Former state Sen. Walter Baker, a lawyer from Glasgow, died Monday afternoon. He was 73.
Mr. Baker, a Republican, also had served on the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education and, for less than a year in 1996, on the state Supreme Court.
From 1981 to 1983, he was assistant general counsel in the U.S. Department of Defense.
Mr. Baker was remembered as a political moderate who championed education and entered politics out of a desire to serve others.
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"It was never about his ambition or reputation," said Kentucky Court of Appeals Judge Sara Walter Combs. "He was a great gentleman, a historian, a scholar and just consummately kind."
Veteran journalist Al Smith of Lexington said Mr. Baker "was one of the most honorable and intelligent men I've ever known."
"In a time when both political parties in this state are in danger of becoming so polarized they can't work together," Smith said, "Walter was a beautiful example of when Kentucky Democrats and Republicans seemed close together and were able to cooperate."
Mr. Baker spent 22 years in the state legislature, serving during parts of four decades.
State Rep. Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, said he and Mr. Baker grew up together in Columbia and celebrated their birthdays on the same day, although Mr. Baker was a year older.
They also worked together at the Rialto Theater in Columbia. "Walter was the night manager and took up tickets, and I popped popcorn outside on the street," Richards recalled.
He said one night at the theater, Mr. Baker showed him a letter about an Appalachian Regional Commission scholarship he had received to attend Harvard University.
Mr. Baker went on to receive his undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard.
He was also a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force and a judge advocate with the Kentucky Air National Guard.
Though they were of different political parties, Richards said, "Walter was not real partisan. Walter Baker is one of those people who did what he thought was the right thing to do regardless of politics.
"It probably cost him from moving up, but he certainly was a man of principle and one of my dear friends."
Mr. Baker was one of only three Senate Republicans who voted for the Kentucky Education Reform Act in 1990, and he served on the task force that helped create the law.
"Walter Baker was a scholarly and genteel man," said Senate President David Williams. "He was indeed a happy warrior for the causes he believed in."
Gov. Steve Beshear issued a statement in which he referred to Mr. Baker as his "dear friend," and "an enthusiastic and hard-working public servant."
Then-Gov. Paul Patton appointed Baker to fill an unexpired state Supreme Court term in April 1996; Baker unsuccessfully ran for election the following November.
Mr. Baker is survived by his wife, Jane, a son and a daughter.
Arrangements were incomplete Monday at A.F. Crow & Son Funeral Home in Glasgow.