SINGAPORE - Singapore has lost a patriot who devoted his life to public service, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a condolence letter to the late diplomat Maurice Baker's wife.
Mr Baker died on Tuesday at the age of 97.
In the letter addressed to Mr Baker's widow Barbara on Wednesday (July 12) night, PM Lee paid tribute to Mr Baker and traced his long and varied career as a teacher, academic and diplomat.
From teacher to 'accidental', but natural, diplomat
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Mr Baker was an outstanding student and won a Queen's Scholarship to read English at King's College, London, in Britain.
There, he co-founded the Malayan Forum with Tun Razak and Dr Goh Keng Swee.
The platform 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.
He also said that Mr Baker was a natural diplomat, despite having described himself as an accidental one.
Mr Baker first embarked on a teaching career upon his return from Britain, becoming a teacher, lecturer and then the University of Singapore's head of department of English Literature.
"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."
Friend of Malaysia's prime ministers
Mr Baker is best remembered for his role in managing Singapore's relations with Malaysia, the country of his birth, said PM Lee.
He was Singapore's High Commissioner to Malaysia during two particularly sensitive periods: first from 1969 to 1971, after the bloody racial riots of May 13, 1969, and again from 1980 to 1988.
He noted that Mr Baker's term in Kuala Lumpur spanned four Malaysian Prime Ministers: Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Razak, Tun Hussein Onn, and Tun Dr Mahathir.
"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 was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal in 1987, in recognition of his contributions to Singapore.
Said PM Lee: "Singapore will long remember Mr Baker for his distinguished service."