our hearts forever as a man who believed that government was to serve the people."

University of Tennessee Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek

"The Baker Center stands as a living legacy to a member of the greatest generation. Sen. Howard Baker will always represent what is good about those who serve our country unselfishly. We are honored to carry on his work to create a more civil engagement in our government."

Matt Murray, director of the Baker Center at UT

Baker "is our college's most illustrious alumnus and has made such a difference for the country, the state and the university. He represents the best of what we do, thanks to his commitment to the legal profession and his commitment to community."

Doug Blaze, dean of UT's College of Law

"Obviously this is a great loss to public service in our country and certainly in the state of Tennessee.

"Howard Baker's life represented everything that is good about politics and public service.

"His service represented something that is so badly needed today and that is respect and comity."

Former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn.

"Howard Baker's integrity, record of achievement, and his commitment to service will continue to serve as a model for Tennessee's leaders. He will be missed, but his legacy and the inspiration it provides will continue. Our prayers are with his family as they go through this difficult time. Thank you Senator for your service to Tennessee."

- Republican Tennessee U.S. Senate candidate Rep. Joe Carr

Dr. George Flinn , conservative Republican candidate for U.S. Senate released the following statement today regarding the death of Howard Baker:

"I am saddened to hear of the loss of Howard Baker today. A man of honor, integrity, and an individual who contributed in so many ways to our great state and country. He will be missed greatly but his spirit and legacy will thrive in Tennessee, as well as in our nation."

Republican Tennessee U.S. Senate candidate Dr. George Flinn

"Recently, I was asked which current or former U.S. Senator I most admired and why. Howard Baker was one of two I mentioned. Senator Baker, though a highly respected Republican leader, had an uncanny ability to cross party lines and broker compromises, often when no one else could. That's why he was called the 'Great Conciliator.

"He was a master of the rules and process of the United States Senate. He was a patient listener. He also had a great sense of humor, never lost his temper, and most importantly, in all the years in state, national and world politics, Senator Baker never broke his word.

"With those and other traits, Senator Baker was able to bring to and maintain a state of civility in the Senate, in sharp contrast to all of the bitterness, sniping, and guerilla warfare now common there. Indeed, our current Senate could learn a lot from studying Senator Baker. He will be missed by all Tennesseans, especially those who admire honesty, integrity, and hard-fought compromise."

Democratic Tennessee U.S. Senate candidate Gordon Ball

On Thursday, Howard Baker Jr. pulled Washington politicians together for the last time.

Baker, known in the nation's capital as "the great conciliator," died in his Scott County home Thursday at age 88.

As news of his death spread, Republicans and Democrats alike praised Baker's calm demeanor, sublime wit and steadfast service to the state and the country.

But as tributes and remembrances flooded news wires and media inboxes, one theme was pervasive.

"Sen. Baker was a legislator who could see the other person's point of view and could work toward an answer," former Sen. Jim Sasser, D-Tenn. said in a phone interview. "I served with Howard Baker for eight years. He was the Republican and I was the Democrat and we worked together in a bipartisan way to further Tennessee's interests."

Although some Republicans on occasion saw Baker as too moderate, none on Thursday diminished his ability to make compromises across the aisle.

"Howard Baker was one of those people who had the unique ability to bring out the very best in those around him. He always put our country's interests first, and lived a life of service that everyone in public office should aspire to emulate," Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said in a written statement.

Baker's conscience led his decision-making, which sometimes lead him away from his party - he helped pass the Clean Air Act, much to the chagrin of coal-mining interests, and he voted to cede the Panama Canal to Panama.

But that didn't stop him from serving as chief of staff for President Ronald Reagan, or later serving as ambassador to Japan in the George W. Bush White House.

His Washington career is highly esteemed, but he left an indelible mark on the state of Tennessee.

As the first Tennessee Republican to be elected to the U.S. Senate, Baker laid the foundation for the statewide majority the GOP enjoys today, according to Gov. Bill Haslam, who worked as an intern for Baker.

"Tennessee has lost a hero and a distinguished statesmen, and I have lost a friend and mentor," Haslam said. "Howard Baker made Tennesseans proud, and he taught me an important lesson when I worked for him 35 years ago. Anytime he was sitting across the desk from someone in disagreement, he told himself to keep in mind: You know - the other guy might be right."

Tennessee was always at the center of his mind, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said.

"No matter how high he rose as a leader of our nation and our party, he always stayed true to his strong roots in Scott County, Tennessee. A veteran, a patriot and a true statesman, his legacy will not be forgotten."

Baker is survived by his wife, Nancy Kassebaum Baker, and two children, Darek and Cynthia Baker.

In a statement Thursday, family members said they were blessed to have enjoyed 88 years with him.

"This is a time of sorrow and also a time for the celebration of a remarkable life. We are saying farewell to someone who did his public duty with grace, modesty and civility as well as consummate skill," the family said.

Former Chattanooga Times Free Press Publisher Tom Griscom, who worked for Baker's re-election campaign in 1978 and later served as his press secretary, said in a phone interview the nation has lost an invaluable mentor.

"You never stop working for Howard Baker, because he is the best mentor anyone could ever have - the best I ever had. Senator Baker could find ways [to] pull together people of different points of view. They could have very strong debates on the Senate floor, but at the end of the day they all remained friends," Griscom said.

Despite calling Huntsville, Tenn., in Scott County, "the center of the universe," Baker called Chattanooga home for a time.

Baker graduated from the MaCallie School, when it was a military preparatory institution, and he stayed connected to his alma mater, school headmaster Kirk Walker said in a phone interview.

Walker said he was lucky to have served with Baker, who was on the school's board of trustees for a time.

"He was always willing to come back and speak to the students, and I think it was obvious the kind of respect the students had for him," Walker said.

Baker's ability to bring people from differing backgrounds and opinions together and find consensus is a trait he hopes McCallie students - and everyone - can learn from Baker's legacy.

"When you think about America - when you think about government - the fact that he was able to find a path that was good for America beyond any partisan politics, it was inspiring," Walker said.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at or at 423-757-6481.

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