Publisher Alan Baker and editor Earl Brechlin accept awards on behalf of the Mount Desert Islander at a New England Press Association conference in the early years of the Islander. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Alan Baker: A career in service to neighbors and ideals

By Earl Brechlin

Despite having traveled and worked in exciting locations around the world, Alan Baker is first and foremost a true and loyal son of Maine.

Even a stint single-handed sailing the rough and turbulent waters of America’s Great Lakes as a ruggedly-handsome young man did not tempt him to stray for long from native soil, familiar places, and the welcoming smiles of hometown faces.

He was raised on the storied banks of the Penobscot River in Orrington. His curiosity, innate sense of fairness and business acumen were formed at a young age, nurtured by his mother who he would one day follow in service as a representative to the state legislature. That legacy continues to this day in the scholarship he created in her honor at his alma mater, Bowdoin College.

His understanding of what it means to be part of a community, unmatched among his contemporaries, was formed in those early years at Bowdoin.

Time and time again those around him have said that once you are a friend of Alan Baker, you have a friend for life. For many that friendship expresses itself with annual visits to his riverside cottage. For others it involves joint service on boards and with philanthropic organizations that help thousands of his fellow Mainers lead better, healthier, and more spiritual lives.

And for others it involves bearing personal witness, traveling to say last goodbyes at hospital bedsides, standing strong before grieving family and friends, delivering heartfelt and soulful eulogies despite his own deep sense of loss.

Alan Baker’s friends include the politically powerful, the wealthy and connected, as well as scores of people from every social and economic walk of life. He interacts with all equally and without favor. A true gentleman, he always graciously acknowledges when someone extends time and kindness to him and his family. He, in turn, repays that kindness and more, many times over.

Of all the statistics that could be used to transcribe the arc of his career, the one he takes the most pride in is how many people his company employs and how many multiple generations of employees’ families he considers to be part of his – present company included.

Alan’s deepest passion, however, has been his belief that a newspaper, as a sovereign independent entity, a free-standing and distinct institution, should be responsible to the communities it serves. That accountability extends to advertisers and to readers who, by the confidence they place in the veracity of the papers’ pages, and their participation in reasoned discourse on the editorial pages, lend their hearts and reputations to that noble endeavor. It manifests itself weekly by virtue of the public’s regular and repeat purchases of the paper, in effect, acquiring additional shares of stock in the institution’s ultimate success.

Alan Baker always takes pride that his neighbors, readers and advertisers know who is in charge and how to reach him. It makes no difference whether or not a call is a diatribe by an irate governor, a compliment from a life-long subscriber on a particularly poignant story, or from one of his more colorful critics, including the one who once accused him of being “Dracula on roller skates.” Alan always takes the call.

In an age when the newspaper industry continues to struggle to find a clear and predictable way ahead, Alan Baker forges on, not out of any secret insight into the future, but rather in the steadfast dedication of knowing that if survival of the press requires the surrender of its principles and abandonment of its Constitutional and civic responsibilities, it does not deserve to endure. Thanks to his faith in those precepts, his entrepreneurial innovation, and his well-known ability to keep a sharp eye on the bottom line, he perseveres, the papers persevere, and the communities they serve persevere.

For Alan Baker, the ultimate mark of success is to now have come to a place where he can faithfully pass along the sacred trust he accepted from James Russell Wiggins, and by extension from the proud generations of editors and publishers before him. Now is the time to transfer more than 165 years of tradition and excellence on to the next installment of thoughtful and dedicated stewards.

From the annals of Maine newspapering, to the halls of the legislature, to the lunch counters and mailboxes of Downeast Maine every Thursday, Alan Baker’s eloquent editorial voice, through which he celebrated his deep affection for the Pine Tree State, and his steady hand at the tiller of what he steadfastly believes are the community’s newspapers, not his, will be greatly missed.

Earl Brechlin is the founding editor of the Mount Desert Islander.

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