Kathy Baker, 49, a consummate professional known for her infectious smile and kind and caring spirit, died unexpectedly Sept. 22, following injuries sustained in a tragic accident.
Baker was born Sept. 30, 1965, in Kennewick, Washington, to Floyd and Emma Gerken. She was raised in Washington and began her career in 1984 at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNL) in Richland, where she worked as a project control, contract administrator and contracting officer. During her time at PNNL she also attended Washington State University from 1989-1993 and received a bachelor’s degree in finance. It was in a calculus class at Washington State where she met her future husband and “love of her life,” Jeff Baker.
In 1995 she joined the Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) as business manager of the energy and environmental management group. While working full time at SAIC, her ambitious nature led her to continue her educational pursuits at Central Washington University where she received a master’s degree in organizational development in 1997.
In 2000, she and Jeff were married in Oakland, and shortly after, in 2001, the pair moved to Livermore and joined the Laboratory. Baker served in several key, increasingly responsible management roles including manager of the work for others division, deputy controller, and acting associate director for the planning and financial services directorate. In 2012, she became the Laboratory’s Chief Financial Officer. Baker belonged to the National Contract Management Association and the Institute of Management Accountants.
On Sept. 30, family, friends and coworkers gathered at the Robert Livermore Community Center to celebrate Baker’s life and pay tribute to her many accomplishments, a day she was planning to celebrate her 50th birthday.
“As our chief financial officer, Kathy was responsible for assuring the integrity of the Lab’s financial planning and operations and provided executive level advice and policy guidance as a critical member of my senior management team,” said Bill Goldstein, director of LLNL. “Kathy’s personal integrity, dedication and authoritative expertise were key factors in establishing and maintaining the high degree of confidence the Lab enjoys with sponsors and stakeholders. Under Kathy’s leadership, the Lab established financial models that have become models for the Department of Energy complex. It is a testament to her work that these practices will stand for years to come.”
She served the Lawrence Livermore National Security (LLNS) Board of Governors as the LLNS treasurer and was recently named chair of the Benefits and Investments committee of LLNS, a role in which current and former Lab employees relied on her to oversee their health, welfare and retirement benefits. She served in a similar role for Los Alamos as vice-chair of their committee. “As a member of these committees, she shepherded key aspects of employee benefits that will enhance their well-being for decades to come,” said Goldstein.
Goldstein, as LLNS president, along with the board of governors, issued a proclamation in appreciation and in memory of Baker, that notes: “…the LLNS board of governors and president express to Jeff Baker, Kathy’s husband, their deep and abiding gratitude for Kathy’s dedicated and exceptional service to Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory…”
California Congressman Eric Swalwell of the 15th district issued a congressional record in Washington, DC, on Sept. 24, recognizing the life of Kathy Baker:
“…I want to acknowledge Kathy for her accomplishments and her commitment to country and science,” said Swalwell. “I also extend my condolences to her family, friends and the entire lab community.”
John Lewis, director of Security at the Laboratory and a longtime friend and colleague, described Baker as, “a special person in many ways. She was an accomplished professional with a wonderful personality. She raised the bar high and was a shining example for those around her.”
“Kathy was an excellent CFO, but she was a better person,” said Janis Parenti, assistant manager for contracts and business and site legal counsel at the Livermore Field Office. “She treated everyone she ran across with dignity and respect, regardless of their stature or position. I never heard anyone say an unkind word about her. There aren’t many people you can say that about.”
Baker enjoyed traveling, exercising, reading, wine tasting, playing Scrabble with her mom, spending time with her husband and cats and rooting for her favorite football team, the Washington State University Cougars.
“It will take some time for the Lab family to fully come to grips with the loss of such a dedicated and respected member,” said Goldstein. “Kathy touched the lives of so many here with her positive and caring nature. I am at a loss to put into words just how much I will miss Kathy. I feel honored to have known and worked with her. To Jeff and her family, you have my deepest sympathy.”
Baker is survived by her husband Jeff Baker; mother Emma Bogar; father Floyd Gerken; sisters Gina Lawson and Jackie Howell; brother Bryan Gerken; mother-in-law Beryl Llittlefield; father-in-law Jack Baker; sister in-laws Laurel Baker, Paula Baumann, Lana Heinz and Karmen Alvaro; and numerous nieces and nephews.
“She was such a tremendous person, the most beautiful person I have ever met in my life,” said Jeff Baker. “She inspired me in everything that I do. She was loved by not only the people that she worked for but was loved and appreciated by everybody who worked for her. She was a really good community leader and a good person. She will be sorely missed.”
A memorial service will be held on Saturday, Oct. 10, at the Richland Community Center 500 Amon Drive, Richland, Washington from 4-5 p.m.
Donations in her memory can be directed to the Affordable Pet Clinic, 2630 S. Tracy Blvd., #110, Tracy, California 95376.