UT Knoxville, ’49
BY TOM GRISCOM
For most, Howard Baker was a statesman who brought a calming hand to partisan bickering and found common ground to resolve differences. He will be remembered for his call for civility, acknowledging that honest people can have honest disagreements and remain friends.
He served Tennessee as a U.S. senator for 18 years, both as the majority and minority leader.
His ability to find consensus was not always helpful, such as when he chose to run for president in 1980. His respect for the presidency, however, eight years later led him to accept President Ronald Reagan’s offer to be White House chief of staff at a time of significant political challenge for the president.
This native Tennessean, a lawyer by profession and a politician by election, described himself this way: “I am a part-time politician and a full-time photographer.”
Baker’s love of and intense interest in photography dated to his days as a Boy Scout and as a student at the McCallie School in Chattanooga.
In his book, Howard Baker’s Washington, he wrote: “I’m most fortunate in having a hobby that has stayed with me all my life. It permits me to relieve my anxieties and to escape from the frustrations or the disappointments or even the exhilaration of the moment. Photography gives me a record of my life.”
Baker’s journey as a University of Tennessee alumnus began with his return from World War II. He was in line to register for classes. His chosen path, engineering, was going to require a long wait, so he moved to the shorter line for the law school. He earned a law degree and started practicing in his hometown, Huntsville, Tennessee, a small town in Scott County that always was home.
In Huntsville, which he termed “the center of the universe,” he hosted presidents of UT and of the United States. To his lifetime friends in the local community of 500, he was always Howard Henry. The science and engineering gene, left in the UT enrollment line years earlier, was fulfilled by his annual trek to Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where he discussed the latest research on science, technology and engineering.
Baker strongly believed that young men and women should find a way to enter public service, if only for a couple of years. The Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy on the Knoxville campus is a lasting testament to his call to and for public service.
Plain words easily understood were the mark of this alumnus. He touched many and accomplished much but never forgot his Tennessee roots grounded in Huntsville, Scott County and the University of Tennessee.
Tom Griscom (Chattanooga ’71) served as press secretary and a top aide for Sen. Howard Baker and as White House communications director under President Ronald Reagan.
Part of the Tennessee Alumnus‘ 100 Distinguished Alumni feature.