Today the Winchester, VA community said good-bye to an incredible man named Tom Baker (1938-2018). He and his wife, Sheila, lost a daughter to childhood cancer in the mid 70's and they wanted to start a camp similar to the one Sheila saw in an article she was reading in the early 80's of a camp in New York catering to cancer kids. But hold on for a sec, as it goes much deeper than that. You see, Tom was a man of amazing faith which drove his entire life to serving others, period. He deeply loved his wife, children and grandchildren, but he was almost "possessed" in helping and serving others, whether on the job, at the Rotary Club of Winchester, in his business dealings, his church, or guiding a young man or woman fighting the battle of their life with some crazy diagnosis of any type childhood cancer, he was there for them in his, quiet, tender and unassuming way.
As many of you know, the name of this brainchild organization of Tom and Sheila Baker is none other than: Special Love, Inc. Many of the programs I have highlighted over the years have been Camp Fantastic (the original program started in 1983 for the cancer kids), Brass Camp (for brothers and sisters of a sibling with cancer) and the Parents Get-Away weekend. Of course, there are many more sprinkled throughout the year, and those years have added up to 35 years of serving thousands of childhood cancer kids, siblings and their families. The love of this organization runs very deep...Special Love, that is!
Personally, I have only had a few conversations with Tom in the last 20 years of our family's association with "camp", but that doesn't matter, as I have witnessed the fascinating impact he has had on my son, Ryan, (and Brass Camper turned Counselor/Staff, daughter Olivia) and this entire community, (including the 4-H Center in Front Royal, VA; the staff that works there; the doctors, nurses, camp counselors, and anyone associated with camp). A mentor to many, Tom's inspiration is beyond measure, and his kindness, compassion and desire to serve others was the theme that everyone felt in the last day and a half, and was so eloquently stated by Special Love's CEO, Dave Smith, in his eulogy to Tom.
But one last comment Dave stated this morning that resonated with me, (any many others, I suspect), and I am paraphrasing here, is that: "You can transfer or transform pain". From the loss of their daughter Julie, they transformed the unbearable pain of her passing to co-founding Special Love. Their plan to help others has gone well beyond their wildest dreams, which has served this critical need of encouraging thousands of cancer patients through the years to be "just a kid at camp!" And that is no easy feat....
BSoleille! The bright side of a man who has inspired a generation of folks on how we can help others; and maybe it's just as simple of reminding ourselves to help and think of others and do whatever we can to the best of our capabilities. That would put a smile on Tom Baker's face for sure!
|Parents Getaway weekend 2013: Shari Fisher, Maureen Lilly, Marilyn Eichner, Tom Baker, me, and Sheila Baker|
|Singing camp song led by John Dooley (in middle) "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot"|