It was her voice that first drew Gerald Baker to his future wife, Baleeia.
She was calling a friend at the Camden County Board of Social Services, and Mr. Baker answered the phone first.
“It was a fluke,” Baleeia said.
Taken by her soft and sensitive manner of speech, Mr. Baker first pestered the friend to put him in touch with her. Then, after he got her phone number, he pressed for a date. Finally, she relented, and they met at what was then the Hyatt hotel in Cherry Hill.
“As soon as we met, I knew he was different,” Baleeia Baker said. “I was going through some things, and he helped me see them in a different way. And when we left, he kissed me on the cheek. He was a perfect gentleman, and that became the foundation of our relationship.”
Mr. Baker, 64, died on Sunday, May 3, of complications from COVID-19. He entered Cooper University Hospital on April 28 with pneumonia and tested positive for the coronavirus. His last words to Baleeia were, “I love you. I’ll see you in a few days.”
“We never got to say goodbye,” Baleeia Baker said. “The time before he got sick was so great. Being together at home as much as we were then, we watched TV together and spent so much time just talking.”
Born and raised in Camden, Mr. Baker went to vocational high school and graduated from Glassboro State College, now Rowan University, with a degree in criminal justice and a spot on the dean’s list. He worked at the Camden County Board of Social Services for 35 years and also as an event staffer at Lincoln Financial Field for the last 10 years.
That meant he worked as an usher at Eagles home games, and he even bought a replica Super Bowl championship ring.
“He loved all Philly sports, but he really loved the Eagles,” his wife said. “Even when it was really cold out there, he would put on his hand and feet warmers and go there with a smile on his face.”
Mr. Baker was a whiz at Jeopardy! He often took long runs and bike rides along the nearby Cooper River. He loved conversation, and since his middle name was Anthony, Baleeia said, his initials of GAB fit him perfectly. He volunteered at his church’s food bank, went on cruises with his wife, and looked forward to time spent with her on trips to Cape May.
Mr. Baker had planned to retire on June 1. He and Baleeia would have celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary on June 30. She said they met in March 1989, and he proposed that October as he was frying chicken.
“He didn’t see people on the outside,” she said. “He saw the heart on the inside. He was my other half. What he lacked, I gave him. What I lacked, he gave me. Now I have to carry on his spirit.”
In addition to his wife, Mr. Baker is survived by daughters Deborah, Tinisha, and Aisha; sons Kevin and Gerald; former companion Cynthia Carter; three brothers; seven grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
The family plans a celebration of his life on Sept. 12, his birthday.