Retired circuit judge Jack Gant said that from his time on the bench and when he served as a Missouri state senator, he can appreciate people in government who are more independent-minded and will do what's right for a city.
Bill Baker, he said, was such a person.
Baker, a former Independence City Council member and chairperson of the Jackson County Democratic Committee, who along with his wife Shirley formerly owned the Courthouse Exchange restaurant on the Square, died Thursday at the age of 89.
“He was a good friend, and he really cared about Independence,” Gant said. “Bill, I thought, made a really good councilman, and he was just a good person. He had a lot of friends – just a pleasure to be around.”
“He voted the way he thought was right, not just what was politically correct,” Gant said. “He had a great deal of common sense and was very intelligent.”
Baker had lived of late at a care facility in Warrensburg. He and Shirley had seven children, and his death came three days after the sudden death of a grandson who was a Kansas City firefighter.
“A big family man,” remembers Keith Querry, a former electrical union leader who first met Baker via the City Council. “That family is probably closer, the whole bunch of them together, than any other, and he treated everybody else the same way, at least he did with me and Sandy.”
“He had his opponents, like any politician does, but when he got elected, he treated everybody the same. A fair-minded guy.”
A veteran of the Korean War and 40-year employee with Ready Mix Concrete, Baker served three terms on the council – 1978-82 as an at-large member and 1992-2000 as the District 4 representative. Starting in 1982, after he narrowly lost the Independence mayoral race to Barbara Potts, he served two terms leading the Jackson County Democratic Committee. He also served a stint at chairperson of the Jackson County Board of Election Commissioners.
For more than 20 years, Bill and Shirley owned Courthouse Exchange, and for a period it was one of just a handful of businesses operating on the Square.
“They never gave up on the Square; they brought it back to life,” longtime attorney and Independence City Council Member Karen DeLuccie said. “He was such a mover and shaker in town. I'd call him a foundation in the city of Independence.”
“They made some great contributions for quite awhile,” added Potts, who had joined the City Council the same time as Baker. “We didn't always agree on issues we voted on, but we got along fine, after we retired (from politics) we saw each other a lot.”
Potts' husband Don remembers him as “a real gentleman.”
“He had a habit of when he was introduced to a woman, he would kiss her hand,” he said. “That impressed Barb, and he had a terrific wife, too, which helped.”
Gant said the state could use more politicians who carry themselves like Baker did.
“He was just a person that you could trust and respect,” Gant said. “I think of politicians today, and there's no comparison. He was forthright and would tell you how he felt.”
“I think of him often when I see what's happened with our governor and others in the state.”