In Rutland dozens of people came together Sunday to support former Police Chief James "Jim" Baker, who was diagnosed with cancer last year.
The 62-year-old Baker was all smiles as he greeted old friends and colleagues at the afternoon barbecue in his honor.
“It’s pretty humbling, I gotta tell you,” said Baker. “The City of Rutland and the surrounding area is one of the most loving communities I’ve ever been around. It’s an amazing place."
When Baker took over Rutland’s Police Department in 2012, it was plagued with scandal and low morale. Many credit Baker, who had previously headed the Vermont State Police, with turning that around.
Soon after arriving in Rutland, Baker helped found Project Vision, a grassroots community effort to fight crime and drugs that’s become a national model.
“What I’m proud of is the fact that it’s still going. It's still having an impact in the community,” added Baker.
After he left Rutland in December 2014, he took a job with the International Association of Chiefs of Police in Alexandria, Virginia. He said he planned to leave that position this year to spend more time with his family in Arlington, Vermont, and work as a consultant.
He said those plans changed last December when doctors found a cancerous tumor on his kidney. He left the job in Virginia early and said he's been in the fight of his life ever since. But he said experimental treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City has been promising.
"I'm blessed," said Baker, smiling. "I'm blessed."
Korrine Rodrigue, a Rutland resident who worked closely with Baker to help launch Project Vision, hosted Sunday’s party.
“I know it’s going to be a long road for Jim,” said Rodrigue. “He’s having treatment in New York every three weeks for the foreseeable future, and I just kind of thought about him and his wife, Kim, and his family and the cost of hotels and travel back and forth. So, I spoke to my husband and said, ‘You know I really think we should reach out to the Project Vision community and do something for Jim.’”
Rodrigue said the response was immediate.
“Everybody loves Jim," Rodrigue said. "He’s so well-respected in this community and so everybody wanted to help.”
Nanci Gordon, a longtime Project Vision member, agreed.
“You know, he came into the city and his job at a challenging time and he brought so much constructive energy and a spirit of unity which is so well-evidenced in Project Vision," Gordon said. "So, yeah, we have to have each other’s back and we’re here to show Jim how much we care about him and all that he has done for the area.”