James Baker worked in the cabinets of two presidents; Ronald Reagan (1981-1985) and George H.W. Bush (1989-1992). On Friday, he shared some memories about Nancy and Ronald’s longterm love.
Once a 40-year-old lawyer with no experience in government, PBS called Baker “The Man Who Made Washington Work” and referred to him as “a remarkable politician and statesman who represents a time when a divided Congress got things done, and when presidents and politicians worked together.”
It was George H.W. Bush — a good friend — that endorsed him in 1976 to Gerald Ford for the latter’s presidential campaign. In just a year and a half, Baker rose through the ranks to become his chair; his start at an unprecedented public service career.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Only Time He Witnessed Nancy Lose Her Composure Was When Reagan Was Shot
On March 31, 1981, Ronald Reagan was shot in the chest, but suffered no permanent damage. Six shots were fired at Reagan. His press secretary James Brady, Secret Service agent Jerry Parr and a cop were wounded. Nancy was grateful for Parr’s sacrifice.
“Jerry, thank you for giving me my life back,” said Nancy, according to LA Times.
This was the only time Baker witnessed Nancy lose her composure. He addressed that very scary moment at Nancy’s funeral.
“She was devastated and in fact she fell apart. Even in his condition, he (Reagan) did his best to give her strength. ‘Honey, I forgot to duck,’ he said. That was his way of comforting her,” Baker told the crowd.
Baker — shown above speaking at Nancy’s service — touched on her innate ability to gage who genuinely cared for her husband.
She was a woman who captured the heart of a man who loved his craft, his country and his countryman and most especially loved this remarkable woman. She knew who was paddling their own canoe and who was loyal to the president. She was without a doubt, absolutely without a doubt, his closest adviser.
2. He Graduated From Princeton & Has Received Numerous Awards
Baker attended The Hill School, a boarding school located in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. He later graduated from Princeton University in 1952. In 1957, Baker obtained a JD with honors from The University of Texas at Austin and started practicing law with the Houston firm of Andrews in Texas.
Long after he graduated, he earned the following awards, amongst others:
Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson Award
The American Institute for Public Service’s Jefferson Award
Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government Award
The Hans J. Morgenthau Award
The George F. Kennan Award
The Department of the Treasury’s Alexander Hamilton Award
The Department of State’s Distinguished Service Award
3. He Rose Through the Ranks as a Member of the Marine Corps
From 1952 to 1954, Baker served in the Marine Corps. He reached a rank of First Lieutenant and later rose to Captain in the Marine Corps Reserve. His experience and reputation has remained with him.
In the Rudy Socha and Carolyn Darrow’s book, Above & Beyond: Former Marines Conquer the Civilian World, Baker spoke about a special visit he received from the Commandant of the Marine Corps.
When I was Secretary of State, the Commandant of the Marine Corps at the time, Al Gray, asked if he could pay me a courtesy call. We had a nice visit in my office at the State Department. AS he got up to leave, he said, ‘Mr. Secretary, I have a present for you.’ It was a box of business cards on a camouflage background that read as follows:
James A. Baker, III
And Secretary of State
4. He Was Named Reagan’s Chief of Staff Despite Having Managed Gerald Ford’s Campaigns
Prior to being named Reagan’s Chief of Staff, Baker served as Undersecretary of Commerce to President Gerald Ford. He also ran Fords campaign in 1976. While speaking at a Grand Valley State University lecture in public affairs on July 14, 2014, Baker praised Ford.
“He simply was a beautiful human being. He may have lacked glibness, but he had much, much more. He had character.
5. He Married His Late Wife’s Close Friend After She Passed From Breast Cancer
Baker married his first wife — Mary Stuart McHenry — in 1953. The couple met while on in Bermuda for spring break. They had four sons together. She passed away of breast cancer in February 1970. Three years later, Baker married his late wife’s close friend, Susan Garrett Winston. They have a daughter, Mary Bonet Baker (born in 1977).