Baker would accept the invitation, he told the university, but only if he could also bring along someone familiar to his wife, who could guide her through the evening and chat with her — even if the conversation did not make sense.
Few knew then the private struggle Baker and his family had been living with for two years, ever since Beverly, a 52-year-old civil rights lawyer and well-known presence in Prince George’s, received a diagnosis of early onset dementia.
On that night, all went smoothly. “I spoke, I sat down,” said Baker (D). “It worked well.”
But as Beverly’s condition has deteriorated over the past few months, Baker has had to balance the high-profile demands of running a county of nearly 900,000 people with being the husband of a woman who is becoming harder to recognize.
Baker, 53, said that as the severity of his wife’s illness has become obvious to people outside their close circle of friends, he felt compelled to speak openly about it.
“I had to make a public statement,” he said at a restaurant near his Cheverly home for his first published interview about his wife’s illness. “I don’t want people thinking that she doesn’t like them anymore. I don’t want anything to be misinterpreted.”
By day, he manages a $2.7 billion budget in a county trying to emerge from the taint of corruption left by his predecessor, Jack B. Johnson (D). He runs a county that had nearly 100 homicides last year. Many of his constituents lack health insurance. The county schools superintendent is decamping for Philadelphia. And Baker is in the middle of a political fight to bring a proposed casino to National Harbor.
In the evenings, Baker tries to leave all that behind. He’s learning to make dinner. Salmon and crab cakes just the way she likes them. The Baker children do the grocery shopping. Dad makes up the list, something he rarely did before. He balances the checkbook, too.
But home can be a strange place.
“When I go home, I don’t know what I am getting into,” he said.
Will his wife be happy? Angry? Morose?
“It is hit or miss.”
He tries to remain his normal, optimistic self and still goes through the routine of describing his day to her.
“Aww, that’s nice,” says the woman known as Sis. “I like you. You are the best.”
Recently, Beverly has been having trouble sleeping. To deal with that, the couple will get in their car and tour the county, looking at public-works projects, assessing neighborhoods, just driving. Eventually, Beverly is tired enough to sleep.
“I have looked at ways to deal with it, short of medicine,” Baker said. “Exercise, driving around, playing calming music. Most nights she is able to sleep. It is only rarely that I can’t figure out a way to deal with it.”