Baker presumed dead in plane crash

by Stuart A. Reid | 1/5/06 6:00am

Baker, an experienced pilot by all accounts, was flying his six-passenger, twin-engine Beechcraft Baron BE 55 alone when it disappeared from radar in less-than-optimal weather. The plane lost contact with air traffic control and dropped below 200 feet about 2.5 miles from the Nantucket airport it was approaching. According to his wife, Baker had dropped off his son at the Teterboro, N.J. airport and was returning to his home on Nantucket Island.

In a statement released on the College's web site, College President James Wright offered his condolences to the Baker family and praised the philanthropist's life.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the Baker family," he said. "George, although not a graduate of Dartmouth, was a treasured member of the Dartmouth family. Honoring the tradition of his great-grandfather George F. Baker, George's commitment to Dartmouth provided for the transformational growth of the Dartmouth College Library."

According to Dean of Libraries Jeffery Horrell, Baker donated $7.5 million of both his personal funds and money from the George F. Baker trust over the course of the 1990s. The money was used to renovate and construct Baker-Berry library where a portrait of him hangs, in the periodicals room.

"He was instrumental in his understanding of what the libraries at Dartmouth were because there was a long tradition in the Baker family to do so," Horrell said. "He continued that tradition and really reinforced it with the building project of Baker-Berry, which is an extraordinary achievement for an institution like this. I think he'll be recognized as continuing in that tradition."

Baker's great-grandfather, George Fisher Baker, donated $2 million in 1926 for the endowment and construction of Baker Library, a donation equivalent to over $20 million today. The library, completed in 1928, was named in honor of his uncle, Fisher Ames Baker of the Class of 1859.

In addition to providing the initial funding for Baker Library, George Fisher Baker donated much of the seed money for Harvard Business School. He co-founded the First National Bank of New York in 1863, became the bank's president in 1877 and its chairman in 1909. Like his great-grandson, he was well-known as both a financier and a philanthropist.

Baker became an adopted member of the Class of 1949 and his two children, George IV '00 and Joanna '01, attended the College. He and his wife were also members of the President's Leadership Council.

Baker also has a niece, Asia Baker '07, who said the tragedy has been "a nightmare -- everyone is just devastated." She called her uncle "a wonderful historian, pilot, son, brother, father, uncle and benefactor."

After the plane disappeared from its radar screens at 4:45 p.m., air traffic controllers called 911 and a search-and-rescue operation began. After hearing of the news, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, a recipient of Baker's philanthropy, dispatched one of its ships to assist in the rescue effort. Local police, firefighters, and the U.S. Coast Guard searched through the night and continued until the search was called off the next afternoon.

Wreckage from the plane was later discovered after it washed onto the south coast of Nantucket Island.

Baker completed his undergraduate degree at Harvard University in 1961 and went to work for First National City Bank. After graduating from Harvard Business School in 1964, he worked at financial services firm Lehman Brothers, becoming an executive. In 1977, he and Richard B. Nye founded the investment firm now known as Baker Nye L.P.

A lifelong philanthropist, Baker shared much of his wealth with academia, donating to St. Paul's school in New Hampshire, Harvard University, Columbia University, and Georgetown University. He supported organizations including the New York Presbyterian Hospital, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the New York Zoological Society, and the Quebec-Labrador Foundation, which placed American teenagers in rural Canadian fishing villages.

But Baker's niece said her uncle had a special affinity for Dartmouth.

"As a Harvard graduate of the Class of '61, he always admired Dartmouth more than anything else and said many times that he wished he had gone to Dartmouth."

A memorial service for Baker was held Dec. 13 at St. Bartholomew Church in New York City.