In memoriam: Carleton H. Baker, PhD

Photo by Jim Phillips, taken January 1992.

Carleton H. Baker, PhD, founding chair of the Department of Physiology at University of South Florida’s medical school, died Jan. 28 in North Augusta, SC.  He was 86.

Dr. Baker was among the first faculty members and chairs recruited by Donn Smith, MD, the first permanent dean of the then USF College of Medicine.

“Carl’s own research interests involving the cardiovascular system and microcirculation started a line of inquiry at USF that continues with the present generation of scientists in the Department of Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology (formerly the Department of Physiology),” said Bruce Lindsey, PhD, who was recruited by Dr. Baker nearly 40 years ago, advanced to department chair and now serves as distinguished professor in the Department of Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology, Morsani College of Medicine.

In particular, Dr. Baker investigated adrenal gland influence in problems relating to mechanisms regulating the transfer of fluids in an out of the circulation. He evaluated techniques for determining how blood volume and its regulation changes under experimental conditions.

Carl, as some of his earlier colleagues knew him, was known for being a straight shooter with high standards for his faculty, Dr. Lindsey said. He was also known for his hospitality in opening his home to new professors.

“Carl was very supportive during my early career as a new assistant professor. He would regularly walk around the department to see how things were going and was always willing to give advice and guidance,” Dr. Lindsey said. “Dr. Baker and his wife Sara were gracious hosts and invited members of the department to their home on occasion. Mrs. Baker made the most wonderful pies.”

Before USF, Dr. Baker was a professor of physiology and biophysics at the University of Louisville from 1967 to 1971 and an assistant, associate, and professor of physiology at the Medical College of Georgia from 1955 to 1967.  Both academic institutions had passed their centennial years.

The thrill of building a new department appealed to him, so when USF’s medical dean Dr. Donn Smith called about the opportunity here, Dr. Baker and his family were soon Florida bound. He joined the USF College of Medicine faculty in 1971 as a professor of physiology and biophysics, research scientist, deputy dean, chairman of physiology and biophysics, and professor of surgery.

In the USF College of Medicine 25th Anniversary book “Sparkling with Promise,” Dr. Baker was quoted as saying: “I vividly remember the day I got here. I had a moving van full of books, equipment and my household stuff.  They backed it up to the door over at the Science Center, and all of a sudden, Donn (Smith) comes along and says ‘you can’t unload that here.’  I said, ‘why not.’ He said, ‘because we don’t have anywhere to put it!’”

Finally, Dr. Baker ended up in the biology laboratory, with only a thin wall separating the space between anatomy and physiology. “You could smell cadavers all over the place,” he recalled.

Dr. Baker edited a book titled Microcirculatory Technology and authored more than 200 research papers, abstracts and presentations and was a member of numerous university committees.

As a result of his dedication over the years, he earned the title USF Professor Emeritus, a USF Distinguished Scientist Award 1981, Dean’s Citation 1991, and Founder Award 1992. He was awarded numerous research grants through the National Institutes of Health, Burroughs Wellcome and Co. Inc., The Florida Heart Association (where he served on the Board of Directors in 1972 and 1973), the Hillsborough County Heart Association (where he served as a committee member from 1971 to 1978), the American Heart Association, and Syntex Pharmaceuticals.

Dr. Baker was a fellow and section chair of the American Physiological Society, a charter member, committee member and symposium chair of The Shock Society. He was a member of various organizations including Sigma XI, the Microcirculatory Society, and the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine.

Dr. Baker grew up in Oriskany, NY.  He attended Syracuse University (Utica College), where he received a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1952. He then completed a master’s degree in biology in 1954 and a PhD in biology (physiology) in 1955 from Princeton University.

He is survived by his wife of 53 years, Sara; his daughters Beth and Janet; and cousin David.

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-Story by Freddie Coleman, USF Health Communications