Chattanooga Friends & Colleagues Remember Sen. Howard Baker

Reported by: Bill Mitchell

Edited by: Harrison Pirtle
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Updated: 6/27/2014 7:14 pm
CHATTANOOGA, TN. (WDEF-TV) -- His fabled career is not well known to anyone under 30, but former U.S. Senator Howard Baker is destined to become a major historical figure in Tennessee and national politics.
The 88-year old Baker died yesterday a few days after suffering a stroke at his Huntsville, Tennessee home.
His friends and colleagues in Chattanooga were anxious to talk about Baker's legacy.

SEN. HOWARD BAKER, WHISTLE STOP TOUR, 1978 "When you reelect me to the Senate of the United States I pledge to you that I will devote every ounce of my energy, every breath of my body."

Howard Baker's distinguished career in public service lasted more than 40 years.
Tennesseans knew him best as the first Republican elected to the senate since reconstruction. That happened in 1966.
In the years following he served as vice-chairman of the senate Watergate committee where he asked the question that subsequently led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

HOWARD BAKER, SENATE WATERGATE HEARING, 1973 "What did the president know and when di he know it?"

Chattanooga leaders over the years had their favorite stories about the private Howard Baker, their friend and confident.
Richard Gossett still works at the Law firm that bears the senator's name. He visited Baker's many times to hear his stories of his days in Washington.

RICHARD GOSSETT, BAKER DONALSON " I think I remember as we drove off commenting to my wife, we probably will never ever have an opportunity to see history from that perspective ever again."

Baker was a graduate of McCallie where he later served on the Board of Trustees. Chattanooga Businessman Elliott Davenport remembers those meetings well.

ELLIOTT DAVENPORT, SERVED ON THE MCCALLIE BOARD "Oh, I'm sure he told a few stories here and there but our board is a working board and he got down to work in the tradition of let's take care of business...take care of the mission of the school."

Howard Baker became White House Chief of Staff under President Reagan in the 80's, and no Chattanoogan knew him any better that Tom Griscom, former White House staffer, and later a newspaper executive.

TOM GRISCOM, WHITE HOUSE STAFFER "He could figure out how to take people who came from such opposite points of view..and just partisan points of view..sometimes within his own party..and figure out how to bring them together."

Griscom's favorite Howard Baker story was when they escorted President Reagan to visit the pope, and Mrs. Reagan warned the staff not to let the president fall asleep during the visit.

TOM GRISCOM "We put this plan together...I was sitting on one end of the row..Sen. Baker was on the the front and if it looked like President Reagan was going to fall asleep..then I would get Sen. Baker's attention ..Who would then get President Reagan's attention. The plan was great with one problem..about the time it looked like President Reagan was going to fall asleep, Sen. Baker had already fallen asleep."

SEN. HOWARD BAKER, 1983 "It has of course been the greatest honor of my public life to serve the people of Tennessee and the United States, and I will always treasure that opportunity."

There's not enough room is our story to list all of Senator Baker's major achievements, but he did receive the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award.

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