Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Jeff's History

Gone But Not Forgotten

BakerJDSm.jpg Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey D. Baker, United States Air Force Academy Class of 1964, died of cancer in Cambria, CA on March 22, 1999. He was buried at the Air Force Academy Cemetery on April 6, 1999.

Some men never die. Their sheer courage, grace and deep love for others causes us to raise our heads — to look to the heavens to hope that we too can hold these virtues. Jeff Baker died of cancer, but he never flinched or whimpered. As his flesh failed, his will was iron until the end. Jeff left his wife, Shirley, daughter Christine, and sons Craig and Christopher with memories of a life filled with achievement, humility, and open love for them. He reminded us that we can strive for great deeds and yet retain the compassion and gentleness we all inherit as children, but often lose.

Born on November 23, 1941, Jeff became our classmate. He was deep, calm and polished ahead of his years. Softly spoken, but with a noble presence, he joined us at Reese AFB, TX for pilot training. In December 1964, Jeff and Shirley Watson were wed. We still recall how the two of them cared for the multitude of bachelor student pilots with dinners and take-home rations. The new couple showed our young and rowdy group that spending your life with someone you love is a thing of beauty. Jeff earned his wings and enjoyed an early career in Military Airlift Command in C-135s & C-141s and also as an instructor pilot in T-41s. His tour in C-7 Caribous in Vietnam made him a warrior.

Completing his MBA at Arizona State in 1971, Jeff twice served with distinction on the Air Force Academy faculty. With the Baker family moving to Durham, NC, Jeff was awarded his doctorate in labor economics and public finance in 1979. Having studied at the Foreign Service Institute in Washington, DC, Jeff became our country's air attaché in Rangoon, Burma. Following a tour as dean for graduate programs and continuing education at the Defense Intelligence College, Jeff later retired as a lieutenant colonel.

Jeff was a giver, and he directed his life to education. Excelling at Carroll College, MT, the University of Kentucky's Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce, and later as Dean of Carroll College, the Governor of Montana then appointed him as executive officer of several four-year and technical colleges. In 1996 Jeff became the eighth president of Luther College, Iowa. Displaying genuine leadership, he moved his office to the center of the campus. The message was understood. He was one of them. With humanity, humility and humor, he won the hearts and respect of his students and faculty. He exemplified everything our Academy curriculum ever hoped to achieve. Less than a week before he died, Jeff spoke his farewell to the Luther College community. Standing before them, he never faltered or sought sympathy. Rather, he reassured them that he was merely moving closer to God. He achieved the greatest victory in life that each of us secretly yearns for — he mattered. Jeff Baker did not die; instead, he gave us every reason to live.

(Ronald G. Bliss, ‘64, Gone But Not Forgotten, Checkpoints, September 1999)
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