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Maurice Baker (b. 24 March 1920, Alor Star, Kedah, Malaysia -) is an academic and one of Singapore's first-generation diplomats. He was Singapore's ambassador to India, Nepal, Malaysia and the Philippines.
Baker was born in 1920 in Alor Star, Kedah. His birth date is not known as he was born in a remote kampong and his 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. Baker is an academic and was one of Singapore's first-generation diplomats.
In his book recollecting his childhood days, A Time of Fireflies and Wild Guavas, Baker discusses his unusual parents. Baker's father was a civil engineer who had won the top Professor's prize in engineering from King's College, London University in 1908 at age 20. He came to Malaya to work and married an illiterate Tamil woman. They conversed in Malay, a language they were both fluent in. In his early days, Baker lived in Cameron Highlands, went to school in Kuantan in 1926, and later moved to Mengtakab, Pahang, where his father was posted to work.
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. He was awarded the prestigious Queen's Scholarship at the end of his studies in 1941, and had planned to go to Trinity College, Cambridge. Unfortunately, war broke out and Baker's study plan was delayed.
During the Japanese Occupation, Baker served in the Medical Auxiliary Service and was a corporal in charge of a unit of six that included Lee Kuan Yew. Here, Baker and his team were responsible for sending casualties of air raids to hospital.
Baker left for King's College, London in 1948 with a Queen's scholarship and graduated with honours in English. Baker was a student activist during his student years in London. He was the president of the Malayan Students' Union. He was also a founding member of an anti-British Malayan student group, Malayan Forum, together with Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Keng Swee and Tun Razak.
Academic and Diplomatic Career
When he returned to Singapore from further studies, Baker was unable to find a job as the British blacklisted him for his political activism. 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 lecturer at the University of Malayas Department of English in 1955. In 1964, he set up the Department of Extra-mural Studies at the University.
Baker began his diplomatic career in 1967 when he was seconded to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and sent as Singapore's first High Commissioner to India and concurrently as Ambassador to Nepal. Like all other first-generation diplomats of Singapore, Baker lacked diplomatic experience. This he compensated for by building relationships of trust, which helped earn him and Singapore acceptance and respect in the international arena.
In 1969, following the May 13 racial riots in Malaysia, Singapore's Foreign Minister, S. Rajaratnam asked Baker 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 Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, from their student days in London. 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.
In 1971, Baker returned to academia to head the English Language and Literature Department, National University of Singapore, a position he held until 1977. He was then asked to go to the Philippines as Ambassador. Baker recalls meeting one of the most fascinating characters, the famous guerrilla leader, Luis Taruc, commander of the communist forces which had surrounded Manila with plans to attack it. At the end of three years in the Philippines, Baker was asked to return to Malaysia as High Commissioner in 1980 and he held that position until April 1988. It helped Baker greatly that many of the Secretary-Generals then were past students of his. In the two terms that Baker represented Singapore as High Commissioner to Malaysia, he witnessed four Prime Ministers who held office- Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Abdul Razak, Tun Hussein Onn and Dr. Mahathir Mohamed.
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. He remained in this position until his retirement in 2002.
Baker was engaged to Barbara Belhatchet in London in 1951. Belhatchet's father was Dr. W. A. Belhatchet, the Chief Medical Officer of Kandang Kerbau Hospital in Singapore. In 1952, the couple married in London. They have two sons, Bernard and Edmund.
Quote- 'Looking back, our success did not come about with just our hard work and our Ministers' visionary leadership; it was also a fortuitous combination of having helpful and well-placed friends, good timing and the practical wisdom that came with the need to represent Singapore's interest well and with style' (The Little Red Dot, p.148).
1967- 1969- First High Commissioner to India, Ambassador to Nepal
1969- 1971- High Commissioner to Malaysia
1977- 1980- High Commissioner to the Philippines
1980- 1988- High Commissioner to Malaysia
Awards and honours
1967- Public Service Star.
1981- Doctorate of Law.
1987- Meritorious Service Medal.
1988- conferred the Panglima Setia Mahkota with the title Tan Sri (Honorary) by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia.
After you father, says Bernard Baker [Microfilm: NL 11240]. (1981, September 7). The Straits Times.
Baker, Maurice (1995). A Time of Fireflies and Wild Guavas. Singapore: Federal Publications.
(Call no.: English 370.92 BAK)
Daughter of doctor marries [Microfilm: NL2631]. (1952, August 5). The Straits Times, Home, p.6.
Early ups and downs didnt stop don from making his mark [Microfilm: NL9076]. (1977, May 22).The Straits Times, p.11.
Engaged In London [Microfilm: NL 2627]. (1951, December 23). The Straits Times, Home, p.13.
Koh, Tommy & Chang, Li Lin. (eds.) (2005). The Little Red Dot: Reflections by Singapore's Diplomats (p. 145). Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co.
(Call No.: English 327.5957 LIT)
Kwang, Han Fook; Fernandez, Warren & Tan, Sumiko. (1998). Lee Kuan Yew: The Man and his Ideas. Singapore: The Straits Times Press.
(Call No.: English 959.57092 HAN)
Lee, Kuan Yew. (1998). The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew. Singapore: The Straits Times Press.
(Call no.: English 959.57 LEE)
Lim, H. L. Peter & Lam, Dana (writers); Baker, Maurice. (ed.) (1994). The Heart is Where It Is: The NUSS Story. Singapore: National University of Singapore Society.
(Call No.: English 378.5957 LIM)
The information in this article is valid as at 2009 and correct as far as we can 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.