FRANKFORT — As regular readers know, I'm kind of partial to the Fancy Farm Picnic. Already made reservations for the weekend of the 130th annual event. Hope you have, too.
It's a unique Kentucky experience that proves, with rhetoric and political theater, this state's politics really are the damnedest. Oh, and the food's good, too.
I didn't realize it at the time, but the 2009 picnic produced the Fancy Farm memory moment I will cherish most throughout the rest of my life — no matter how many times I return.
I've learned over the years it's best to get there early and be near the front of the line when the Knights of Columbus Hall doors open for a lunch of barbecue and veggies fresh from the gardens of the good folks of St. Jerome Parish.
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Last year, I hit the line at the same time as Walter Baker and three of his friends — fellow Glasgow lawyer Herb Sparks; retired District Judge Barlow Ropp; and Doug Isenberg, a member of the Glasgow City Council.
I had known and respected Walter since his days in the General Assembly. We weren't close friends, more like passing acquaintances who made a point of chatting a bit with each other whenever we met.
After he made the introductions, the conversation by the five of us as we waited in line led to me having the distinct honor of joining them for lunch.
Rarely, if ever, have I been in such entertaining company. It was a politically eclectic group. Herb Sparks, for instance, is an ardent Democrat who counted Walter as one of his best friends even though Walter was a lifelong Republican.
And, ah, the stories these guys told about local, state and national political luminaries. In retrospect, a part of me wishes I had pulled out my recorder while they were telling their tales. But another part of me realizes that, if I had done so, I probably wouldn't have heard some of the better ones.
This lunch with Walter and his friends will forever be my most cherished Fancy Farm memory because it was the last time I had the honor of being in the presence of the nicest human being I have ever known.
Walter Baker passed last week after a long battle with cancer.
I spoke with Herb Sparks after Walter's death, and he mentioned what a great day that last Fancy Farm experience with his friend was. It was a great day for me, too.
Walter Baker personified the values of the Republican Party I grew up supporting. The party of Lincoln, who signed the Emancipation Proclamation. The party of Teddy Roosevelt, who knew conservative and conservation share the same root word. The party of Eisenhower, who warned us against the power of the military-industrial complex. And the party of John Sherman Cooper, who reached across the U.S. Senate aisle to join hands with Frank Church in opposition to the war in Vietnam.
It was a more moderate party in those days, and Walter Baker was the soul of moderation.
He was a lawyer, a legislator, a state Supreme Court justice, an Air National Guard officer, a book lover, a scholar, a historian.
But the one word that fit Walter as if it was tailored just for him was "gentleman."
He was the best of us. And last year, he and his friends gave me the best Fancy Farm experience I can ever hope to have.