David H. Baker, 95: Rotarian believed in serving others

As a youngster, David Baker realized if he could make it to Detroit, he’d have a shot at a different kind of life.

Why Detroit? Because that was where one of his older sisters lived. She’d made it out of the rural, coal mountain hills of Hazard, Ky. Each year she’d make a pilgrimage back home, with the sole purpose of taking one of her siblings back to Detroit with her.

“It was a very hard life that he lived,” David H. Baker Jr., said of his father. “But that is where he learned a lot of lessons about how to treat people. He always made a friend out of a stranger.”

The elder Baker not only made it out of Hazard, Ky., but he eventually came to Atlanta where he made a name for himself in real estate and the world of Rotary. And Rotary International was the perfect organization for him, according to friends and family. Baker was known for his role in helping establish the Rotary Club of Dunwoody, said Chris Irwin, a nephew who lives in Duluth.

“He truly believed in service above self,” Irwin said. “I do believe one of the lasting legacies of his life will be Dunwoody Rotary.”

David Harold Baker of Alpharetta died Monday at his residence in his sleep. He was 95.

A graveside service is planned for 2 p.m. Thursday at Arlington Memorial Park, Sandy Springs. Northside Chapel Funeral Directors, Roswell, is in charge of arrangements.

Baker was the eighth of 10 children born to his parents. His mother died when he was a toddler, and his father married a woman who also had 10 children, his son said.

“That he made it out of the hills of Kentucky, and made such a success of his life is really a story in itself,” Baker said of his father. “But he attributes all of his success to my mother, who was his rock, his support.”

In 1946, the year he completed his military service, Baker married the former Ruth Isakson. He initially took a job as a traveling salesman, but was strongly encouraged by his new wife to find employment that kept him closer to home.

“That was when he embarked on his real estate career,” his son said.

Baker got his real estate license and worked at Spratlin, Harrington, and Thomas in the ’50s, and in the ’60s he opened his own office, David H. Baker Realty, in what is now Sandy Springs.

Baker retired in the late ’70s, but he didn’t sit still, his son said.

“He was so entrenched in Rotary,” Baker said of his father.

The elder Baker was an active member of the Rotary Club in Sandy Springs when he was asked to help start up the Dunwoody club, Irwin said.

“He also believed you never say no to Rotary,” his nephew said, with a laugh. “But in terms of enthusiasm, when he took on a project, it was going to be a winner.”

Baker shared that energy with anybody who needed it, including his wife’s nephew, Sen. Johnny Isakson. The Bakers teamed up with Isakson’s parents and hit the campaign trail for the senator when he ran for governor in the ’90s.

“Uncle Dave worked hard on all four of my campaigns,” Isakson said. “He was more like a best friend than an uncle. He and Aunt Ruth are two very special people, not only in my life, but in the lives of so many people.”

In addition to his wife of more than 67 years and his son, Baker is survived by son R. Benson Baker of the British Virgin Islands; daughter Betsy O’Sullivan of Alpharetta; and two granddaughters.