Maurice Baker


Maurice Baker (b. 24 March 1920, Alor Star, Kedah, Malaya–) is an academic and one of Singapore’s first-generation diplomats. He was Singapore’s ambassador to India, Nepal, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Early life
Baker was born in 1920 in Alor Star, Kedah.1 His birth date is not known as he was born in a remote kampong (village) and during his birth, his English father was away on home leave in England and his illiterate Tamil mother knew nothing about registering his birth. It was not until he had to go to school that his father obtained a statutory declaration from a magistrate who gave 24 March 1920 as Baker’s official date of birth.2 In his early years, Baker lived in Cameron Highlands, went to school in Kuantan in 1926 and later moved to Mentakab, Pahang, where his father was posted to work.3


In his autobiography on his childhood days, A Time of Fireflies and Wild Guavas, Baker discusses his unusual parents. His father was a civil engineer who had won the top professor’s prize in engineering from King’s College, London University in 1908 at the age of 20. The elder Baker came to Malaya to work and married a Tamil woman. They conversed in Malay, a language in which they were both fluent.4

Education
In 1930, he was sent to a boarding school, the Anglo-Chinese School in Ipoh. After seven years there, Baker was admitted to Raffles College in Singapore in 1938.5 He was awarded the prestigious Queen’s Scholarship in 1941 during the final year of his studies to receive a diploma in education, with the aim of becoming a teacher. Unfortunately, the Japanese invasion at the end of 1941 disrupted Baker’s plan for further studies.6


During the Japanese Occupation (1942–45), Baker served in the Medical Auxiliary Service and was a corporal in charge of a unit of six that included Lee Kuan Yew. Baker and his team were responsible for giving first aid to casualties of air raids and sending them to hospital.7 Baker subsequently made his way back to his family home in Cameron Highlands, where his mother was. He survived the war years by growing sweet potatoes and tapioca, and raising chickens and hogs.8

After the war, Baker returned to Singapore and taught for about a year at Choon Guan English School.9 He then left for England in 1948 for further studies on the Queen’s Scholarship10 and graduated from King’s College, London in 1951 with a bachelor’s degree in English with upper second-class honours.11 Baker was a student activist during his student years in London, and served as the president of the Malayan Students’ Union.12 Along with fellow Malayan students such as Abdul Razak Hussein and Goh Keng Swee, Baker was one of the founding members of the Malayan Forum, which was established in 1949 as a group advocating for independence for Malaya and Singapore. From 1949 to 1951, Baker was the joint editor of Suara Merdeka, a magazine published by the Malayan Forum.13

Academic and diplomatic career
When he returned to Singapore, Baker was unable to find a job as the British had blacklisted him for his political activism in London. He was given temporary teaching posts at several schools, including Bartley Secondary School and Victoria School. During this time, he also gave lectures and tutorials at the University of Malaya on a part-time basis, which facilitated his later employment as a lecturer at the university’s Department of English in 1955.14 In 1965, he took over the Department of Extra-Mural Studies, and became its director and head.15


Baker began his diplomatic career in 196716 when he was appointed as Singapore’s first high commissioner to India17 and concurrently as ambassador to Nepal from 1969 to 1970.18 In 1969, following the May 13 racial riots in Malaysia, Baker was instructed to leave India for Malaysia. Baker was seen as the best man for this job as he had a close friendship with Tun Razak, then the Malaysian deputy prime inister, from their student days in London.19 In 1970, when Tun Razak became prime minister, he mentioned in his birthday broadcast in September that Baker was one of his three best friends from his student days in Raffles College and London. Baker mentioned that this announcement “boosted his morale” and ‘“gave him great encouragement in the difficult task” of strengthening ties between Singapore and Malaysia.20

In 1971, Baker returned to academia. He became an associate professor and headed the University of Singapore’s Department of English Language and Literature of the, a position he held until 1977.21 He had accepted the position of ambassador to the Philippines that same year and served in this capacity for the next three years before being asked to move to Malaysia as Singapore’s high commissioner in 1980.22 He held this post until April 1988.23

Upon his return to Singapore, Singapore’s then president, Wee Kim Wee, appointed Baker as pro-chancellor of the National University of Singapore in 1989.24 He remained in this position until his retirement in 2000.25

Family
Baker was engaged to Barbara Balhetchet while they were both students in England in 1951, and were married in London the following year. Balhetchet’s father, W. A. Balhetchet, was the chief medical officer of Kandang Kerbau Hospital in Singapore.26 The couple have two sons, Bernard and Edmund.27


Diplomatic career
1967–1969:
High commissioner to India

1969–1970: Ambassador to Nepal
1969–1971: High commissioner to Malaysia28
1977–1980: High commissioner to the Philippines
1980–1988: High commissioner to Malaysia

Awards and honours
1967:
Public Service Star29

1981: Honorary Doctor of Laws, National University of Singapore30
1987: Meritorious Service Medal31
1988: Panglima Setia Mahkota, Malaysia32



