Word came this week the Chattooga County historian, Robert “Bob” Baker passed away at his home near Atlanta. Mr. Baker’s book, Chattooga: The Story of a County and Its People, is considered the definitive history of our county. Steven Strickland with the Chattooga County Historical Society posted the following message on social media on Wednesday:
Last week, our president, Gene McGinnis, asked me to send a note to you to let you know our April meeting (with speaker Adam Ware from the Bandy Heritage Center of Dalton State College) would be rescheduled. Further, the Crossroads exhibit of the Smithsonian Institution will be extended at the Summerville Depot once our shelter-in-place status is over. My personal apologies to you that we are behind in publication of our quarterly. It is in progress.
These are important announcements but they are not why I write today. I received a call from Jo Baker about an hour ago to let me know that her father, our friend and official county historian, Bob Baker, passed away at home this morning. Bob had fallen several weeks ago and fractured his leg. The succeeding weeks have been full of ups and downs. I was honored in March, just before the shelter-in-place orders went into place, to spend a couple of hours with Bob and his daughter Sarah at the rehabilitation center. Still experiencing a lot of pain, Bob was trying to be optimistic and we spent our time happily talking about home and home folks in Chattooga County.
When the Historical Society established the Baker History Awards in 2014, I was delighted to put together a short biography of Bob. Here is a summary of that bio:
Robert S. Baker was born in Summerville on July 3, 1929. His roots ran deep in Chattooga County, where his ancestors were among the earliest settlers in Dirt Town Valley. He was the second son and fourth child born to Joel Edmond and Bonnie Prickett Baker. He graduated from Summerville High School in 1946. One of his first jobs was at McGinnis Drug Company, manning the popcorn machine and working behind the soda fountain. Bob was the first announcer for the Summerville High football team. The Bakers were active members of the First Baptist Church in Summerville. When Rev. Ben Scarborough was pastor, Bob met Mrs. Scarborough’s younger sister, Claire Mizell. On August 29, 2019, Bob and Claire celebrated seventy-one happily married years. Bob worked in the printing plant at Riegel Textile Corporation, as well as for Espy Radio and Television Service. His father had been Summerville Police Chief and, over his father’s objections, Bob joined the Summerville Police Department in 1953. In 1958, he accepted a position with the State Game & Fish Department as a wildlife ranger covering a five-county area. After three years, he was promoted to district supervisor. In 1964, he moved to the Atlanta office as Coordinator of Law Enforcement. He later served as Coordinator of Special Services and helped secure the purchase of Sapelo Island by the state. He developed an innovative outdoor education program designed to enlighten high school and college students about the importance of prudent use of our natural resources before retiring with 35 years of service. Bob always had an interest in the history of Chattooga County. In 1980, he published The Bakers and Coueys of Dirt Town Valley. In 1988, he published Chattooga: The Story of a County and Its People, the definitive history of our county. This book was the culmination of years of research at the county courthouse and the state archives. Much of his research materials will be entrusted to the Chattooga County Historical Society for preservation. The group has already begun work on preserving his excellent oral history collection, comprising dozens of interviews with older Chattoogans in the years leading up to the book’s publication. We are proud to sponsor the Robert S. Baker History Awards program in Bob’s name, and we hope that Chattooga County’s future generations will be inspired by his work. Bob and Claire were active in the Jonesboro First Baptist Church. They became parents of five children and their joy was their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Bob loved the Baker History Awards program, particularly the encouragement it provided to young historians through the annual history essay competition. He and Claire never missed the program. They also made a special trip to Chattooga County last year as part of Bob’s 90th birthday celebration.
Bob was preceded in death by youngest son, Lindsay Baker in 2018. He is survived by his wife, Claire Mizell Baker, sons Bob and Bill Baker, daughters Sarah Baker Cotter and Jo Ellen Baker and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren, along with other relatives. When I spoke with Jo, no funeral arrangements had yet been made.
I have lost one of the dearest friends I have ever had. I will miss our long, sometimes very long lunches at Anne and Bill’s Restaurant in Forest Park, and being able to pick up the phone and talk with Bob any time I had a Chattooga history question. I know that Bob and Claire have been great friends to many of you. Please remember this family in your prayers and may I suggest that those who wish to do so, please send your condolences to Mrs. Claire M. Baker at 417 Justins Crossing, Stockbridge, GA 30281.
Pictured is Mr. Bob Baker