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KNOXVILLE — When Shoichiro Toyoda, honorary chairman of Toyota Motor Corp., gave $2 million to help build the new the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, he told his good friend Sen. Howard Baker that he wanted to see the new facility.

Baker and the Toyodas
Baker and the Toyodas
This week, Baker honored that request, giving Toyoda — who stopped in Knoxville on Wednesday while on a business trip in the U.S. — a personal tour of the new Baker Center, nearing completion at 1640 Cumberland Ave., on the UT campus.

The Baker Center will move into its new building this summer, and a grand opening celebration is being planned for Sept. 12. The new facility will include a museum, interactive exhibits, the Modern Political Archives, a 200-seat auditorium and classrooms with break-out rooms.

Baker served as U.S. ambassador to Japan from 2001 to April 2005. He and Toyoda, whose father founded Toyota Motor Corp., were friends before that and have worked together a great deal during and since Baker’s ambassadorship.

Baker Center Executive Director Alan Lowe led the men on a brief tour of the building’s first floor, focusing their attention on the auditorium.

“You are now standing in the Toyota auditorium, made possible by your generosity,” Lowe said. “It will be the center of our public programming efforts. In here, we will hold conferences, teacher workshops, our Baker Center lunches and breakfasts and many other things.”

Baker told Toyoda that the Baker Center’s new building has been funded almost entirely by private funds.

“You and many others have made this possible,” Baker said as the two stood in the rotunda of the $17 million, 52,000-square-foot building. “It will be a great addition to the University of Tennessee.”

After exploring the construction site, the entourage of Toyota executives and Baker’s wife, Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, moved to Neyland Stadium for a luncheon in a skybox. The JumboTron in the stadium conveyed a welcome message — in English and Japanese — to Shoichiro Toyoda and his wife, Hiroko.

Baker and Toyoda spent a few minutes talking privately and exchanging gifts before joining their lunch guests, who included UT Interim Chancellor Jan Simek, Provost Robert Holub, Vice President for Development Henry Nemcik, Board of Trustees Vice Chair Andrea Loughry, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam and others.

Baker presented Toyoda with a photograph he took of his newly purchased 1937 Cord, a vehicle which has been described as one of “the most visually striking cars of all time, and were the most mechanically advanced of their day.” Both Baker and Toyoda are car collectors, and Baker said he had long admired a 1937 Cord in Toyoda’s collection. Baker said he bought his own 1937 Cord two weeks ago.

Toyoda presented Baker with a porcelain statue of red-crested cranes in flight. The gift was reminiscent of Baker’s love of photographing the near-extinct cranes while he lived in Japan.

At the luncheon, Toyoda thanked Baker and the University of Tennessee for their hospitality. He said he’d like to return to Knoxville once the Baker Center’s new building is open — and perhaps take in a football game, too.
Shoichiro Toyoda, now 83, joined Toyota in 1952, and held various management positions over the years. Along the way, he earned a doctorate in engineering. He became president of the newly integrated Toyota Motor Corp. upon the merger of the sales and production organizations in 1982, and later served as chairman from 1992 to 1999. Toyoda became honorary chairman of Toyota in 1999.
“Through decades of leadership, innovation and risk-taking, (Toyoda) is largely responsible for the company as it is known throughout the world today,” The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars of the United States’ Smithsonian Institution stated in honoring him last year for corporate citizenship. “From the early years of his career, Dr. Toyoda championed quality control in the industry and had the wisdom and determination to invest in a highly skilled, motivated workforce. As one of Japan’s most accomplished business leaders, he works to improve the lives of Toyota’s employees and their communities, instilling in them a sense of mutual responsibility and teamwork.”

Baker served three terms as a U.S. senator from Tennessee. As vice chairman of the Senate Watergate Committee, he rose to national prominence during the Watergate Hearings of 1973-1974. He was a candidate for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination and served as President Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff in 1987-1988. In 2001 President George W. Bush appointed him as ambassador to Japan.

Baker will be honored on May 22 in Washington, D.C., with the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Paulownia Flowers, Japan’s highest honor for foreign civilians. Japanese Emperor Akihito bestowed the award to Baker for his service to Japan.

Both Baker and Toyoda are members of the governing board of the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation, established to promote understanding and cooperation among the nations and peoples of Asia and the United States.

The Baker Center is a nonpartisan center that develops educational programs and promotes research to further the public’s understanding and knowledge of our system of governance, critical public policy issues and the importance of public service and civic engagement. For more information about the Baker Center, see http://www.bakercenter.utk.edu.


Amy Blakely, media relations, (865) 974-5034, amy.blakely@tennessee.edu