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howardbaker-datesHoward H. Baker Jr., former US senator and founder of UT’s Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy, died on Thursday, June 26. He was eighty-eight.

Baker earned his law degree from the UT in 1949. The Baker Center was founded in 2003 as a nonpartisan institute devoted to education and research concerning public policy and civic engagement. Baker received the university’s first honorary doctorate in spring 2005.

“Our country has lost a great statesman and a great Tennessean. Senator Baker will live on in our hearts forever as a man who believed that government was to serve the people,” Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek said.

Baker’s body will lie in state at the Baker Center, 1640 Cumberland Avenue, Knoxville, from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Monday, June 30. His funeral will be held on Tuesday, July 1, at First Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, Tennessee.

Matt Murray, director of the Baker Center, said the senator’s work will continue to influence students and inspire aspiring public servants for generations to come.

“The Baker Center stands as a living legacy to a member of the greatest generation,” he said. “Sen. Howard Baker will always represent what is good about those who serve our country unselfishly. We are honored to carry on his work to create a more civil engagement in our government.”

Doug Blaze, dean of UT’s College of Law, said Baker “is our college’s most illustrious alumnus and has made such a difference for the country, the state, and the university. He represents the best of what we do, thanks to his commitment to the legal profession and his commitment to community.”

Howard Henry Baker Jr. was born in Huntsville, Tennessee, on November 15, 1925.

After graduating from a military preparatory school in 1943, he enlisted in the US Navy as part of its V-12 officer training program. At the conclusion of his tenure in the navy, Baker attended the UT College of Law.

Elected to the US Senate in 1966—and then re-elected in 1972 and 1978—Baker was known as “The Great Conciliator” for his ability to bring Republican and Democratic lawmakers together. He was instrumental in the passage of such bipartisan efforts as the Panama Canal Treaty, the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act. But his position as Senate minority leader, and later Senate majority leader, was anything but easy, and Baker famously commented that leading the Senate was like “herding cats.”

Baker rose to national prominence during the Watergate hearings of 1973 and 1974 as vice chairman of the Senate Watergate Committee. He uttered one of the hearing’s most memorable and historic questions: “What did the president know, and when did he know it?”

Baker also served as President Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff from 1987 to 1988.

In 2001, more than a decade after he left the White House, Baker returned to government service as US Ambassador to Japan. In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Baker worked to strengthen diplomatic ties between the United States and its closest Pacific ally.

Even after leaving politics, Baker remained an unfaltering public servant. In later years, his thoughts turned to future generations and how they could continue the spirit of cooperation and civic duty that marked his political career.

The Baker Center promotes scholarship and dialogue on current events, governance, and civic engagement. It sponsors lectures, classes, workshops, research, and student initiatives related to policy and politics, particularly in the areas of global security, leadership and governance, and energy and the environment. The center also houses the papers of many Tennessee politicians from the past century, including Baker, Sen. Estes Kefauver, Sen. Fred Thompson, Rep. Harold Ford Jr., and Rep. John J. Duncan.

In 2005, Vice President Dick Cheney was present for the groundbreaking of the Baker Center building. On October 31, 2008, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor attended the dedication of the center’s stately facilities.

One of the final Baker Center events the senator attended was veteran journalist Tom Brokaw’s visit to campus on November 13, 2013—coinciding with Baker’s eighty-eighth birthday two days later.

Baker was preceded in death by his first wife, Joy Dirksen, the daughter of US Sen. Everett Dirksen of Illinois. She died in 1993.

Baker is survived by his wife, former Kansas Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, whom he married in 1996; a son, Darek Baker of Brentwood, Tennessee; a daughter, Cynthia “Cissy” Baker of McLean, Virginia; two sisters; and four grandchildren.

Editors: To download photos of Sen. Baker, visit

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Karen Simsen (865-974-5816,