By CNN's Susan Garraty
He was a senator, majority leader, Ronald Reagan's White House chief of staff, ambassador, and a Tennessee gentleman. Howard Baker died on Thursday at the age of 88. Ken Duberstein, initially Baker’s deputy while in the Reagan White House and ultimately Baker’s successor in the role of chief of staff, reflects on his mentor.
“Howard Baker restored the integrity and credibility to the Reagan White House following the Iran Contra crisis,” said Duberstein in a phone interview from his Washington, D.C. office.
“I spoke with Howard just two weeks ago and we talked about what was going on in Washington- we were just having a good old conversation and chatting up a storm,” he added with a chuckle
In 1974, Baker raised the seminal Watergate question that echoes through the corridors of the Capitol to this day: “What did the president know and when did he know it?”
Baker went on to earn the respect from his own Republican party and from members across the aisle as a consensus builder. He had an understanding of how to make the system work.
“President Reagan knew that for a successful presidency you had to have successes on Capitol Hill,” said Duberstein.
Baker helped to make those successes happen. Duberstein said over the last few years, the two men frequently spoke about current partisan gridlock and wondered if today's politicians understood that governing is just as important as winning a campaign.
“He was a consensus builder at a time when compromise was not considered a four letter word,” Duberstein said noting that while Baker was majority leader in the Senate the GOP only had a 52 to 48 seat advantage over Democrats.
Baker’s love of politics was both for the institutions and familial; his father was a member of the House Representatives, and his first wife, Joy, was the daughter of Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen. Four years after Joy Baker’s death from cancer, Howard Baker married the then senator from Kansas, Nancy Kassebaum.
Baker is survived by his wife Nancy, son Derek, and daughter Cynthia.
Duberstein summed up Baker this way: “He believed in public service, in the Senate, and the White House; he was a man of integrity who believed our best days lay ahead.”