Posted November 5, 2007
They called former Wake County Sheriff John Baker "Big John" for two reasons.
The first was literal. The former NFL player towered over you with his 6 ½ feet and his 300-pound frame.
And the hands – you can't talk about John Baker without talking about the hands. They literally swallowed your hands when you shook his.
If Baker put his hand on your back or on your shoulder, your body part disappeared into his large, brown, firm palm, his long fingers stretching as far as anyone could imagine fingers going.
But the nickname was not about literal size, it was about the size and power of his infectious personality. It was a personality that influenced people to do things, to make changes, to take action.
Today at Baker's funeral, people talked about how when he saw a problem he gathered influential people together and immediately went to work on a solution. He directed people to do things. He led them where they didn't always initially want to go, but when they got there, they were glad they went.
The measure of any man is how he is remembered by everyone – his friends and his foes.
No one ever accused Baker of being timid. In fact, today, people called him "mighty" and said he ruled with "an iron fist."
But in the next breath, they talked about how – behind his prominent size, his booming voice and his tough talk – he was a man with a kind and generous heart. He was a man who, many said, "would do anything for you."
No matter what the problem, no matter what time of day or night, John Baker was someone who was always there for people when they needed help.
I was humbled today, as I have been since his death, by the stories about him. I always respected John Baker and had a special reverence for his unique mixture of strength and compassion.
In many ways, he reminded me of my own father – a lion in the public arena, a lamb in private with a grandchild on his lap.
I am honored to have known him, as a journalist and as a human being.