It was her love of children that led Lily Baker to run for the Liberty County Board of Education.
Baker finished her 16 years leading the school board, and 47 years total in education, closing the December 16 meeting as her last official act. She was honored for her service Thursday at the Board of Education office.
“If anybody had told me that a little girl that looked like me on South Macon Street in Jesup would be the first African American school board chair in Liberty County, I would tell them they were telling a lie,” she said. “It was never in my plan.”
School board member Carol Guyett said Baker once told her that once Guyett got to know her, she would grow to love her.
“I did, and I have,” Guyett said.
Under Baker’s leadership, the board has gone from a group of seven people to a cohesive assembly focused on the students, faculty and staff, Guyett said.
“The things I remember about Lily is she led the board through the worst AdvancED review to the best Cognia review in history,” she said. “I can’t thank you enough for being my friend, talking me off the ledge more than a few times and being a sounding board.”
Dr. Chante Baker Martin, who represents the 5th District on the school board, noted she never had Baker as a teacher in her 13 years as a student in Liberty County schools.
“But God has a way of putting you in classrooms unaware,” she said. “I ended up in Mrs. Baker’s class from 2018-2022 as a firsttime member of the Board of Education. I can tell you she is truly a master teacher who leads by example. She has shown me what it means to walk with grace and poise under pressure and in the face of immense opposition.
“Thank you for the work you have done for the Liberty County School System. God bless you.”
Baker’s tenure included five different superintendents, and when she informed Dr. Franklin Perry she wasn’t running for re-election, he recalled going to his office window and his emotions overcame him “I kind of broke down. That’s how much you mean to me and mean to this school district,” he said. “I know the work you have done is for these children. “
Perry first met Baker through a 30-minute phone call. The school system was looking for an interim superintendent, and Dr. Perry, then in Covington, was recommended.
“I could tell the kind of person you were from that conversation,” he said.
Baker was more than a mentor for Sheron Daniel, like Baker a physical education teacher and now a school board member in Wayne County.
And when Daniel was in fifth grade in Jesup, her PE teacher was Lily Baker. Baker later was assigned to her as a mentor when she became a teacher.
“I thought I could teach PE,” she said, “but I soon learned I had a lot to learn.”
“She truly believes in the nurturing of our children,” Daniel said, adding that Lily and H.C. Baker are her son’s godparents. “No one really understand what the cliché means when they tell you in the school system you need people in the school system who look like you. I had that experience in the fifth grade. We thought you were the queen of queens. Because you were and still will be.”
Baker’s daughter Chandra said her retirement now means she can spend more time with her and her family in Jacksonville. She also expressed her gratitude to the community for supporting her mother.
“Thank you for loving on our mom,” she said.
H.C. Baker, Lily’s husband, remembered his wife coming home one day. She was near retirement but considered leaving a year early because another teacher was about to have their position cut.
The retiring chairperson, though, thanked her husband and her two daughters for sharing her with the rest of the community.
“You made a lot of sacrifices,” she said, “but my momma always taught me make sure your husband has food to eat. I want to publicly thank you for allowing me to do this because you could have said you’re gone too much. But you never said it, not once.”
Verdell Jones, who previously served on the school board with Baker, will be taking over as chairperson of the school board. For herself, Baker said all the accomplishments of the system are a result of the board’s work. Baker also saluted the previous board members who paved the way for her.
“I stand on the shoulders of giants who came before me, the Mattie Hickses and Harold Woodses, who did a lot of the work. It was like planting a seed and waiting for it come up,” she said.
Her service on the school board and in the classroom was done in service to God, according to Baker.
“When I made promise to Him, I couldn’t go back,” she said. “He gave me a charge and I accepted it. I was not going to do anything to hurt my Father, because it would make him cry. And that’s what you see and have seen all these years.
“I hope you see God in me because He’s the One who led me and kept me on this journey.”