When Tom Baker stepped off the train in New Westminster with his family, he had $200, no house and no car. A decade later he was on the road to becoming mayor of the Royal City.
Baker, who served as New Westminster’s mayor from 1982 to 1988, passed away peacefully Sept. 1 at Kiwanis Care Centre, with his family and his priest at his side. He was 83.
“He had a wonderful life, was a great contributor, a statesman,” said daughter Karen Baker-MacGrotty. “He was an interesting gentleman.”
Baker moved his family to New Westminster from Liverpool, England in 1968.
“Ten years later he was an alderman, and four years later he was the mayor,” said Baker-MacGrotty. “Six months later, he was entertaining Her Majesty on the steps of city hall.”
After serving as an alderman for four years, Baker ran successfully as New Westminster’s mayor.
“He had huge impacts all around the Lower Mainland, with everything from SkyTrain coming in to Expo 86, Transporama (a transportation exhibition), all of those,” Baker-MacGrotty said. “When he took office, interest rates were 18 per cent – doom and gloom. It was 1982. He had lots of interesting conversations with the business people in town. They were all looking to him for leadership.”
Baker-MacGrotty is proud of her father’s legacy in New Westminster, which includes development of Westminster Quay. In addition to overseeing the city’s 125th anniversary celebration in 1984, Baker was part of the finale of the SkyTrain opening in 1985 at New Westminster station.
“He was a man of the people. He was an incredible individual,” she said. “He was a great contributor in the community.”
Baker was the first Lower Mainland mayor to take the Super Host program, as he wanted to make New Westminster a welcoming city to visitors and businesses.
Baker, a journeyman carpenter and a union business agent, later ran in the 1991 provincial election in New Westminster. He subsequently moved to Maple Ridge, where he built a home and was encouraged to run for council.
“The phone was ringing off the hook – ‘you’ve got to run for council, you’ve got to run for council.’ Finally I said, throw your name in the hat and your phone will stop ringing,” Baker-MacGrotty said. “He put his name on the ballot in Maple Ridge, and sure enough he got elected and we did not do a campaign.”
Baker-MacGrotty is proud of her father’s contributions in both Maple Ridge and New Westminster. The City of New Westminster’s flags at city hall have been flying at half mast in his honour.
“We are going to celebrate his life,” Baker-MacGrotty said. “He had a grand life.”
Baker-MacGrotty said funeral plans are still being finalized, but her father will lie in state in New Westminster on Sept. 17 and a service will take place on Sept. 18 at Holy Trinity Cathedral.