President, PM Lee pay tribute to late pioneer diplomat Maurice Baker

Mr Maurice Baker, seen here with wife Barbara in a 2005 photo, is best known for rebuilding Singapore's ties with Malaysia after Separation.
Mr Maurice Baker, seen here with wife Barbara in a 2005 photo, is best known for rebuilding Singapore's ties with Malaysia after Separation.ST FILE PHOTO

The late pioneer generation diplomat Maurice Baker helped to place Singapore on the world map during its early years of nationhood, said President Tony Tan Keng Yam yesterday.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that with his death, Singapore lost a patriot who devoted his life to public service.

The two leaders separately paid tribute to the 97-year-old and traced his career as teacher, academic and first-class diplomat.

Mr Baker, who is best known for rebuilding Singapore's ties with Malaysia after Separation, died on Tuesday.He was Singapore's High Commissioner to Malaysia during two particularly sensitive periods: 1969 to 1971, after the bloody racial riots of May 13, 1969, and from 1980 to 1988.

In a Facebook post, Dr Tan said: "Amidst the tumultuous times, Mr Baker played a key role in rebuilding Singapore's ties with Malaysia.

"He was resourceful and tapped his good personal relations with the Malaysian leaders."

 

PM Lee, in a condolence letter to Mr Baker's widow, Barbara, noted that Mr Baker's term in Kuala Lumpur spanned four Malaysian prime ministers - Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, Tun Hussein Onn and Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

"The four had very different personalities, but Mr Baker got along with all of them, often exceedingly well, especially with Tun Razak, with whom he had been close friends since their student days in London," said PM Lee.

Mr Baker and Tun Razak, along with Dr Goh Keng Swee, co-founded the Malayan Forum during their undergraduate days in Britain.The forum was where Malayan and Singaporean students in Britain, including founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, debated and formed their anti-colonial ideals, said PM Lee.

When Mr Baker returned to Singapore he became a teacher, lecturer and subsequently head of the English department in then University of Singapore.

"He agreed to serve as Singapore's first High Commissioner to India in 1967 out of a sense of duty to the country," wrote PM Lee.

He added that "with his affable personality and gift for getting along with people, Mr Baker was a natural diplomat".

Dr Tan also said that despite the momentous contributions he made in Singapore's history, Mr Baker, who was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal in 1987, remained humble and had described himself then as a "novice" in international affairs.

"He was a pioneer and role model to many in the diplomatic circle," said the President.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2017, with the headline 'President, PM Lee pay tribute to late pioneer diplomat'. Print Edition | Subscribe