Josephine  Baker

Obituary of Josephine Patricia Baker

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Josephine Patricia (née Cuddihy) Baker: A Life in Nine Decades Josephine (Cuddihy) Baker passed away at the age of 94 at Providence Medical in Central Point, Oregon, USA, on March 15, 2023. She was predeceased by her father, William Cuddihy of Tipperary, Ireland, her mother, Christina (Kenny) Cuddihy of Kilkenny, Ireland, her brother John Cuddihy of Canada, and her husband, Henry Baker of Kansas, USA. She is survived by her seven children: John (of Washington State, USA), Brian married to Anne (of Washington State, USA), Thomas (of Oregon, USA), Paul married to Wendy (of New York, USA), Mary married to Jim Hill (of New Hampshire, USA), Elizabeth (of Kilkenny, IRE), and Michael (of Oregon, USA) and her nine grandchildren (Patrick, Theresa, Jordan, Ethan, Griffin, Silas, Molly, Amalia, and Charlotte).  The daughter of an Irish housekeeper, Josephine (Jo and Josie to her friends), was born in St. John’s Wood Terrace, Earl’s Court, London, and entertained her American children with tales of growing up in the City. As a young girl, she hid from German bombers in the Underground, refusing ever to drink root beer again because during one air raid the frightened children were all given a bottle of their own to drink. When the bombing intensified, she was sent to Kilkenny, Ireland, to her Irish relatives, who memorialized her fondness for sitting fireside with the teasing nickname “Shivers.” Near the end of the war, she was sent down to Devonshire to be a Land Girl, and was courted by a young German POW before his repatriation. She took singing lessons from the opera singer Nora D’Argel, the theatre critic Kenneth Tynan dropped by to flirt with her when she worked at his local post office, and she had her own teenage flirtation with the stage at a preparatory school for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where she met and became friends with Lila Kaye (much later in life she was delighted to see Lila starring in the ’80s CBS series ‘Mama Malone’). Her teachers’ sometimes unsparing criticism about the size of her singing voice led her to shelve her dreams of musical theatre, and she went to work as a telephone operator. When she was 20, a London friend of hers started dating a Yank in the Navy, and he knew a friend of his stateside who’d be perfect for Josephine, so he arranged for them to swap addresses and a year-long correspondence began. The second Yank, named Hank, eventually invited Josephine to come for a visit, and she thought, it’s been a year, why not? After a week voyage on Holland America’s Nieuw Amsterdam she arrived in New York on a Thursday, and Henry ‘Hank’ Baker and Josie were married on the following Monday–it was 1949 and they would be separated only by his death in 2011. Marriage to a Navy seaman meant travels from port to port: she waded through three-foot snow drifts to get to the Providence, RI, hospital where she gave birth to her first son John; she was stung by a scorpion shaking out the laundry in Pearl Harbor military housing; and she spelled Hank on coast-to-coast drives (despite never managing to pass a driving exam). While Hank was away on submarines, Josie was busy raising seven children (the surviving of 17 pregnancies), holding out through a succession of four boys to realize her dream of having two girls, and then a final boy to round things off. She made lifelong friends: the Lawlers of New Hampshire sent the family gallons of maple syrup as Christmas presents for decades. In Napa, Josie met the parent of a first-grade classmate of her son Paul, a fellow British expat named Hilda Smith, and the two formed a friendship that lasted, through correspondence, international calls, and even visits to Hilda’s home in Stonehaven, Scotland, until Hilda’s death in 2018. When Hank took early retirement from the Navy, they moved from his last posting, Mare Island Shipyard, to a family farm in southwestern Washington, where the former Londoner and Land Girl adapted to rural life (e.g., was chased by a newly headless chicken through the back yard while her family collapsed in laughter, and joined a Grange and the Winlock church’s Altar Society). In 1987, she and Hank settled on six acres just outside of Shelton, Washington, on Hammersley Inlet, where they enjoyed a proper retirement trying to turn their ranch-style home into an English cottage and garden, with only two English Babydoll Southdown sheep and some egg-laying chickens to look after.  She was fiercely devoted to her children her entire adult life, and when they grew up and left the nest, took up her old role as a telephone operator, phoning around to keep her peripatetic offspring updated on all their news. Her first grandchild Patrick was born in November 1989, and she became his second mother loving and doting on him as he spent summers and holidays growing up on their farm. Eight more grandchildren were to follow as her children Paul, Mary, and Elizabeth married.   She developed a keen interest in genealogy; when she and Hank traveled back to England and Ireland in the ’90s, visiting with her old friend Hilda Smith, they also visited graveyards researching the family tree. After Hank passed away, Josephine was looked after by her son Brian for twelve years. With age, the quickness of her memory for names and places began slowly to decline, but she still summoned the energy in 2013 for another trip to the United Kingdom and Ireland (more genealogy) in the company of sons Paul and Michael, a last visit with Sylvia in Scotland, and a pilgrimage to the Basque town of Limpias, Spain, and its miraculous crucifix—then returned home via New Hampshire and a visit with her daughter Mary, husband Jim, and her Yankee grandchildren.  For the last ten years of her life, heart troubles came and went and came again more frequently, but she rarely mentioned them, preferring to keep her mind occupied as always with her children, her garden, and her faith. In 2020, her son Michael took over full-time care of her having returned from Durham University in the UK. In 2022, delayed by the pandemic, she finally downsized, moving to sunny Central Point in southern Oregon with her sons Michael and Thomas, who looked after her until her passing, managing to pack trips to Crater Lake, Ashland, and Yreka’s old town, and walks in numerous local parks and gardens into her last year. Her frequent appearances on Michael’s Instagram stories earned her fans all over the world who adored “Little Mom” and her zest for life, perennial good humor, and somewhat dubious claim to still be 5 feet, 2 inches tall. Her loving heart and soul will be sorely missed. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam [May her faithful soul be at the right-hand side of God.]
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Josephine  Baker

In Loving Memory

Josephine Baker

1928 - 2023

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