‘Ev­ery­body loved him’

Well-known union or­ga­nizer laid to rest in Car­bon­ear

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY TERRY ROBERTS AND BILL BOW­MAN

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.

Photo by Bill Bow­man/the Com­pass

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.

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