EC community will miss Baker's leadership


Holly Audette

Monday, January 1, 2018

Out with the old and in with the new we say at this time of year. But letting go is not always easy. That is my posture facing former councilwoman Jean Baker’s relocation from our community. I do not know how we could be better served than we have been by this remarkable woman. Jean is dedicated and professional in all her endeavors here but her passion for Elizabeth City and this region over these many decades is difficult to surpass.

Our common New England backgrounds drew us together but our love for this part of the country is what held us together. Maybe the average resident is unaware of how few people actually step up to take on the, “doing” in a community. Busy lives that seem with each passing year to get busier keep the vast — and I do not exaggerate using that term vast — majority of residents from being able or choosing to do the large volume of work that is done on behalf of others. Ask any non-profit, civic group, church etc. and they will likely all agree that 10 percent do 100 percent of the work. Jean Baker chose to be part of that 10 percent when she moved here and never stopped being a part of it. Health issues never stopped her. Personal financial challenges that resulted from corporate downsizing did not stop her. Nasty, ugly false accusations from special interest groups who tried to further their own agendas by personalizing their entitlement attitudes and targeting Jean did not stop her. She simply did the work. Keeping her eye on the prize of improving the place she loved and called home, each and every day.

Perhaps you are not familiar with the servant heart of Jean Baker. Maybe you know her name from city council but not much more. She would be fine with that. Because Jean comes from the traditional school of doing out of stewardship, not attention. That you give back to a community where you live because your faith calls you to do for others as does your work ethic and your moral compass. You don’t demand a spotlight for your work, a trophy, prize or even a thank you. You just do.

So methodically, consistently and competently Jean Baker chose to be a resident here for several decades who wanted to help and make a positive difference. “Serve” is a key word that profoundly describes Jean Baker’s life and one that distinguishes her in today’s world. There are many leaders in a community. All have their own motives to serve. Some serve in a traditional model of leadership, a top-down more autocratic model. Some serve to increase their own power or material wealth.

Jean Baker is a, “servant leader.” A person who makes a conscious decision to lead in order to serve others. Servant leadership like Jean’s puts service first and leadership second.

Jean took on the issue of minimum housing standards here focusing on the conditions of rental housing. The majority of residents in the city rent and much of the rental inventory was held by a very few people. Demand for rental housing was so great that there was very little incentive for these few landlords to improve their properties knowing there were people who could afford little else and had few options. Jean Baker toured these houses, photographed the conditions and banged a gong loudly and long enough for the city to develop an improved code and inspection requirement. She spent hundreds of hours pouring over documentation, legislation and listened to community voices to make the case that grants were being given to greedy and incompetent people who took advantage of the elderly and impoverished. She showed no fear in the face of threats and name-calling no matter how much personal toll these battles cost her. Perhaps you saw her on the rare occasion she broke in public under the bullying of some of her council colleagues who did everything they could to back her down from challenging their self-interest.

The word limit of this column does not do Jean’s accomplishments justice. Her devotion to historic preservation and ECHNA, her commitment to history through the annual Ghost Walk, her service in her church and numerous civic organizations where she was often serving in leadership but always among the 10 percent of doers.

This is Jean Baker. Who for many, many years worked steadily and diligently to preserve what is wonderful about our community and to make improvements where we need them. Not for personal gain, in fact too often at personal sacrifice. She chose to love this community and to champion it to and for, many. I cannot describe the value of having her as a friend.

I admire Jean as a leader, citizen, woman and friend. She is rare, and the best kind of person. Her presence and participation here will be greatly missed. Fair winds and following seas, Jean and thank you from the Harbor of Hospitality.

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