Four hundred of Gilbert Baker’s best friends gathered Thursday night to give him a rip-roaring thank-you for 12 years of service in the Arkansas Senate.
About a dozen of those friends had a lot to say about Baker at a Roast and Toast sponsored by the Faulkner County Republican Committee at Centennial Valley Special Events Center.
They were led by the man who had the job for 26 years before Baker, former State Sen. Stanley Russ, who, borrowing a line from Shakespeare, said he was not there to praise Baker, but to bury him.
Russ’ advice to his fellow roasters came from the late Arkansas Congressman Brooks Hays who, quoting another wag once said: “Never dilute the oil of anecdote with the vinegar of fact.”
Not everybody talked about Baker’s haircut, his big family, his fundraising skills, his energy, but most did.
John Brummett, political columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, said he was happy to be the last “roaster” so he could strike out most of the hair jokes he was planning to use.
He managed to save one, saying that when he first saw Baker in the Senate, someone pointed him out, saying to Brummett: “There goes the face of the new Republican insurgency.” And Brummett said, “Is it also the hair of the new Republican insurgency?”
Among those sharing the roasting was State Sen. Eddie Joe Williams, R-Cabot, whose district includes Vilonia and the western half of White County.
He said Baker was against “pork” unless it was meant for Conway, like the $10 million interchange planned for I-40.
“And they haven’t even named it after you,” Williams said.
Baker was overheard to say: “Not yet.”
Also speaking were Faulkner County Justice of the Peace Steve Goode; State Sen. Missy Thomas Irvin of Mountain View; Lt. Gov. Mark Darr; Court of Appeals Judge Rhonda Wood, who sang a ditty to the Beverly Hillbillies tune accompanied on the guitar by State Sen. Jason Rapert; Jamie Gates, senior vice president of the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce; lobbyist and radio personality Bill Vickery; and Dr. Gary Stewart, a Baker classmate from the Class of 1974 in New Orleans.
When it was Baker’s turn, he introduced his wife, Susan, thanking her and his family for supporting him in his work.
“It’s rare in life that a man gets to do what he loves,” Baker said.
The committee announced it had created an award in Baker’s honor, and the first Sen. Gilbert R. Baker Achievement Award was given to Paul Foster. Marvin Lessmann was named Volunteer of the Year.
(Staff writer Becky Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 505-1234.)