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Vale F.W.G Baker, former Executive Secretary of ICSU

The International Science Council is saddened to announce that F.W.G Baker, better known as Mike, former executive secretary of the International Council for Science (ICSU), passed away on 20 November 2020 after a short illness.

F.W.G Baker, known as Mike Baker, touched many hearts and lives in the three decades he dedicated to ICSU, where he held the position of Executive Secretary from 1966-1989. His legacy and work still holds strong in the Council’s backbone.  

Forty of Mike’s colleagues and friends paid tribute to him in a special ICSU newsletter published in 1989, they called him ‘Executive Secretary of Distinction’. In it his fellow colleagues and friends awed his optimism, enthusiasm and openness, which stayed intact in all his years of service to science. He was a friend and supporting hand to many, “a gardener of science” and as John Kendrew the past president put it, “the initiator of all activity and the reciprocator of all knowledge.” 

Mike arrived at ICSU in 1955 on the eve of the International Geophysical Year (IGY), then the most complex international scientific project that had ever been attempted by the Council. It was a fortunate coincidence for Mike and for ICSU. IGY channeled his various interests and enthusiasms into a life-long pursuit. His background in science, his conviction that international cooperation is necessary to civilization and survival, his love of language and his critical editorial faculties, his skill as a corridor diplomat and his delight in being chief chronicler of an institution’s history—all came together and found expression at ICSU. 

Mike mainly worked on international projects of a mullti-disciplinary nature or those involving agencies of the United Nauons family working together with ICSU: 

  • the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR),
  • the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research (SCOR);
  • the Global Atmospheric Research Program,
  • the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP);
  • the Working Group on the Effects of Nuclear War (ENUW AR) set up under the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE) and
  • the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP)

Mike’s name was also closely associated with the Standing Committee for the Free Circulation of Scientists (SCFCS), whose work cut across every disciplinary and geographic boundary at the time. 

Malcolm Hadley, who co-authored Ecology in Practice: Ecosystem management with Mike Baker and Francesco Di Castri, echoed the sentiments of past President of ICSU, Sir John Kendrew, saying:

How very very sad, to learn of the passing of F.W.G. Baker.

My own memories of Mike date back to the late 1960s, when my first job after university was with the International Biological Programme, an offspring of ICSU. I was based in Paris, and came into contact with Mike in preparations for UNESCO’s 1968 Biosphere Conference, which gave rise to the MAB Programme. Contacts continued and friendship strengthened during the next several decades, including the two of us joining with Francesco di Castri in putting together a two volume collection of papers generated by the ‘Ecology in Practice’ conference of 1981.

With the fondest memories of a very special person.

Malcolm Hadley

The ISC extends its warmest sympathies to Mike’s family, his wife Jacqueline (née Laclavère) daughter Sarah and son Eric, his extended family, and all of his colleagues who worked with him over the many years he committed his life to ICSU and international scientific collaboration.

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