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Longtime Pinellas official William "Bill" Baker dies at 80

CLEARWATER — He was a prominent Pinellas engineer who taught Sunday school, a casual guitarist who preferred the old gospel songs, a Southern gentleman who always held the door.

But William "Bill" Baker's favorite role was family man.

"Every day, he said 'I love you,' " said Barbara Baker, his wife of 30 years. "He never hesitated to tell us how he felt, how much he appreciated us."

Mr. Baker, most recently Safety Harbor's city engineer and assistant city manager, died April 22 of brain cancer. He was 80.

His office, which he still occupied in early April, was lined with photos of his wife, his three children and his three grandchildren — his everything, Barbara said. When he died at home, he was surrounded by those faces.

Mr. Baker was born in Kinston, N.C., where, his wife said, he developed a penchant for all things country. He served in the Navy, earned a civil engineering degree from North Carolina State University and moved to Clearwater in 1982. He became the city's public works director and city engineer two years later, launching a three-decade career in Tampa Bay.

Mr. Baker oversaw the construction of the new Sand Key Bridge and the remodeling of the old Maas Brothers department store downtown into the Harborview Center. He also built his own custom house on Brookside Drive, with a Southern-style front porch inspired by his home state.

"People would come in and say, 'I feel like I'm in a Cracker Barrel!' " Barbara said, laughing.

He loved to worship at Clearwater's First Assembly of God, she said. He became a church deacon, sang in the choir and taught children Bible verses on the weekends.

"He was a very busy man," his wife said. "And he loved everything he did."

Mr. Baker retired from the city of Clearwater in 1996 after the city's elected leaders criticized some city construction projects he had overseen.

He soon missed the thrill of design challenges. "I found I did not want to be without work," he wrote on his resume.

He was hired again in 1997 by a private Clearwater consulting firm before moving on to an engineering job at Tampa International Airport. Desiring a return to public service, he became the city engineer for Safety Harbor in 2006.

"They don't make 'em like Bill anymore," said Matthew Spoor, Safety Harbor's city manager. "He was hard-working and always looking for something to improve. A Southern gentleman. Smart, witty and funny."

In his office, Spoor keeps a list of clever city aphorisms Mr. Baker wrote:

Every tree in town is a sacred oak.

All of the bricks in the brick streets were brought over from Spain in ships under the command of Ponce de Leon.

It would be a terrible thing if anything got changed.

Danielle Paquette can be reached at dpaquette@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4224.

Longtime Pinellas official William "Bill" Baker dies at 80 04/30/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 30, 2013 7:28pm]
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