‘Everybody loved him’
Well-known union organizer laid to rest in Carbonear
More than 300 people, including family, friends and FFAW union members from around the province, gathered at Bethany United Church in Carbonear on Sept. 9 to pay their final respects to Ben Baker Jr.
The well-known union organizer, Carbonear resident and community activist passed away suddenly of suspected heart failure on Sept. 6. He was 57.
His death came as a shock, despite his many health challenges in recent months.
Union brother Greg Pretty paid tribute to his long-time colleague and friend in his eulogy, calling Baker “a people person who made friends in every community visited, from the tip of Labrador to Trepassey.”
Describing Baker as “ highly organized in everything he did,” Pretty said, “ his real strength was his ability to connect with workers, and if he wasn’t already your friend, he left your house as a friend.”
Pretty said Baker was lucky enough to have worked at something he never really considered a job. “It was 24-7 and every day was labour day for Ben.”
Referring to Baker’s sense of humour, Pretty joked if Ben could look around the church, he would probably say: “All the big shots are here, and when you’re finished, get back to work.”
Pretty said Baker, “changed the face of organized labour in Newfoundland and Labrador. He was a builder and a pillar of our organization which will continue to benefit from his contributions.”
Meanwhile, Baker’s 34-year-old son, Brad, who was very close to his father, said in an interview after his father’s death: “He was a fighter. He wouldn’t give up for nothing.”
Ben Baker had been dealing with severe complications from diabetes, and had lost both his legs this past year. He also had heart trouble, and was on dialysis.
Most people would have been stopped in their tracks, but not Ben Baker.
When his son said he was going to build a wheelchair ramp at the family home, Baker dismissed the idea, and was walking with the aid of prosthetics within two months.
“His quality of life was diminished, but he didn’t show it,” said Brad. “He didn’t let it get him down for one minute.
“I couldn’t be a prouder son.”
The late Ben Baker is shown here in Mary’s Harbour, Labrador.
Brad described his father as a kind-hearted, generous and hard-working man who was dedicated to his family and his job.
Everybody loved him
Union leader Earle McCurdy described Baker as a “great friend and valuable employee,” and someone who genuinely believed in his work.
“He was just a person that people liked. Everybody loved him,” McCurdy said during an interview with the CBC’s Fisheries Broadcast.
“If there was a tough struggle around you could be sure Ben was in the middle of it.”
Baker once worked at the former fishmeal plant in Carbonear, and was a senior figure with the union. He was first elected to the executive board in the early 1980s, and became a full-time employee in 1987.
He was a negotiator in the industrial, retail and offshore sectors.
McCurdy said Baker finalized four labour contracts from his hospital bed in recent months.
“ That will give you an idea of the extraordinary level of dedication that he brought to his work,” said McCurdy.
“He just kept fighting back.”
Baker had a crusty exterior, but cared deeply about those trying to make a living in the fishing industry, added Carbonear Mayor and longtime friend Sam Slade.
“ We’ve lost a great voice in the fishing industry for both the plantworkers and the fishermen. He brought a lot to the table,” said Slade, who is also chairman of the fishermen’s committee in Carbonear.
Slade remembers an incident on the Northern Peninsula in which Baker purchased several hundred dollars worth of groceries for a family that had fallen on hard times.
“It used to really bother him that fishermen or plantworkers were being treated the way they were,” Slade said.
Baker is survived by his wife of 40 years, Ruth, and one son, Brad.
A flotilla of longliners formed a circle on Carbonear harbour below Harbour Rock Hill Friday morning, Sept. 9 in tribute to the late Ben Baker Jr.