Local News

Baker Remembered as a Tough 'Gentle Giant'

Posted October 31, 2007 5:25 p.m. EDT
Updated October 31, 2007 8:07 p.m. EDT

— 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.