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Ronald “Ron” James Baker was the first faculty member hired by President Patrick McTaggart-Cowan for the new Simon Fraser University (SFU) in 1964. Baker served as the university's Director of Academic Planning and as the first head of the English Department. He remained at SFU until 1969, when he was appointed to be the first president of the new University of Prince Edward Island.
Baker was born in London, England, on August 24, 1924, to James “Jim” Herbert Walter and Ethel Frances Baker (nee Miller). He served with the Royal Air Force (1943-1947), during which time he trained in Manitoba. After the war, in 1947, he immigrated to Canada.
Baker married Helen “Jo” Gillespie Elder [ca. 1947]; they would have 5 children (Sharon Ann, Lynn Frances, Ian James, Sarah Jane, and Katherine Jean). In 1975, he married Frances Marilyn Frazer (1932-2010), with whom he had one son, Ralph Edward “Ted.”
Baker graduated from the University of British Columbia (UBC) with a Bachelor of Arts in 1951 and a Master of Arts in 1953, both in English. He went on to do graduate work in the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London (1954-1956). Baker had lectured in English during his undergraduate degree at UBC, and returned to the University to become an associate professor in 1962. While at UBC, Baker was involved in the production of John B. Macdonald’s report, Higher Education in British Columbia and a Plan for the Future (1962), which led directly to the development of a second university (SFU) in the Lower Mainland.
In 1964, Baker became the first faculty member hired by President Patrick McTaggart-Cowan for the newly created SFU. Baker served as the University's Director of Academic Planning and as the first head of the English Department. He remained at SFU until 1969, when he was appointed to be the first president of the new University of Prince Edward Island (1969-1978). He continued to teach there as a professor until 1991, when he retired.
Baker served on numerous councils and committees throughout his career, including the Canadian Association of University Teachers (1954-1969), the Royal Society of Arts (Fellow, 1971-1990), the Royal Commonwealth Society (1964-1966), the National Defence Strategic Studies Committee (Chairman, 1986-1998), the Canadian Executive Service Organization (CESO) (Volunteer Advisor to First Nations Groups, 1988-2004), and the Canadian Citizen Court (Presiding Officer, 1996-2004).
Baker was made an Officer of the Order of Canada (1978), and received numerous awards and honours, including the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal (1977), a Canada 125 Medal (1992), and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal (2002). He also received honourary law degrees from the University of New Brunswick (1970), Mount Allison University (1977), University of Prince Edward Island (1989), and Simon Fraser University (1990).