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Legend John helped Felixstowe Port’s giant leap forward

PUBLISHED: 16:30 24 July 2020 | UPDATED: 17:17 24 July 2020

Wedding at the Rock! John Baker celebrates his son Charle’s' wedding, along with daughter Jane, in Gibraltar.  Picture: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

Wedding at the Rock! John Baker celebrates his son Charle’s' wedding, along with daughter Jane, in Gibraltar. Picture: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

Archant

John Baker was a larger than life character and pioneering Felixstowe dock boss. Tributes have been paid to him after his death, aged 85.

Princess Anne meeting John during a visit to open the new Townsend Thoresen terminal on an early spring day in 1979  Picture: SUPPLIED BY FAMILYPrincess Anne meeting John during a visit to open the new Townsend Thoresen terminal on an early spring day in 1979 Picture: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

His nickname was Jumbo - and he was a giant of a man in every respect.

John Baker, who has died aged 85, was a pioneering Felixstowe dock boss whose drive, energy and management style helped launch the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company into a glorious new age.

John, manager of the key Landguard Terminal, his team, and fellow managers formed the bedrock and backbone of operations which led to the world-famous container operation, the Port of Felixstowe.

John, who earned his nickname from his girth and 6ft 6ins frame, was much-loved by senior colleagues and workers alike.

Meeting Maggie: John welcomed Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to Felixstowe shortly before the general election of 1983  Picture: SUPPLIED BY FAMILYMeeting Maggie: John welcomed Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to Felixstowe shortly before the general election of 1983 Picture: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

The man who arrived in Suffolk from a freight-forwarding role at London docks quickly gained the trust and friendship of locals.

And when he rose to senior management his people skills were defined by his charisma and listening ear.

In the era before laptops and mobiles changed the working world, John, who lived at Kirton for many years, solved issues over a one-to-one meeting (and/ or a beer!).

An Eastender born in Wapping, Arsenal diehard John was part of an influx from London which left locals apprehensive their way of life might change.

6ft 6ins John was a a dedicated military man and a proud member of the Royal Middlesex Regiment  Picture: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY6ft 6ins John was a a dedicated military man and a proud member of the Royal Middlesex Regiment Picture: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

A Temperance Society was launched in Felixstowe at the time but the newcomers quickly integrated and got down to work.

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John, a striking, immaculately-dressed man, met and married local woman Marjorie and together they had a son, Charles and a daughter, Jane.

He was the only son of Londoners Alice and Charles Baker, and spent six childhood years under wartime evacuation in Devon.

Meeting old friends: The R&R management and senior staff annual reunion in the 1990’s - John is fourth from the right back row  Picture: SUPPLIED BY FAMILYMeeting old friends: The R&R management and senior staff annual reunion in the 1990’s - John is fourth from the right back row Picture: SUPPLIED BY FAMILY

In his dad’s later years John received some advice which he followed to the letter.

Charlie wrote to his son: “I know you will do well at the docks. Only don’t be in a hurry to sack a man, at least give him a chance.”

This became John’s mantra.

Today daughter Jane, 47, is a painter and decorator living in Trimley and Charles 48, is chief executive of the Puerto del Mariel in Havana, Cuba, having started at Felixstowe Dock in 1991.

A front page of the Felixstowe Times reporting on Princess Anne's visitA front page of the Felixstowe Times reporting on Princess Anne's visit

Said Jane: “Dad was a larger than life character who lived his life to the full and had the respect of his workforce. He was fair-minded, as suggested by his dad, he managed well and got full respect of his team.”

John Porter, Dock Basin Manager in John’s era, said: “I have fond memories of working with him when the port was really taking off. He was a straight-talking manager who had a way with the men which inspired their confidence and loyalty.

John, who until his death lived for 20 years in Collimer Court, Walton, followed his port years by managing the Felsto Arms on Felixstowe seafront with second wife Pat.

Said Jane: “He loved the pub and enjoyed it to the full, there were a few scrapes and bumps along the way, but this was a colourful, well-lived life by a man who simply adored Suffolk.”

• Those wishing to pay their respects to John on his final journey are invited to stand by as the Cortege passes the Half Moon and Collimer Court, High Road, Walton on Friday July 31 at 11.30am, before a private family Funeral. Donations made payable to ‘RNLI’ c/o East of England Co-operative Funeral Service, 213 High Street, Walton, Felixstowe, Suffolk, IP11 9BQ


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