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Baker Remembered as a Tough 'Gentle Giant'

Posted October 31, 2007

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— Everyone still called John Baker "sheriff" even though he left the post as one of Wake County's top law enforcement officials five years ago.

Somehow, it just fit, and after 24 years on the job, those who knew him said, he had earned it. (Read more about Baker's life in his obituary.)

But to Van Eure, he was more than a former sheriff and more than a former NFL football player. He was a lifelong family friend.

She visited him every day in the week prior to his death.

"It was a gift from him and it was a gift from God that we had this extra time, because he knew was going. He knew it was his time, in his heart he knew," Eure said.

Baker and the Eures – a powerful family in Democratic politics – go back generations. But Eure said, to her, Baker was like a surrogate father.

He even walked her down the aisle at her 1997 wedding and gave last-minute advice to her husband, Steve.

"'You gonna take care of my girl, aren't you?'" Steve Thanhauser said, recalling a conversation he had with Baker. "I looked up with a smile, and I said 'Sheriff, I'll do whatever you tell me.' I thought I'd get a laugh, and he just looked back at me with this stern look and said: 'Good!'"

"He could be tough," Eure added. "But he also could be like the gentle giant of the world – this man with the biggest heart."

Those who worked for Baker said his tenure was marked by concern for his employees and the citizens of Wake County.

"It was a pleasure and honor to work with him for all those years and to accomplish a number of things," retired Wake County Deputy Ralph Stephenson said.

Baker faced off against Republican Donnie Harrison again in 2006 after narrowly losing to him in 2002. Despite the political rivalry, Harrison said he has nothing but respect for Baker.

"He came in office and did a lot of great things," Harrison said. "And he's going to be missed. But his memories are going to live on and on. I can assure you that."

Funeral arrangements had not been set as of early Wednesday evening, officials at Haywood Funeral Home in Raleigh said.

"The Man Upstairs has just gotten Himself one heck of a gatekeeper and linebacker to keep everyone in line up there and happy up there," Thanhauser said. "John Baker is already at the post – guaranteed."

Baker leaves behind his wife, Juanita, of almost 50 years, two children and four grandchildren.

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  • wcnc Nov 1, 2007

    He did a lot of good things for the sheriff's department in many ways. He seemed, from all of these comments, like he was a kind and compassionate man. I wish he would've showed that side to his employees.....they often met with the hard and rough man he could be......But, all in all (we all have faults), he will be missed, but more importantly, he will be remembered for the good things he did.

  • javanut2158 Nov 1, 2007

    Here's a great story about John Baker's football career as a Pittsburgh Steeler and a famous photograph that followed:
    http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/07305/830206-66.stm

  • strangethinker Nov 1, 2007

    I am 41 and Sherrif Baker came to my little league football practice when I was 11 to give us a motivational speech. I still remember it. He told us to strive for greatness, but not to forget to have fun at the same time. He will be missed.

  • 3forme Oct 31, 2007

    proud to know him from the late 70's..met him when he was running for office the first time..will definitely be missed by many...

  • jkuwalik2 Oct 31, 2007

    he was kind when he could be and hard when he had to be. RIP, and thank you

  • str8thuggin Oct 31, 2007

    The Lord bless this family and keep them in this time of need. WCSO

  • whatelseisnew Oct 31, 2007

    I agree my perspective on the sheriff is that he was a fine man. He got my vote last time around.

  • bigseegar Oct 31, 2007

    I had the pleasure, and it was a true pleasure to serve with and work for Sheriff Baker as a LEO in the WCSD for several years. The Sheriff was a fine honest man, a fine sheriff, a fine employer and even more, a friend. He insisted on professionalism from his officers and his staff and demanded that we treat all citizens with respect. When I choose to leave the WCSD even though Sheriff Baker took it personal, he also made a point to tell me I always had a home at the WCSD as long as he was sheriff. That's the kind of man, yet gentle soul he was. God Bless his family and give them strength during these dark days and Rest In Peace Sheriff.

  • elhalema Oct 31, 2007

    Great man, great public servant!

  • LuvinCam Oct 31, 2007

    RIP Sheriff Baker. Thank you for your many years of dedicated service to others.

    My deepest condolences to the family.