Baker community servant who steps up and steps in


By Holly Audette

Monday, August 14, 2017

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” This is a motto I admire and aspire to. I’m a person who believes that God divinely blesses us with particular gifts and talents and we have a stewardship obligation to offer those to assist and provide for others with whom we are in community. I fail often in doing this to the degree I should. But in life we are encouraged to be better by the example of others. People who step up and step in when needs must be met.

Jean Baker is that example for me. We are both “come heres” who fell in love with the quality of life this part of the South offered. We were not like some from elsewhere who simply wanted to move here and change what was to what they had before. We wanted and admired the differences northeastern North Carolina offered. There is a genuineness to people here, a sincere appreciation for family, extended family and other relationships. The offer of a helping hand is honestly and earnestly extended because the welfare of those around us is noticed and cared about.

Jean Baker lives life with an energy and sincerity for improving things while also recognizing the value of preserving what is good. A community is hard pressed to find many Jean Bakers. Any civic or religious organization today will admit it is becoming more and more difficult to convince people to assist.

Our founding fathers hoped our republican form of government would be made up of persons who would leave their professions for a time to serve and then return to their professions so others would commit to a period of public service. Fewer and fewer are willing to follow that model. Fewer still have any appreciation for the difficult work and emotional toll public service involves.

So it made me very angry when some in this community cheered Jean Baker’s announcement that she would not be running for another term on City Council after serving since 2001. Voices who knew almost nothing about this remarkable woman except that she was intolerant of the negative, uninformed, false and misleading claims being made about the community and its government. Those feeling entitled to applause for repeating inaccurate claims that shed a negative light on this location that has enough challenges without manufacturing more with oft-repeated lies.

These residents spend inordinate amounts of time complaining about this community. Jean Baker has chosen to invest herself wholeheartedly in efforts to improve it. These people feel license to tell Councilwoman Baker to move now since she has nothing of worth to offer this community. I cannot remember a time I have been so outraged by arrogance, ignorance and entitlement.

I pay tribute to Jean Baker as an exceptional woman who cradles this beloved community in love like few ever have. I offer this incomplete resume to demonstrate the extent to which she has served us:

* Member, Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Economic Development Commission Board 2001 to present, elected chairman twice.

* Member, Committee of 100 Board 2000-06.

* Member, Albemarle Association of Realtors Board 2011-15, president 2014.

* Member, Elizabeth City Area Chamber of Commerce Board 1997-2003, chairman 1998-99.

* Member, Elizabeth City Historic Neighborhood Association, 1996 to present, president 1998-2012.

* Chairman, Ghost Walk, 1999-2006, 2008 to the present.

* Chairman, Victorian Festival, 2003.

* Chairman, Elizabeth City/Pasquotank County Tourism Board, 1999 and 2013-15.

* Chairman, Mayor’s Task Force for Fair Housing, responsible for the rental ordinance establishing landlord standards, 2005.

* Coordinated the move of historic St. Phillips Chapel, 2001.

* Volunteer, Holy Family Catholic Church, 17 years.

* Award honoree, “Women of Distinction,” 2012.

* Member, boards of; Kids First, Encore Theatre, Albemarle Area United Way, Arts of the Albemarle, Food Bank of the Albemarle.

Last week, “Our State” magazine representatives contacted Jean about a planned visit to our area to write about our historic walking tour. Councilwoman Baker is not running for re-election, has a myriad of serious health issues she is battling and is moving from the area soon. She could have passed the buck, asked others to do what she was unwilling to, but she didn’t. Because if you know Jean you would know she has this community in her blood and in her heart and always will. She will invite others to work with her but not instead of her. In 24 hours Jean had arranged a meeting with these folks to talk to residents with extensive knowledge of our history, provide a tour and organized an evening welcome reception. One of the gals proclaimed to me it was the most extraordinary welcome she had experienced. That is Jean Baker who acted again in hopes of advantaging Elizabeth City.

We can ill afford to take for granted the devotion of those among us who love our community and work for its improvement. Until you bear like fruit from your own effort you should not be so quick to belittle such substantial fruit of others.

Holly Audette is a small-business owner active in political and civic causes.