Robesonian

Baker recalled for helping establish local medical community

LUMBERTON — Dr. Horace Baker Jr., who died Friday in Southern Pines at the age of 96, is being remembered for his contributions to the foundations of Lumberton’s medical community and much more.

Remembrances of Dr. Baker and his family’s legacy provide insight into the creation of a medical community and a hospital in Lumberton. He also was remembered for his joy of life, family, community and faith.

“He served this community well,” said Luckey Welsh, former CEO of what is now Southeastern Health. “We looked to him for stability on the medical staff, and he built the foundation of the medical community at the hospital.

“When I think of Horace Baker, I think of this family lineage,” Welsh said.

The Baker name is woven into Lumberton’s medical foundations. Dr. Horace Baker Sr. built Baker Sanatorium in 1921, which merged with Thompson Hospital to become, in 1953, the hospital known today as Southeastern Regional Medical Center.

Joann Anderson, the current CEO of Southeastern Health, arrived in the county after Baker had retired, but was aware of his stature in the local medical community.

“The Baker family has played a major role in creating the healthcare system we have today in Robeson County,” Anderson said. “I am grateful to Dr. Baker for the legacy he has left. It will be carried into the future using the same focus on providing quality care to the people of the area.”

Baker family farms provided meat, vegetables, milk and fruit for the sanatorium, which was located at 15th and Chestnut streets. Young Horace Baker learned valuable business lessons on the farm and when the hospital struggled through the Great Depression to provide medical care to patients who could no longer pay.

Dr. Baker Jr. seemed destined from birth to become a leading member of the Lumberton medical community. After just two years of high school, he enrolled at UNC-Chapel Hill, where he majored in chemistry despite never taking the subject in high school.

After a stint as a U.S. Army surgeon, a time during which he met and married the love of his life, Dorothy, he returned to Duke University Medical School to complete his residency in Durham. With possibilities of a medical practice elsewhere, Dr. Baker kept the promise he made to his father and returned to Lumberton.

“He had developed a liking for plastic surgery, and Duke wanted to keep him on staff, but he had promised his father he would return to Lumberton,” said his eldest daughter, Ruth Ann Baker McLellan. “He had seen so many injured soldiers who needed that type of surgery.”

McLellan talked about her father Monday while perched in a bay window at her parents’ home. Dr. Baker died peacefully, she said, but he was always a man at peace with himself, despite the demands that came with being a surgeon.

“His motto was ‘God, Medicine, Family,’” McLellan said. “In that order.

Despite the demanding hours, he always found time for family, she said. The doctor and father set dinner time at 5 p.m. because that was the one hour when phone calls did not come in.

“He did rounds at 7 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.,” McLellan said. “But on Friday mornings, he used to quiz me on my spelling words.”

Dr. Baker also found great joy in music throughout his life. According to an autobiography he wrote at age 78, Dr. Baker took up the violin at age 7, becoming accomplished enough to play for Sunday school and later for the entire worship service at First Baptist Church.

“He and my mother took dancing lessons from I.P. Sealy on the second floor of the old Southern National building,” McLellan said. “I remember coming down one morning to find they had pushed the furniture back in the kitchen and were waltzing to the music of Guy Lombardo.

“They were happy people.”

As second generation members of the First Baptist Church, the family served as church leaders. Dr. Baker routinely prayed before performing surgery.

After 36 years of practicing medicine, at age 65, Dr. Baker turned in his beeper. His only medical work after that was as an expert witness in court trials with his son, attorney H. Mitchell Baker III.

Dr. Baker continued his community work by supporting a mobile drug education program for youth over 10 years old. He was a supporter of the Lumberton Boys and Girls Club and founded its successful duck race fundraiser, which was held on Saturday and is recounted on today’s front page. Dr. Baker directed memorials to be sent to the Boys and Girls Club of Lumberton.

Just weeks before his death, Dr. Baker told Ruth Ann, “I’ve had a great life.”

A graveside service will be held on Sunday at 2 p.m. at Meadowbrook Cemetery with Rev. Joe Bounds officiating. The family will receive friends following the graveside service at the First Baptist Church of Lumberton Fellowship Hall.

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By Scott Bigelow

Staff writer

Reach Scott Bigelow can be reached at 910-644-4497 or bigelow@yahoo.com.