Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Memories of R. Palmer Baker, by Richard K. Lodge

Memories of R. Palmer Baker

by Richard K. Lodge

R. Palmer Baker, a great old guy and an incredible philanthropist - and an avid fly fisher - died in New York City this week. I met Palmer by chance when I was fishing the upper Beaverkill River in the Catskills 3 or 4 years ago. He was ancient then, and had been fishing by himself for an hour or two when my fishing buddy and I ran into him walking back to his car.

We had a wonderful conversation and it wasn't until I got home a couple days later I realized the name Palmer Baker was very familiar. He was author of the fly fishing book The Sweet of the Year which has a certain fame in the annals of angling books. Palmer and I corresponded for a year or two but never met again on the banks of any Catskill rivers. I have a great photo of the two of us talking, taken by my fishing buddy He was an interesting character; a classic old angler with his fly rod and Hardy reel.

This photo of R. Palmer Baker Jr. (left) and me was taken by my friend Jeffrey Hill in early June 2005 along the road next to the upper Beaverkill River outside Roscoe, N.Y. Jeff and I had just parked and were stringing up our fly rods when Palmer came out of a field along the river. It wasn't until several days later that I realized this was the man who wrote and published The Sweet of the Year in 1965, a book about his love of fly fishing, mainly in the Catskills.

I found it interesting that the New York Times obituary recorded the many, many professional accomplishments of this man but didn't mention that he was the author of a fishing book.

Here's his obit it in the New York Times:
R. P. Baker, Lawyer and Humanitarian, Dies at 89
Published: March 9, 2008
R. Palmer Baker Jr., a lawyer who was instrumental in the creation of a leading cancer research institution as well as organizations involved in criminal justice issues and the treatment of addiction, died on Monday in Manhattan. He was 89 and lived in Manhattan.

Mr. Baker’s daughter, Mary Baker Eaton, said her father died moments after walking into his doctor’s office on the day before his 90th birthday. No cause was given.

From 1995 to 2005, Mr. Baker was chairman of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, a Manhattan-based organization with nine research centers in seven countries. It has spent $1.2 billion on research since its founding in 1971 by Daniel K. Ludwig, a billionaire who made his fortune in shipping and real estate. He died in 1992. Mr. Baker, who worked for the law firm of Lord, Day & Lord, had been Mr. Ludwig’s lawyer.

“Palmer was the legal architect for the institute,” Dr. Lloyd J. Old, the organization’s current chairman and its former director, said on Thursday. “He played an essential role in guiding the development of the institute’s unique structure of branches and affiliates around the world.”

Mr. Baker was also involved in the creation of the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit research and policy organization that looks at issues like prison violence and parole policies. Michael Jacobson, its director, said Mr. Baker drew on his expertise as a tax lawyer to help incorporate the institute, which is also based in Manhattan.

Mr. Baker also helped create and then served as chairman for the first of Vera’s 17 spinoff corporations, Manhattan Bowery, which addresses problems like addiction, Mr. Jacobson said. The corporation, now called Project Renewal, successfully lobbied for the decriminalization of public drunkenness, calling for medical detoxification as a substitute for incarceration.

In his 70s and 80s, Mr. Baker was chairman of the Argus Community, a South Bronx nonprofit group that serves people who are mentally ill, addicted or homeless. He was also a trustee of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Ray Palmer Baker was born in Troy, N.Y., on March 4, 1918, one of three children of Ray and Mary Messinger Baker. His father was vice president of Rensselaer Polytechnic.

Mr. Baker received his bachelor’s and law degrees at Harvard and served in the Navy during World War II, rising to lieutenant commander.

Mr. Baker’s wife of 50 years, the former Alma Nicoll, died in 1992. Besides his daughter, of Newburyport, Mass., he is survived by a grandson.

-- Dr. Todd

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