MISS AMERICA for 1944, the press agents said, in one respect outdid all her predecessors. Her name was Venus Ramey, and when she arrived at the Hippodrome on a national stage tour, The Sun assigned Ellis T. Baker 3d. Being a trained feature writer, he put in his coat pocket a three-fold wad of copy paper and a spiral-wrap pencil. Being Ellis Baker, he added a tape measure.
Not much friskiness got into print, in those days; it might've made a better story -- surely Miss America would've had a better time -- had she instead gone to the old top-floor newsroom, in Sun Square, and, with his envious and raucous colleagues watching, interviewed Baker.
For a 1940s reporter to have gone to college was unusual; he or she tried to keep the fact quiet. Ellis Baker from Guilford had gone, after McDonogh School, to Duke University, graduating first in his class. At the office, coat off, Baker displayed (on an ample porch) his Phi Beta Kappa key.
To aggravate the offense, he wore bowties, and a college-style crewcut. Baker's salvation was simple enough: he was more articulate than his crude peers.
During the '40s, he worked successively for all three Sunpapers. He covered the legislature, McDonogh School, the building of Harbor Airport and the Pennsylvania Turnpike and, at the Gayety Theater, Ann Corio. (Covered?) In wartime, when gasoline was rationed, the paper had Baker (a friend of, no relation to, Russell Baker) tour southern Maryland in a buggy (the driver was Ollie; the horse, Eagle).
After the papers' news and commercial staffs had returned from World War II, the Newspaper Guild set about organizing a Sunpapers unit and obtaining a terms-of-employment contract. Baker was the unit's first president. Perceiving that his job-advancement prospects had thereby vanished, he took a Guild offer and for 35 years was on its national headquarters staff. Tall and civilized, the old wordwelder was smooth as ever in his transition to executive levels. For some years, at the monthly Guild Reporter, he was the editor.
In April, 1965, his former papers' Guild unit, its contract having expired and no new one being offered, walked out. This was a first, in Baltimore history. Ellis Baker, his wife Peggy and their four children came over from Washington and joined the North Calvert Street picket lines. That crisis ended, equably, 30 years ago this month; the question has been how to allude, briefly and peaceably, to the anniversary of that happy turning point in labor-management relations.
Alas that the answer was, last week, to print one more cancer-based obituary.
To some, he was known as Marcellus; to others, as Eeeteebeethree. Hard to measure, over the 77 years now ended, all the good done by such as Ellis T. Baker 3d.