Author
Dinesh Sathisan




References
1. Kong, S. C. (1989, August 27). Master of diplomacy and academia. The Straits Times, p. 23. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Baker, M. (1995). A time of fireflies and wild guavas. Singapore: Federal Publications, p. 1. (Call no.: RSING 370.92 BAK)
3. Baker, M. (1995). A time of fireflies and wild guavas. Singapore: Federal Publications, pp. 2, 13–14. (Call no.: RSING 370.92 BAK)
4. Baker, M. (1995). A time of fireflies and wild guavas. Singapore: Federal Publications, p. 2. (Call no.: RSING 370.92 BAK)
5. Baker, M. (1995). A time of fireflies and wild guavas. Singapore: Federal Publications, pp. 29, 58. (Call no.: RSING 370.92 BAK)
6. Chew, D. (Interviewer). (1993, April 14). Oral history interview with Maurice Baker [Transcript of MP3 recording no. 000095/6/2, pp. 9–10, 16]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline; Kong, S. C. (1989, August 27). Master of diplomacy and academia. The Straits Times, p. 23. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Baker, M. (1995). A time of fireflies and wild guavas. Singapore: Federal Publications, p. 93. (Call no.: RSING 370.92 BAK)
8. Chew, D. (Interviewer). (1993, April 14). Oral history interview with Maurice Baker [Transcript of MP3 recording no. 000095/6/2, pp. 20–22]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline; ‘She was not fated to live’. (1999, October 24). The Straits Times, p. 36. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Chew, D. (Interviewer). (1993, April 14). Oral history interview with Maurice Baker [Transcript of MP3 recording no. 000095/6/2, pp. 25–26]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline
10. Wee, T. (2002, August 18). Hand it to the golden couple. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Kong, S. C. (1989, August 27). Master of diplomacy and academia. The Straits Times, p. 23. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Baker, M. (2014). The accidental diplomat: The autobiography of Maurice Baker. Singapore: World Scientific, p. 49. (Call no.: RSING 327.2092 BAK)
13. Chew, D. (Interviewer). (1993, April 14). Oral history interview with Maurice Baker [Transcript of MP3 recording no. 000095/6/3, pp. 34–35]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline; Baker, M. (2014). The accidental diplomat: The autobiography of Maurice Baker. Singapore: World Scientific, p. 49. (Call no.: RSING 327.2092 BAK)
14. Baker, M. (2014). The accidental diplomat: The autobiography of Maurice Baker. Singapore: World Scientific, pp. 75–77, 80. (Call no.: RSING 327.2092 BAK)
15. New chairman appointed to theatre board. (1966, January 21). The Straits Times, p. 4; Scholar is first top envoy to India. (1966, December 10). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Baker, M. (2014). The accidental diplomat: The autobiography of Maurice Baker. Singapore: World Scientific, p.101. (Call no.: RSING 327.2092 BAK)
17. Scholar is first top envoy to India. (1966, December 10). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Envoy’s tribute to gurkhas. (1969, June 27). The Straits Times, p. 13; Nepal job for Spore envoy. (1970, May 3). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Baker, M. (2014). The accidental diplomat: The autobiography of Maurice Baker. Singapore: World Scientific, p. 140. (Call no.: RSING 327.2092 BAK)
20. Baker, M. (2014). The accidental diplomat: The autobiography of Maurice Baker. Singapore: World Scientific, p. 165. (Call no.: RSING 327.2092 BAK)
21. Kong, L. (1989, December 8). Much ado about the NUS English Dept. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Baker, M. (2014). The accidental diplomat: The autobiography of Maurice Baker. Singapore: World Scientific, p. 198. (Call no.: RSING 327.2092 BAK)
22. Singapore envoy calls on Selangor sultan. (1987, December 16). The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Baker, M. (2014). The accidental diplomat: The autobiography of Maurice Baker. Singapore: World Scientific, p. 271. (Call no.: RSING 327.2092 BAK)
24. Maurice Baker is now NUS pro-chancellor. (1989, June 1). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Wee, T. (2002, August 18). Hand it to the golden couple. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Engaged in London. (1951, December 23). The Straits Times, p. 13; Daughter of doctor marries. (1952, August 5). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Tan, J. (2014, August 20). ‘Accidental diplomat’ has one gripe about Singapore government: Son. Retrieved 2016, February 15 from Yahoo website: https://sg.news.yahoo.com/autobiography-of-singapore-s--accidental-diplomat--maurice-baker-launched-093322339.html
28. Baker is envoy to Philippines. (1977, February 6). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Baker is envoy to Philippines. (1977, February 6). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Chong, G. P. (1981, September 7). After you father, says Bernard Baker. The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Two honoured with top meritorious medals. (1987, November 14). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Former envoy Maurice Baker honoured by Malaysian king. (1988, June 1). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Politicians
Baker, Maurice, 1920-
Ambassadors--Singapore--Biography
Law and government
Diplomats--Singapore--Biography
Personalities>>Biographies>>Political Leaders

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