To My Friend Sandra


Sandra L. Baker, circa 1970s, Photo Rights JoAnne Quinn- Smith, reproduction of original

A few weeks ago I received the heart-breaking news that a wonderful friend had passed away. I met Sandra Baker on my first day of work at the Heinz History Center, and (dramatic pause) was immediately steam-rolled by her. I was at a place in life where I was barely a novice but she… she was in her element. She was the Director of Volunteer Services and as the Docent Coordinator I would be working with her to identify and train volunteers interested in giving tours. What I didn’t know on that first day was that I had met someone who would leave a profound mark on me.

Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman

Sandra is one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ people. I know that I will never again meet a woman who was quite like her. She loved her work; engaging volunteers, learning their personal stories, and helping them research and represent the history of Pittsburgh was, as she often said, her dream job. She was brilliant, but she never really let you know exactly how intelligent she was. AND… She. Could. Write. I don’t mean like a PR person or a blogger either. She was in a different league from a different era. It didn’t matter if it was a presentation, an email, or a research paper. She had a way of taking you on a winding journey that could cause tears or belly laughs at the turn of a phrase. For the rest of my life I will miss opening up Sandra’s emails.

The Happy Bottom Riding Club: The Life and Times of Pancho Barnes by Laruen Kessler

Sandra was a wise and caring counsel to those in need. It wasn’t uncommon to find colleagues in her office when they were stressed or looking for an honest opinion. Over the last few weeks I have heard countless stories from co-workers and friends about Sandra being there for them in their time of need; whether it was during a death, a divorce, or a work-issue she was willing to listen and really absorb their grief and help steady people in their worst moments.

Me: Stories of my Life by Katherine Hepburn

Realizing that she did this for everyone I began to wonder where she found these endless wells of inner-strength. But this Friday, at her memorial service at the History Center, I listened to stories about Sandra’s early life. Raising a daughter by herself, working her way through college, dropping out several times when she feared she wouldn’t be able to provide for her family, taking on multiple jobs, working as a burlesque dancer (Wait…What? But then again if you knew Sandra that’s not really that surprising). I realized that Sandra was always a woman to be reckoned with. She was an original, a personality who lived life and didn’t take it for granted. She was a force of nature and I never got the chance to tell her, but I am a better person for knowing her…I want to live life the same way Sandra did, as we all should… do your own thing and to hell with anyone who says different.



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5 responses to “To My Friend Sandra

  1. Julie Kant

    Wow! Your tribute honors an amazing woman.

  2. Doreen

    It was so nice to read your remarks about Sandra. I also knew her from the History Center. She had the rare ability to make everyone feel like they were the most important person to talk to her, and she rarely forgot a name or face. I feel privileged to have known her and will miss her. She was a unique and wonderful lady!

  3. Patty

    Well spoken Natalie. Cheers <3

  4. Terri

    I can hear her now saying “Surprise!” and then laughing her laugh. She would be VERY pleased to read this tribute Natalie.

  5. Audrey Iacone

    Natalie. Such a wonderful tribute to such a remarkable woman. I am sorry that our “Historical Society” paths never crossed.


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