Remembering Bird Division Volunteer Paul Baker

Several weekends ago, many friends of Paul Baker gathered on a Saturday in the museum to remember him.  Paul lost a short battle with cancer in December, and it was a wonderful ceremony full of the wonderful memories Paul’s many friends and family had of him.  I want to write about him, because he had a long-time association with the museum as an employee in Exhibits and Institutional advancement and particularly because he was a long-time volunteer in the Bird Division.  Paul loved birds and he was devoted to the Bird Division.  People like Paul do not grow on trees, he had extensive knowledge about all aspects of the museum because he loved the place, and anyone who met him would be instantly aware of that. 

We always felt that when Paul was working in Institutional Advancement he gave the best tours of the Bird Division because of his attachment to both the museum and the division.  Over the years, he did a variety of long-term projects as our volunteer including scanning much of Dave Willard’s extensive slide collection spanning numerous expeditions and tours around the world.  He also organized the nest collection, which had become disorganized because it had been moved several times in recent years.  Paul was a great personality, always upbeat, and even when things were getting heated, he had a knack for defusing them with a quick joke or a useful observation.  Cards handed out at his memorial service showed a photo of a smiling Paul with a mug in his hand and a quote that said “Table for one” which we learned was what he would say when an argument started when he was working in Exhibits on the “What is an Animal?” project.

The picture here captures what I always admired most about Paul.  I remember when John Weinstein was doing these portraits for staff who were doing various public programs around the museum (this was before the web and these were placed on poster board that would stand on easels).  Most of us were uncomfortable trying to come up with some objects to be photographed with.  Not Paul, he quickly picked out things, excitedly choosing everything in the photo.  He did not want the most unusual or rare specimens; he wanted the kinds of things he would show people on one of his tours.  The smile on his face should tell you that he was ready to tell you about an ostrich egg or a mounted starling with the kind of enthusiasm that made everyone realize what an exciting topic he was talking about.  We will miss him.