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James Baker III was groomed for a lawyer’s life. “Growing up, all I knew was Baker Botts and the law,” he says. Baker’s great-grandfather, grandfather, and father had all been lawyers. And after graduating from law school at the University of Texas in 1957 (following Princeton and a two-year stint in the Marines), Baker settled into a successful corporate practice in Houston. In 1970, however, his life veered sharply from its settled course. His wife, Mary Stuart, died of breast cancer, and to keep him distracted, his friend George H.W. Bush asked him to help out on a campaign for a Texas senate seat. Then a registered Democrat, he switched parties and joined Bush. (Bush lost the election.) As Baker wrote in his 2006 memoir: “From that time forward, I was hooked on politics and forever linked with . . . Bush.” Perhaps it’s more accurate to say Bush and the Republican party. Baker served as Gerald Ford’s undersecretary of Commerce; was Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff and secretary of the Treasury; and during the first Bush presidency, served as secretary of State and White House chief of staff. In 2000 he managed the legal campaign that helped George W. Bush win the presidency and was instrumental in the decision to sue in federal court to block a Florida recount. Baker still retains friends on the other side of the aisle. Former president Jimmy Carter says that Baker has been “very generous in reaching out to those who might be incompatible politically. I’m a strong Democrat, and he’s a strong Republican, but he’s gone out of his way to treat me as a respected equal.” (After the 2000 election, Baker cochaired the Commission on Federal Election Reform with Carter.) In large part, the bipartisan bonds have been built by Baker’s work in international diplomacy. As secretary of State, he helped build the coalition that fought the first Gulf War and traveled the world to ease post-Cold War tensions. In an e-mail, former president Bush says that Baker is “a great negotiator and a great advocate, and is one of the most imaginative people I know.” After Bush’s term, Baker founded a public policy institute at Rice University and served as a U.N. envoy on the issue of the sovereignty of Western Sahara. In 2003 he was appointed special presidential envoy on the issue of Iraqi debt. And in 2006, he cochaired the Iraq Study Group, the bipartisan committee established by Congress to assess the conflict in Iraq. The diplomatic and political efforts haven’t halted Baker’s legal career. Though an antinepotism rule initially prevented him from joining Baker Botts after law school (he joined Houston’s Andrews, Kurth, Campbell & Bradley instead), he’s been a partner at the firm since 1993. Among his most recent clients: the private equity consortium that is acquiring electricity provider TXU Corp. for $45 billion. Baker has been remarried since 1973 to Susan Garrett and is the father of eight children. Now 77, Baker could be winding down his long political and legal career. He’s having none of it: “I’m not going to retire until they take me out feet first.” Back to Main Story

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