SINGAPORE — With the death of Mr Maurice Baker, one of Singapore’s pioneer diplomats, the nation has “lost a patriot who devoted his life to public service”, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.
Mr Baker, who was Singapore’s first High Commissioner to India, died of old age on Tuesday. He was 97.
In a condolence letter to his wife Barbara, Mr Lee noted that Mr Baker had a “long and varied career as a teacher, academic and diplomat”.
“He is best remembered for his role in managing our relations with Malaysia, the country of his birth,” he added.
Mr Baker served as Singapore’s High Commissioner to Malaysia during two “particularly sensitive periods” — from 1969 to 1971, after the bloody racial riots of May 13, 1969, and from 1980 to 1988.
His term in Kuala Lumpur also spanned four Malaysian prime ministers: Tunku Abdul Rahman, Mr Abdul Razak Hussein, Mr Hussein Onn and Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
“The four had very different personalities, but Mr Baker got along with all of them, often exceedingly well, especially Tun Razak, with whom he had been close friends since their student days in London,” Mr Lee said.
While the young Baker was studying at King’s College in London, he, along with Mr Abdul Razak and Dr Goh Keng Swee, Singapore’s late deputy prime minister, co-founded the Malayan Forum.
It became the platform where Malayan and Singaporean students in the United Kingdom — including Mr Lee Kuan Yew — debated and formed their anti-colonial ideas, PM Lee added.
Mr Baker — who was a teacher, lecturer and eventually head of the Department of English Literature at the then University of Singapore — had described himself as an “accidental diplomat”.
He agreed to serve as Singapore’s first High Commissioner to India in 1967 “out of a sense of duty to the country”.
“But with his affable personality and gift for getting along with people, Mr Baker was a natural diplomat,” Mr Lee said in his letter.
Mr Baker was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal in 1987 in recognition of his contributions.
“Singapore will long remember Mr Baker for his distinguished service,” Mr Lee added.
Mr Baker leaves behind his wife, two sons, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.