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Dr. R. Robinson ‘Bricks’ Baker, retired Johns Hopkins surgeon and teacher, dies

Dr. R. Robinson Baker was a consultant for the 2004 HBO film “Something the Lord Made.”
Dr. R. Robinson Baker was a consultant for the 2004 HBO film “Something the Lord Made.”

Dr. R. Robinson “Bricks” Baker, a retired Johns Hopkins surgeon and teacher known for his work with breast cancer and lung transplants, died April 19 of dementia complications at his home in Owings Mills. He was 92.

Born in Baltimore raised in Roland Park and Ruxton, he was the son of Frances Robinson Baker, a Johns Hopkins School of Nursing graduate, and her husband, Henry Scott Baker, vice president in charge of finance of the Hopkins Homewood campus.

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His late brother, Henry Baker, gave him the name “Bricks” because he was stubborn.

Dr. Baker was a 1946 St. Paul’s School for Boys graduate and earned a chemistry degree from Johns Hopkins. He played lacrosse and was a member of the school’s winning 1950 team. He remained an enthusiastic lacrosse fan and was honored with his 1950 team on its 60th anniversary.

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He met his future wife, Jean Hogarth Harvey, on a movie date. They married in 1953 at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer. She became a Goucher College history professor.

He entered the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 1950.

“He was Influenced by his grandfather, Dr. Robert W. Baker, a physician in Washington, as well as Dr. Alfred Blalock, whose work on blue babies was earning international acclaim,” his daughter, Susan D. Baker of Baltimore, said in a family obituary.

After graduation from medical school, he became an intern in the surgery department and after six years, chief resident surgeon. His training included two years at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, where the emphasis was on research as well as clinical training, his daughter said.

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He engaged in clinical research, publishing numerous scientific articles and chapters in medical textbooks. In 1992 he and his colleague Dr. John Niederhuber published “The Operative Management of Treatment of Breast Disease.”

He was a superb and eloquent surgeon, and an outstanding teacher,” said a colleague, Dr. John L. Cameron. “I’ve known him for more than 60 years. Bricks was a close friend and a role model for me and everyone else at Hopkins. He an example of how we should lead our professional lives.”

Dr. Cameron, the Blalock Distinguished Service Professor of Surgery at Hopkins, also said, “Bricks had a short temper and so did I — and there was never an unpleasant word passed between us. He was a tall, aristocratic-looking gentlemen. He had a bearing about him.”

According to information supplied by Johns Hopkins Medicine, Dr. Baker directed a lung transplant project at the hospital in 1968. “The project assembled a team of specialists to solve the multiple problems associated with this procedure,” the statement said.

His daughter said he was an early advocate for abandoning radical mastectomies and substituting less intrusive surgical techniques to treat breast cancer. Later in his career he became a proponent of palliative methods of treatment.

Dr. Baker was named professor of surgery and oncology in 1975.

“He was a kind, brilliant and technically gifted surgeon,” said a former student, Dr. Thomas Lawhorne of Sea Island, Georgia. “As a medical student, you knew you could go to him for advice. He was cordial. His door was always open.”

He was a consultant for the 2004 HBO film “Something the Lord Made,” about Dr. Blalock and his longtime laboratory assistant and co-creator of the blue baby surgery, Vivien Theodore Thomas.

“My father thought so highly of Vivien Thomas,” his daughter. “He always said that with additional training, Vivien Thomas could have been a renowned surgeon.”

After his retirement from clinical practice he served for several years on the Institutional Review Board, which oversaw research programs in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and was a member of its admissions committee.

Dr. Baker and his wife and family lived in Roland Park. He later moved to an Owings Mills farm, where he gardened.

“His pole lima beans, raspberries and asparagus were signature crops,” his daughter said. He played golf and tennis, rode horseback and walked his dogs. He also maintained a home in Fishers Island, New York.

“He loved his garden and spent his weekends there,” said his daughter. “He and my mother enjoyed horseback riding near McDonogh School.”

He received an honorary fellowship from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. Dr. Baker received the Sol de Peru Medal for his services to Peruvians living in U.S. in 1982. The medaI was presented by Peruvian President Fernado Belaúnde Terry, who met Dr. Baker in the early 1970s while Mr. Terry was in exile after a military coup.

Dr. Baker was a member of the American College of Surgeons, the Southern Surgical Society, the Elkridge Club and Fishers Island Country Club.

In addition to his daughter, survivors include his wife of nearly 68 years, Goucher professor and author of “Building America: The Life of Benjamin Henry Latrobe”; two sons, R. Scott Baker of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and Robert W. Baker of Oakton, Virginia; another daughter, Jenny H. Baker of Severna Park; eight grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.

Services are private at St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Owings Mills, where Dr. Baker once served on the vestry.

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