Author's Note Baker Book

As I release this book into the universe, which is not easy, I want to talk about my new friend Bruce Baker. From our first meeting, his sunny disposition lifted my spirits. He described a happy and accomplished life at UCLA, making me think about my father, a UCLA graduate. When we were kids, UCLA was our backyard; we climbed those oak trees near Royce Hall, looking for Winnie the Pooh; my dad often walked the track listening to his Sony Walkman.

When Bruce and I spoke for two hours at a time, I forgot about the lockdown, isolation, and being high-risk for Covid. I was excited about the project but did not know what to expect.

The broad theme of this book is saving the world, one child at a time. It sounds lovely, but how did he accomplish this? From my perspective, he tapped into his creative vision and had the strength to follow his instincts. These are innate qualities-you cannot learn to be this way at an ivy league school or any school.

Of course, Brown, Yale, Harvard, and UCLA are impressive, but they are the scenery, not the story.

The story is about a kind man who loves children, but beneath his pleasant demeanor is another force: imagination combined with tenacity. These qualities revamp a cold, filthy, and chaotic Fernald Hospital into a peaceful, healing place. These qualities create Camp Freedom for the forgotten developmentally disabled child. These qualities give undergraduate students internships with psychologists and nonprofits helping children in Los Angeles.

Beneath the intellect, the achievement, and the awards is his love for his family, which runs the whole show! He told me about visiting little Zack, sick with Cancer, in the UCLA hospital three or four days a week for two years. I wondered what mental adjusting he had to do on the walk back from the hospital to his office in the Psychology department. It may have been a 15-minute walk, but internally, it is like walking across Russia in the winter. I did not ask what he told himself on that walk so he could go back to work immediately and not fall apart. It was too intimate a question.

He looked on the bright side, which takes imagination: Zack was in a renowned hospital and was close enough to visit every day. But to see any child with Cancer, let alone your grandson, in a hospital for all those days takes pure grit. Today, Zack is now a perfectly healthy teenager and a master skateboarder.

When we talked about UCLA, Dr. Baker's face lit up and he was quick to defend against the slightest criticism of UCLA. Over 47 years, his list of achievements reads like a decathlon athlete's competition schedule, moving from event to event, or in this case, from teaching (the shot put) to research (the pole vault) to leading the department (hurdling), and on and on and on; Bruce Jenner at the Olympics! Many people slow down as time goes on, but Dr. Baker's teaching, research, and service at UCLA grew until he officially retired in 2014.

Finally, I had never met anyone so cheerful. His positive outlook is an inspiration! This was an adjustment; some complaining is typical for most people. But we adjusted to each other over strong coffee and laughed a lot! I am trying to learn from a favorite saying of his mother’s, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."

Ever the professor, he sent me detailed information on each topic and characteristically finished each email with, "Do you need anything else from me?"

All I need is for us to be friends and for you to love this book!

Lisa-Beth Harris

Memoir Books