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Guest View: Life and service of Howard Baker Jr.

— The Knoxville News-Sentinel • Dec 17, 2015 at 6:43 PM

• Nov. 15, 1925: Baker is born in Huntsville to Howard Henry Baker and Dora Ladd Baker.

• 1933: Baker’s mother dies, and his father remarries three years later to Irene Bailey.

• 1943: Baker graduates from McCallie School, a military preparatory school in Chattanooga. He joins the Navy while studying engineering at the University of the South and Tulane University. Baker does a brief tour of duty in the South Pacific toward the end of World War II.

• 1949: Baker earns his law degree from UT and serves as student body president during his final year.

• 1950: Baker’s father, Howard H. Baker Sr., is elected to the 82nd Congress after first serving in the Tennessee Legislature and then as attorney general for the 19th Judicial Circuit of Tennessee. During his father’s first term in the Senate, Baker meets the daughter of Illinois Sen. Everett Dirksen.

• 1951: Baker marries Joy Dirksen and practices law in his hometown of Huntsville.

• 1953: Baker’s son, Darek, is born.

• 1956: Baker’s daughter, Cynthia, known as “Cissy,” is born.

•1964: The same year his father dies, Baker enters a special election race for the seat vacated by the death of longtime political leader Sen. Estes Kefauver. He narrowly loses to Democrat Ross Bass.

• 1966: Baker once again enters the race, this time defeating former Democratic Gov. Frank Clement with 56 percent of the vote. He becomes the state’s first popularly elected senator.

• 1972: Baker is re-elected.

• 1973: Baker gains national interest as the highest-ranking Republican on a congressional panel investigating the Watergate scandal, Baker famously asking of his onetime friend, President Richard Nixon: “What did the president know and when did he know it?”

• 1974: Baker, with the help of Sen. John Sherman Cooper, R-Ky., drafts and then shepherds legislation to create the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, which Nixon signed on March 7.

• 1977: Baker becomes the Senate minority leader.

• 1980: Baker runs for president, but loses in the primaries to Ronald Reagan. Republicans, though, retake the Senate during the elections and Baker becomes majority leader.

• 1981: Baker uses his leverage as majority leader to pass Reagan’s first-term tax cuts.

• 1984: Baker opts not to run for re-election. That same year, Reagan awards Baker the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

• 1987: Reagan taps Baker to serve as his chief of staff at a time when the president was grappling with the Iran-Contra crisis.

• 1988: Baker resigns from Reagan’s administration, citing his wife’s declining health.

• 1993: Baker’s wife, Joy, succumbs to cancer.

• 1996: Baker remarries to Sen. Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas.

• 2001: Baker becomes ambassador to Japan and serves until 2005.

• 2003: The University of Tennessee establishes the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy. Two years, later Vice President Dick Cheney is on hand when UT breaks ground a $17 million building to house the center. The center is home to Baker’s papers, along with those of other notable leaders.

• 2005: Baker is awarded UT’s first ever honorary doctorate during the May graduation.

• 2012: The Baker Center holds the inaugural address of the Baker Distinguished lecture series with a speech from former Sen. George Mitchell, D-Maine. The series has included visits from Education Secretary Arne Duncan and legendary broadcaster Tom Brokaw.

— The Knoxville News-Sentinel

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