Bob Baker, car dealership owner, philanthropist, of 89. died on

Although his father was a used car wholesaler and at least two of his uncles were automotive salesmen, Bob Baker had no intention of getting into the car business.

A devout Catholic who attended religious schools as a child, Baker wanted to become a priest.

Instead, perhaps through a combination of luck and necessity, he would have succeeded in owning more than 25 car dealerships in San Diego County during a career spanning 60 years. He will also be distressed over a fatal accident involving one of his vehicles that killed a family and called back across the world.

Baker, 89, died on Sunday at his Rancho Santa Fe home. His son, Chris, the youngest of five Baker children, said the cause was a mix of dementia, lymphoma and kidney failure.

“Bob wasn’t complicated,” said his friend and former business partner Dave Ezzratty, who now lives in Idaho. “He taught you simple things: ‘Look at money and nickels and that will get you dollars.’ Bob gave nothing; he gave people a chance. If they listened to him, they would be successful. He wanted everyone to succeed, even his competitors.”

Baker was born on October 1, 1931, at the Queen of Angels Hospital in Los Angeles, the eldest of four children to Halem and Dori (Peterson) Baker. He grew up in Los Angeles during the Depression and, at age 8, bought magazines for 8 cents and then sold them for a penny to help support the family. Later he took the route of a newspaper.

When he was 10, Baker’s parents divorced and he spent the rest of his childhood in foster homes, boarding houses and on the streets, Chris Baker said.

Chris Baker said that when his father “learned that sons from divorced families were not allowed to enter the priesthood,” Baker enlisted in the US Army to fight in the Korean War in 1951. He was 19 years old. Two years later, he reached the front line.

“He fought in the Battle for Outpost Harry, a strategic position on top of a small hill on a direct route to the South Korean capital, Seoul,” said Chris Baker. “The soldiers surrounded by fighting were told to ‘hold on at all costs’.”

Baker later produced a 2010 documentary, “Hold at All Cost: The Story of the Battle of Outpost Harry” to commemorate those involved in the war. In 2016, Baker donated $250,000 for a 30-foot-tall bell tower at Miramar National Cemetery in memory of his Korean War comrades.

Baker participated in more than two dozen “tragic night patrols”, Chris Baker said, and once volunteered “to go on a mission from which he was told he would not return.”

Monsignor Dan Dilbaugh of the University of San Diego had known Baker for 25 years. Dilbaugh said that Baker told him that as he prepared for that mission, he prayed and made an agreement that if he survived, he would return to California, marrying his wartime pen friend, Sherrill King, a Will take care of the family, will be successful and serve God.

But before Baker could complete that mission, Chinese troops attacked two hours earlier than expected.

“They had to retreat from the minefields, allowing the two squads to safely return to the outpost Harry’s main bunker,” recalled Chris Baker. “He was on the front lines until an armistice was declared and his military service ended in December 1953.”

For his actions in the war, Baker was awarded two Bronze Star medals.

Bill Barber, who said he met Baker at Burbank Airport when they were both on their way to expand their forces in Korea, said it was difficult for him to talk about the loss of his friend of nearly 70 years. Was. They reminisced about taking fishing trips, and participating in Rams, Chargers and Padres games together.

“We had so many wonderful times together,” Barber said. “I would have bought 50 cars from him in 60 years. We’ve been friends forever. He was the best friend a man could ask for. He lived his whole life.”

When he returned to California from the war, he married King and enrolled in business class at Woodbury College in Burbank. When his wife became pregnant with their first child, Michael, in 1954, Baker began selling cars at a friend’s Ford dealership.

Chris Baker said, “(My dad) was a natural salesperson with a quick and bright smile, and he became an instant success.” “From the sale he was promoted to sales management and eventually tasked with running an auto dealership.”

In 1965, Baker had the opportunity to purchase his own dealership in Indiana. He founded the Bob Baker Chevrolet in Indianapolis and grew it to success. His eldest son, Mike, started working for his father at the age of 15.

Baker eventually sold the dealership and moved to San Diego, which was then University Ford. He continually expanded and built the Bob Baker Auto Group of dealerships with brands such as Chevy, Toyota, Lexus, Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge, Ford, Acura, Cadillac, Nissan and Subaru. And he was behind the catchy ad jingle, “The Bob Baker Auto Group, where it’s too good to be good.”

His financial success gave him the ability to live out his true passion of serving God by helping the community and those in need, said Chris Baker.

Baker has spent years helping Catholic churches and schools, programs for military veterans, and underwriting for Solutions for Change, a nonprofit that helps North County’s homeless families get off the streets. millions of dollars in

Chris Magison, Head of Solutions for Change, said he is involved with Baker on a number of levels. Megison is a former Marine whose father has also served in Korea. Both men also shared an enduring belief in God.

“What really struck me with Bob was his belief so much that his purpose on Earth, because of what had survived in Korea, was part of his pact with God,” Megison said. “And so he was executing that deal and impacting homeless families. All our conversations were around humanity and the good in people.”

Baker was devastated when a family of four died while riding in a debtor car A 2009 Lexus dealership in El Cajon. The deaths occurred when the car’s accelerator pedal got stuck and the car went out of control.

The case drew worldwide attention to unintended acceleration problems in Toyota and Lexus vehicles.

Family members of the victims – CHP officer Mark Saylor, his wife, daughter and brother-in-law – sued Baker and Toyota for wrongful death. Local and federal investigations found that improperly installed floor mats in Lexus models can cause the gas pedal to stick.

Since then, Toyota has recalled 10 million cars for repairs and paid out more than $1 billion in fines and lawsuits. Baker paid an undisclosed amount to Sellers’ relatives.

“He was devastated by the incident, it was very painful for him to know what happened to the Saylor family,” said Chris Baker. “We believe the ultimate cause was a defect in the vehicle’s manufacturing that caused the unintended acceleration. This whole thing caused a rift in my father’s and Toyota’s relationship. I think someone pointed to my father’s dealership. Even the finger was eventually proved right by the fact that Toyota recalled millions of vehicles for unintended acceleration.

The last dealership Bob Baker owned was Bob Baker Toyota. He sold that dealership and retired completely in April 2016. He previously sold the remainder of his remaining dealership ownership to his son, Chris, in 2014. Chris Baker purchased and expanded its Carlsbad locations and continues the legacy of Bob Baker Auto Group. Chris Baker’s son Kobi, 27, also plans to continue the family auto business.

His wife, Sherrill, had died before Baker’s death; His brothers, Dick and Ron Baker, and his sister, Peggy Stewart. He is survived by his children and their families; Mike, Bridget and Austin Baker; Elizabeth (Baker) and Robert Trellor; Theresa (Baker), Sean and Eric Hertel; Mary (Baker) and Mike Ross; and Chris, Maria, Brian, Coby and Emily Baker. He is also survived by several half-siblings.

Services will be held at St. Therese of the Carmel Catholic Church in the Carmel Valley at 10:30 a.m., Sept. 18. Baker’s ashes will be divided, with the remains of his wife interred at the Church of the Nativity in Rancho Santa Fe and at Miramar Cemetery.

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