Bill Baker had been on the New England paddling scene for as long as I can remember. One of my memories is similar to many other New England paddlers who knew Bill. We would show up for a flat water race or for a training race on the Charles River just across from the old location of Charle River Canoe and Kayak shop ready to race. Little did we know we were about to get beat like a drum by the “old guy”. We also did not know Bill had been paddling K1’s and winning races, twenty years before many of us knew what a K1 was. It was not until the 2008-2009 time frame that we could finally keep up with Bill. Bill was an Icon in the paddling community. Tim Dwyer and I have said every year for as long as I can remember, ” I hope we can be like Bill, that guy just keeps on paddling“. In the past few years Bill slowed down due a treated brain tumor, but he kept on paddling, and paddling hard. Just prior to his diagnoses and feeling the effects of the tumor during the Run of The Charles 19 mile race(6 portages), Bill through sheer will, gutted it out, and completed it. Bill was a tough and competitive paddler. At the 2016 USCA Nationals in Northfield, Massachusetts with a heat index of 108 degrees Bill was still competing. I am sure Bill holds the record for competing in the most ROTC 19 mile races probably with 30 or more.
Their are many paddlers that new Bill better than I did and have wonderful stories about him like the one Tim told below. We will be sharing those memories at as we gear up for the 2018 racing season. The entire New England paddling community will miss Bill. It will not be the same at the ROTC without Bill, but his legacy will live on.
Below is part of Bill’s Obituary from the Legacy.com website.
“William A. Baker passed away Wednesday, January 17, 2018, surrounded by his loving family. Bill is survived by his wife, Jean (Day) Baker. He was the father of Michael Baker and his wife Jessica of Georgia, Joseph Baker and his wife Kelly of Hanson, Kimberly Reardon and her husband Mark of Halifax, and Stephanie Manning and her husband Jim of E. Dennis. Also survived by 12 grandchildren; two brothers, Bob and Tommy; and one sister, Nancy. He was brother to the late Lenny Baker. Bill grew up in the Dedham, West Roxbury area and resided in Hanson and Marshfield for the past 50 years. As a master carpenter and craftsman, Bill has worked throughout the South Shore. As a marathon kayak racer, Bill had competed on the local, national and international levels, winning many races and forging even more friendships along the way. “
Below is from the New England Canoe and Kayak at their 2014 Awards Banquet celebrating Bill’s contribution to the New England paddling community. Bill Baker awarded Outstanding Contributor in 2014
Honoring Bill Baker by Tim Dwyer
(This was a talk I meant to give at the end of the season NECRA awards event. That didn’t work out so the next Spring at the ROTC I gathered up a small gang of Bill’s fans and read this to him in person. I gave him a copy to keep. Tim)
It’s like 1999—I’m new to racing and doing my first Run of the Charles—the 9 mile with 3 portages and I’m in a nifty sea kayak—and I’m thinking this boat is the bomb. I’m fresh and moving well in a fleet of sea kayaks picking my way thru when this guy—without much hair, kinda balding actually—tears by in a boat that looks like it could barely hold a human. He’s going by like I’m dragging an anchor—like I’m in slow-mo. I’ve never seen anything like it. He weaves his way thru the pack and then is gone. I learned that this was his 10th mile out of 19 miles for him.Like the wide eyed newbie that I was I asked—who and what was that! After the race I just had to go look at what I learned were ICF Olympic style kayaks to see these craft for myself. That’s when I met none other than Bill Baker. I felt that I was in the presence of the world greatest paddler after what I’d just seen.
Fast Forward to 2002 and we’re in Hanover, NH for the National Championships. Bill in his ICF class boat and me in the Unlimited class but we’re drafting off one another. He’s the nicest guy ever—he’s given me lots of advice—like a mentor—it’s all good. But here were are on the water racing. I tapped his stern once, then again a minute later. Then I see a very different Bill— fierce competitor Bill. He says hit me again—and you’ll be blanking swimming. I didn’t tap him again.
Now we’re at the 2007 US Marathon Kayak Championships in Holyoke. Very hot day, long course, many portages. So many of us got worked over bad in that race. Afterwords many of the kayak racers were all hanging out, laying on the grass because sitting upright took too much effort. Bill ambles over looking fresh, pulls up a chair and starts chatting us up but mostly he’s getting groans in reply. Bill not only beat me, but now it was like he was sitting on a throne, humble yet proud that he was still King of Flatwater racing in New England and we still had a ways to go before we dethroned him.
Bill, you have had a long and distinguished career as a competitor and mentor to so many. You have had to deal with some serious health issues. By returning to racing you showed again that determination you are known for. You have come back to compete again.That is a triumph.
From those who have had the pleasure of paddling with you over the past 40 years—we salute you!