Susan Baker is married to James Baker, who served as both Secretary of State and Chief of Staff to President George H.W. Bush. Susan, James’s second wife, is a cancer survivor — she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2009 and endured chemotherapy and surgery before getting a clean bill of health from her doctors. Susan helped to raise eight children and supported her husband throughout his long political career — but she also had projects of her own. Here’s what you need to know:
1. She Grew Up on a Ranch in Texas
Susan was born in Houston, Texas, but she grew up on her family’s ranch in Brazoria County. She remembers a very free, and slightly wild childhood spent with her siblings, swinging from trees and helping out with the livestock and the chores.
She described her mother as a warm and patient woman — a gentle and nurturing figure. Her father, she said, was a more extroverted character. He was a loud man who earned the ironic nickname of “the whisperer” and who asked to be buried in his red suspenders.
2. She Divorced Her Alcoholic First Husband
Susan attended the University of Texas at Austin and was about to graduate when she met, and fell in love with, the man who became her first husband, James Winston. She described him as “charming” as “fun” and ignored warnings from her friends who said that he was too wild to make a good husband.
The couple had three children together. But over the years, Susan said, she came to realize that James was an alcoholic, and that nothing was ever going to make him change. That’s when she decided to divorce him and start a new life as a single mother.
3. Susan and James Baker First Met at Her Wedding to James Winston
Years before they got romantically involved, Susan and James Baker knew each other well. James Baker and Susan’s first husband, James Winston, were old friends, and Baker was one of the guests at Susan’s first wedding.
The two got to know each other over the years, especially after Susan’s marriage ended and James’s first wife died of breast cancer. Their children also became good friends. Eventually, in 1973, the couple decided to get married — without telling any of their children.
4. She Used Her Husband’s Connections in Her Fight Against Homelessness
Susan describes herself as a deeply religious woman who tried to “live out the Gospel” behind the scenes in Washington. She was involved in a number of charities, often working back channels and using her influence for her projects. She lobbied the department of defense, for example, to turn over unused food so that it could be given to the homeless population in Washington DC. She also helped found the Committee on Food and Shelter, which worked to turn abandoned buildings into homes for the homeless.
In 1983, Susan also co-founded the National Alliance to End Homelessness, a group which describes itself as “a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization whose sole purpose is to end homelessness in the United States.”
5. She Was Behind the Campaign to Put Warning Labels on Records
Susan said she first decided that albums should have earning labels on them when he six year old daughter, Mary Bonner, asked her what a “virgin” was. That’s when Susan joined a bipartisan group which aimed to get labels on Ds and cassettes that had sexual or violent lyrics. At the time, critics called the campaign “censorship,” something which Susan denied. “It was product labeling,” she said.