James Webb "Jim" Baker
Class of 1944
WILLIAMSBURG - James W. 'Jim' Baker passed away on Feb. 7, 2011. He was born in 1926 near Emporia, Va., to the late Hazel and Otis Baker.
He grew up in Portsmouth, Va., and graduated from Cradock High School in 1944. He joined the Marine Corps at age 17, and served two years, including a year in Tientsin, China. He enrolled at the College of William and Mary after World War II, graduating in 1951 with a degree in Government. While at William and Mary, he met his future wife, Elaine Campton. They were married in the college chapel on Dec. 15, 1951.
Baker joined the staff of The Richmond News Leader as a reporter after graduation and remained on the newspaper for 12 years. During that time he covered the state legislature, Henrico and Chesterfield Counties, crime, fires, and other disasters, and was later named Education Editor. In May of 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Brown vs. Board of Education that racially segregated schools were no longer legal, and overnight, the education beat became one of the most exciting ones on the paper. It was a running news story for years, which Baker covered extensively. At the News Leader, Baker was the recipient of several journalism awards from the Virginia Press Association.
In 1963, Baker resigned from The News Leader and joined the foreign service of the U.S. Information Agency, then headed by Edward R. Murrow. He remained with the USIA for 20 years, serving three years in Washington, D.C., and 17 years overseas in India, Turkey, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Tunisia. Most of his work involved editing magazines distributed abroad by USIA. He was the recipient of several meritorious honor awards, and was the first recipient of the USIA Director's Award for Outstanding Creativity in 1972.
Baker retired from USIA in 1983 and moved to Williamsburg. In retirement, he worked part-time for the Virginia Gazette, writing hundreds of feature stories, 150 columns about life in the foreign service, and more than 200 Gazette editorial page columns called Baker's Dozen.
His lifelong interest in magic led him to perform magic shows in hospitals, orphanages, and other venues around the world. He also performed professionally and wrote 13 "how-to" magic books for children. He was a founding member of the Williamsburg Assembly 226 of the Society of American Magicians (S.A.M.), and a member of the Order of Merlin of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.
Baker was a member of the Williamsburg Presbyterian Church, and a longtime volunteer for Meals on Wheels and Sentara's ASSIST program. After his retirement, he and his wife, Elaine, traveled extensively. Over his lifetime, he visited 86 foreign countries and every American state except North Dakota.
He is survived by his wife, Elaine; two grown sons, James W. Baker Jr., of Seattle, and Glenn C. Baker, of Falls Church, Va.; two granddaughters, Nora, the daughter of Glenn and his wife, Joanne, and Raleigh, the daughter of James and Jodi Haavig; two nephews; and one niece.
His brother, William Warren Baker, preceded him in death.
Interment will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 10, at Cedar Grove Cemetery. A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday, Feb. 11, at Williamsburg Presbyterian Church.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the International Myeloma Foundation, 12650 Riverside Drive, Suite 206, North Hollywood, CA 91607, or to the local Meals on Wheels organization.
Online condolences may be offered at www.nelsencares.com. View and post condolences on our online guestbook at dailypress.com/guestbooks.
Published in Daily Press from February 9 to February 10, 2011