Norman Baker, a longtime HIV/AIDS activist who volunteered for several local HIV/AIDS organizations, died Jan. 6 at age 58.
Baker was a former resident of Coatesville, and had been living at Keystone Hospice House in Wyndmoor at the time of his death.
A 1969 graduate of Coatesville High School, he was involved throughout the 1990s in numerous HIV/AIDS organizations in the area, serving as the president of the Philadelphia AIDS Advocacy Coalition and lending his talents to such groups as ActionAIDS and Philadelphia FIGHT.
Jane Shull, executive director of FIGHT, said Baker’s tenacity made him an exemplary advocate for the local HIV/AIDS community.
“Norman knew a lot about advocacy,” Shull said. “He respected no boundaries and would just call anyone — he’d call the governor. And that attitude got people to talk to him and he was able to really influence people.”
Michael Marsico, who met Baker nearly 20 years ago, said Baker was open to bringing the community’s concerns to a wide range of city officials, such as those in the school district or police department who were not always initially supportive.
“One thing I always liked about working with Norm was that there’s often this group mentality, but Norm would always want to reach across and actually talk to folks on the other side of the issues,” Marsico said. “He’d be willing to have conversations with them and would show up with his homework done, and that’s how he got things done.”
In 1991, Baker served on a committee that reviewed the feasibility of a condom-availability program in the Philadelphia school district and, along with other members of HIV/AIDS activist group ACT-UP, presented then-Superintendent Constance Clayton with a “report card” on her implementation of the program. He participated in numerous ACT-UP demonstrations, pressing for increased education and funding for HIV/AIDS issues, and was arrested at a 1992 protest in Harrisburg after pouring red dye into the Capitol fountain.
“He was a very, very important presence in the early days,” said Nan Feyler, chief of staff to the city’s health commissioner and former executive director of the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania. “He definitely gave a lot of his time and energy to the community.”
In addition to his HIV/AIDS and LGBT work on behalf of the Human Rights Campaign, Baker was a tireless mental-health and disabilities advocate and sat on the Philadelphia Mental Retardation Public-Awareness Committee and the governmental-affairs committee of disability agency The Association for Retarded Citizens of Pennsylvania.
He was also a longtime supporter of Gov. Rendell, having worked on his campaigns for district attorney, mayor of Philadelphia and governor and was a member of the committee for his 2003 gubernatorial inauguration.
Baker was predeceased by his father Norman and is survived by his mother Alberta, sisters Paulette Nicholas and Beth Ewing and many nieces and nephews.
A funeral Mass was celebrated Jan. 9 and Baker was buried at All Souls Cemetery in West Brandywine.
Memorial contributions can be made in Baker’s name to The ARC of Philadelphia, 2350 W. Westmoreland St., Philadelphia, PA 19140; Keystone Hospice House, 8765 Stenton Ave., Wyndmoor, PA 19038; or St. Cecilia Church, 99 N. Sixth Ave., Coatesville, PA 19320.
Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].