Former Sheriff succumbs

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 31, 2004

WINTON – Throughout a distinguished law enforcement career that spanned 30 years, James Eston Baker Sr. knew how to win the daily battles that confront an individual in his profession.

Yesterday morning, Baker finally lost a battle he knew he couldn’t win.

Baker, who served three terms (1974-1986) as Sheriff of Hertford County, succumbed Wednesday at his home near Winton following a courageous fight against cancer. He was 76.

&uot;James Baker was a man who did things the right way,&uot; said Wesley Liverman, one of Baker’s former deputies who still serves the Hertford County Sheriff’s Office on a part-time basis.

He continued, &uot;I know I may be very partial because he was the Sheriff that first hired me back in 1975, but I would rank James Baker as the finest law enforcement officer I know. His honesty, loyalty and integrity were beyond reproach.&uot;

Liverman said Baker stood firm on a principle that, &uot;either you did things the right way or you didn’t do them at all.&uot;

&uot;It didn’t matter to him what color your skin was or how much money you had in your pocket, if you broke the law he would be all over you,&uot; noted Liverman. &uot;I admired the way he doled out justice and the way he always stood behind his officers.&uot;

Perhaps it was the early stages of his law enforcement career that gave Baker such a deep appreciation for those men and women who put their lives on the line every day in order to protect and serve those within their communities.

When Baker first put on a badge back in the 1950’s, everything came out of their own pocket. All deputies were part-time under then Sheriff Charlie Parker. Each had to purchase their own weapon, badge and handcuffs.

&uot;I can remember James Baker using his own pick-up truck while serving as a deputy,&uot; recalled Liverman.

After Sheriff Parker died while in office, the county appointed R.V. &uot;Bunch&uot; Parker as Sheriff. Under that leadership, Baker and Fred Liverman (the father of Wesley Liverman) became Hertford County’s first-ever full-time deputies back in the early 1960’s. In 1962, the county purchased three squad cars – for Sheriff Parker, Baker and Liverman.

R.V. Parker remained as Sheriff until he died shortly after the primary election in 1974. The county appointed Baker as his replacement and Baker’s name was placed on the general election ballot later that same year at which time he was first elected as Hertford County’s top law enforcement official. He served in that capacity until 1986, at which time he retired.

&uot;Sheriff Baker and I go back a long, long way,&uot; said Liverman. &uot;He was a very close friend of my daddy and our family. That friendship grew when I began working for Sheriff Baker. Daddy retired in 1975. When he stepped out of his patrol car, I stepped right in.&uot;

Liverman said that the Sheriff’s Office grew by leaps and bounds under Baker’s administration.

&uot;We nearly doubled the number of deputies, which caused us to have to expand the size of the Sheriff’s Office here in Winton,&uot; Liverman remembered. &uot;We went from a one-room Sheriff’s Office to one where the county had to build additions to the courthouse.&uot;

Even though the Hertford County Sheriff’s Office is now located in a new building, it’s the courthouse where visitors can gaze up at a portrait of Sheriff James Baker. That honor, normally reserved for a person after they are deceased, came in January of last year. There, despite failing health, Sheriff Baker was extremely humbled by the honor, thanking all those responsible for allowing it to occur while he was still alive.

During his distinguished career, Baker helped numerous young officers shape and mold their careers in law enforcement. One is current Hertford County Sheriff Juan Vaughan, who got his start under Baker in 1981.

&uot;He gave me, just a young man from Mapleton with a lot to learn, my start in law enforcement,&uot; said Sheriff Vaughan. &uot;He is the man responsible for what I am today. The lessons I learned from him are the same ones I use now to handle the day-by-day rigors of being a Sheriff.&uot;

Echoing Liverman’s thoughts, Vaughan stressed that Baker’s character was deep-rooted in honesty and fairness.

&uot;With Sheriff Baker, what you saw was what you got,&uot; noted Vaughan. &uot;He never, ever bended the rules for anyone, no matter their social or financial status. Day in and day out, he was the same person I went to work for in 1981 until he retired in 1986.

&uot;Speaking on behalf of the Hertford County law enforcement community, our hearts go out to Sheriff’s Baker’s family. He was a great man and a great leader and he will be missed by so many who had the honor and the privilege to serve with him.&uot;

Despite the loss of one of Hertford County’s and the Roanoke-Chowan area’s most respected law enforcement officers, Baker’s presence will be felt for many years to come.

&uot;What’s working now for our current Sheriff was working when James Baker was in office,&uot; closed Liverman. &uot;Sheriff Vaughan and (deputies) Joe Twine, Ronnie Stallings, Raymond Eure and myself all worked for Sheriff Baker. His legacy lives on through us.&uot;

Baker is survived by his wife of 53 years, Ann Lewis Baker. The couple are the parents of five children – sons James Eston Baker Jr. of the Baker home place and Roger Baker of Ringgold, Ga. along with daughters Carolyn B. Pearce of Washington, D.C., Teresa Sullivan of Poquoson, Va. and Cindy Zinner of Virginia Beach, Va. – as well as 18 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

His funeral is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Saturday at Mt. Tabor Baptist Church. Burial will follow in the Baker Family Cemetery.

Visitation is set for 7-8 p.m. on Friday at Garrett’s Funeral Home of Ahoskie, who is handling the arrangements.