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William Jennings Baker ’50

November 7, 2018, in Lake Oswego, Oregon.

Bill Baker was born in Virginia and at the age of five was left at an orphanage—the Southern Christian Children’s Home in Atlanta, Georgia. From there, he spent his high school years in a home for teenage boys. He came of age just in time to be drafted for World War II.

Bill took part in the Normandy invasion and saw heavy action in France, in Italy, and deeply into Germany. After the war, two of his best buddies, Bill Kirsch ’50 and Gene Overstreet ’49, urged him to use his GI Bill at Reed College along with them. At Reed, he was able to expand his lifelong love of literature (the poet Yeats being his first and favorite).

At Reed, he met and married Carol Brown ’52, and they became a part of the group that included Gary Snyder ’51, Phil Whalen ’51, Lew Welch ’50, and many others, eventually all living in one house in Sellwood—the 1414 Lambert Street group, where friendships and education bloomed and flourished. They had two children, Catherine and Piers. 

For many years Bill worked as a city planner for Multnomah County, and there he met a coworker and his second wife, Doris Bruner. There were together for many years, and after her death, when he was in his 80s, Bill and an ex-Reedie (and also an old 1414 Lambert Street tenant), Rosemary Berleman ’48, formed a lifelong partnership.

Bill wrote his memoir, Leaving Lila, which was published in 2016, and he immediately began another, Misfortune’s Children, on which he was working at the time of his death.

During their time together, he and Rosemary enjoyed many delicious home-cooked meals at the house of  Richard Blickle ’49, along with old friends, including many old Reedies. There were memorable times when someone would burst into song or recitations from old Reed productions.

Toward the end of his life, when asked how he hoped to be remembered, Bill said, “Tell them he was a pretty good writer.”

—Contributed by Rosemary Lapham Thompson Berleman ’48

Appeared in Reed magazine: March 2018

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