It is with great sadness, and with tears in my eyes, that I announce that Sue Baker has lost her fight with Motor Neurone Disease, passing away aged just 75.
She fought hard, was optimistic, and always had a glass half full attitude throughout, but the past few months have been tough for her. But despite losing the ability to use her legs, her electric wheelchair, Bertha, was piloted with precision. In a tight confined space, she would manoeuvre it to within millimetres of a wall or object, but never hit it. I was aghast at her skill and aptitude, but I shouldn’t have been surprised, as she had just translated the skill that she showed on the road to getting about at home.
The word legend is overused, but in the case of Sue Baker, it is particularly apt. Trailblazer is another description for her – a driving force in changing the motor industry for ever. A sharp-elbowed lady in a man’s world, she never let her sex stand in the way of getting a good story. She could show the men a thing or two and usually beat them to an exclusive or pipped them to the post.
My first acquaintance with Sue was, like many, on a Thursday night watching her on BBC’s Top Gear. At the time, I was a spotty teen, watching the motoring programme to get the news on what was going on in the car industry. Sue presented the programme for 11 years and more than 100 episodes, only leaving to have her second child, Hannah. Her replacement you might know, the bold and boisterous Jeremy Clarkson, and Sue taught him everything he needed to know. At age 24, she was the youngest motoring correspondent in the industry, and carved out a career as the motoring lead at both the London Evening News and The Observer. In fact, you probably couldn’t name an outlet that Sue hasn’t worked for over the years, as she was a talented and prolific writer and broadcaster.
I can remember the first time that I spoke to Sue on the telephone, as a wet behind the ears Editor in 2007. We hit it off, and from that moment on, I had a friend and mentor. She introduced me to everyone I needed to know, often saying “have you met Ian Robertson” to her motoring colleagues. The motor industry can be a highly competitive, hostile world, where newbies weren’t universally welcomed, but Sue changed that. She would scan the room, approach anyone new that looked lost and bring them into a conversation, and very often suggested driving together. Most were taken aback that someone as important and famous as her would do such a thing.
Over the years that I’ve worked with Sue, our friendship grew, and we became great friends. She still worked until very recently, when typing on a keyboard became too much. Instead she would provide her copy verbally, and I would translate it into a form that was fit for production. Indeed, only a few days ago, when I visited her for the last time, just 36 hours before she passed away, we spoke about her answer for this month’s question of the month. Now that’s a true hero. She was my hero, and I’m going to miss her hugely.
Rest in peace Sue, may you always have the best parking space in the car park, wherever you are now.