Mrs. Virginia Lee Tilghman Baker

b. 25 Sept 1910
d. 09 Nov 1999 - age 89

Randolph Macon College, B. A.

Seventh Grade, English (sic!), Science, Chemistry, Future Nurses Club Sponsor

Mother of Nancy Baker Cooper ('54) and Paul Baker ('62)

  "Allan Willey ('58) assists Glenda Howard ('59) in cleaning out the test tube in Mrs. Baker's chemistry class."     "'Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble...' says Mrs. Virginia Baker."
1957 Anchor, p.10 1958 Anchor, p.80 1961 Anchor, p.37 1965 Anchor, p.26 1967 Anchor, p.84
11/02/03 05/24/07 05/20/07 11/02/03 05/24/07

OK, we had survived Biology, but Chemistry lurked just around the corner. I mean, Biology was one thing.  There was a clearly defined organization of the animal and plant world; you were dealing with things that you could see (and smell) in that dissection dish; in short, you could put your hands on it.  But Chemistry?  ... atoms, molecules, compounds ... electron clouds, valences, molar and molal solutions (never could understand the difference), Avogadro's Number ..... it was all too .... well, too invisible. You had to take it all on faith.

And it fell to Mrs. Baker to convince us that it was all true, to make us believe it so sincerely that we could regurgitate it on a test. I still don't know how she did it, but it is a tribute to her that I could rattle off that litany of terms above.  (And I will let you in on a secret; I really do know what those things are.)

Ahhh, but you are not reading this to learn how Dave mastered Chemistry; you are reading it to find out what stunts we pulled to liven up the class.  Firstly, many teachers become uniquely associated with some catch phrase. (You may have already read my comments about Miss Holladay's trigonometry class.)  Mrs. Baker was no different.  Early in the class year, she was explaining some theoretical concept and asked us to consider an "amorphous mass".  Most of us had no idea what "amorphous" meant,  but we did know that it sounded very funny. Stand-up comedians know that there are certain phonetic sounds which are intrinsically funny to the human ear. They strive to build comedy routines around such sounds. "Amorphous" seems to be one of those sounds, not unlike "doofus" or Phoebus, which also gives me the giggles whenever I say or hear it, especially if you put a bit of a lisp on the final "s".  So, the combination of "amorphous" and "mass'"was almost more than I could bear.  When you consider that I was sitting next to Jimmy Brinkley '65, another class clown, well we almost fell out of our chairs laughing. 

Once Jimmy and I learned that we could have some fun here, we decided that we would have some fun here. We observed that Mrs. Baker either ignored or was oblivious to the students' reaction to "amorphous mass" and other things we found to be funny, so Jimmy and I decided to, as Emeril says, "kick it up a notch". We embarked on a program of psyops (military-speak for psychological operations).  I can't recall exactly how it started, but it may have been that the windows were open in the early Fall, and we heard birds chirping. Taking that as our cue, we would randomly chirp and tweet throughout the class period. At a level nearly inaudible, one of us would say "chirp" followed some time later by a whistled (not spoken) "tweet" from the other.  It was almost subliminal.  She would think she had heard something and listen for another sound as corroboration; we made sure that the second sound did not happen.  After a while, we could run the whole thing all over again.  We heard it, and those sitting nearby heard it. It was difficult to stifle our giggles.

In retrospect, it was all so very infantile and unworthy of 15 and 16 year olds. But, hey, it was Chemistry. You really couldn't expect us to just sit there for an hour merely absorbing science. A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.

Perhaps Mrs. Baker was far more crafty than we gave her credit for being. (Carol, I was very tempted to end that sentence in a preposition, but just couldn't.) Perhaps she knew precisely what we were doing and knew that any reaction would have just made it worse.

- Dave Spriggs ('64) of VA - 05/09/03
Thanks, Dave!

NOTE: Dave's remark concerning grammatical construction refers to the fact that the two of us are among the very few people still alive who blanche at the thought of dangling participles. Dave credits Mrs. Cameron and Mrs. Wright for thorough grounding in sentence diagramming. I credit my parents, grandmother, and a trio of aunts who responded to incorrect grammar as something as serious as moral transgression.

- Carol Buckley Harty of NC - 05/10/03

Do you remember Paul Baker ('62) who lived at the corner of Chestnut Avenue and 18th Street in Stuart Gardens
His mom was the private school teacher for all of us born after September that got to 'skip' 1st grade by taking her 1st grade private school class.

- Craig Miller ('63) of FL - 01/09/04
Thanks, Craig!

Unlike Dave and Craig, my memories of Mrs. Baker and her E Period chemistry class my sophomore year - through no fault of hers - belong in the nightmare category.

I had no business being there in the first place.  I was only there because in the seventh grade at Walter Reed, I was a pet of Mrs. Forbes. That's a wonderfully heady experience, but I had no scientific aptitude, inclinations or skills whatsoever, nor have I acquired any in the last 40 years. Nevertheless, Mrs. Forbes, bless her heart, recommended me for advanced placement in the science program - so there I was. I never caught the vision of chemistry, and had not a clue what was happening. My only salvation was that I could memorize easily, if briefly (would that I still had that gift!). Back in those days, the grading system was much stiffer than our children and grandchildren unfortunately "enjoy" today. But by memorizing almost everything I need to know, I missed an A for the first six weeks by only one point. The next two grading periods I maintained that solid B average.  The comprehensive exam was another matter, of course. There was no way my brain could remember that much material, and I certainly didn't know it at all. So I earned a D on the exam, and that reduced my semester average to a C. Tsk, tsk.

And then came the second semester. In January of 1963, a variety of unpleasant and unrelated factors converged upon me, and I seemed to have suffered a delayed reaction to my father's death in April of 1960. I went into deep mourning, and refused to do much of anything - including studying or even attending school. My attendance record - or lack thereof - became legendary. Now, I could bluff my way through Mrs. Sturm's English 5-6 and Mr. Wilson's Band 5-6 (though I dropped rather ignominiously and embarrassingly to last chair flute), and even Mrs. Clark's French 3-4, but certainly not Mrs. Baker's chemistry 1-2. It didn't help that my lab partner suddenly decided he hated me, and began treating me very shabbily - to such an extent that the other students took notice and chastised him for it, but to no avail. (Mark that as one of Life's Great Mysteries; I never discovered the reason behind his abrupt change of attitude, as he refused to ever talk to me again.)

By this time, I still managed a B every marking period, but was obviously falling deeper and deeper into a large pit. When time came for the comprehensive exam in May, even though my mental health had somewhat improved, I was doomed. I knew nothing of chemistry - absolutely nothing. When she returned the exams, Mrs. Baker announced to the class that it was absolutely the worst exam she had seen in all her years of teaching.  With a straight B average, and such a tremendously spectacular F on the exam, she had no choice but to give me a D in the class, for my ignorance of the subject matter was wildly apparent.

I was grateful for the D. It meant I didn't have the repeat the awful experience.

- Carol Buckley Harty of NC - 01/31/04

...I will have to get in touch with David Spriggs also.  I haven't heard from Dave since chemistry class.  He has done a lot of research and provided some real good information. I was surprised to read my name as the class clown in his article on Mrs. Baker, our chemistry teacher.  I don't remember making the bird calls, but I do remember hooking up one of the girl's Bunsen burners to the water faucet.  I'm not sure, but I think it was Harriet Bolden.  When she turned it on it became a lawn sprinkler.  It was wonderful.  Mrs.. Baker, however, didn't think so.  Mrs.. Baker never punished me for any of those jokes and pranks.  She always treated me with kindness and patience.  I think she thought of me as her "Special" student...

- Jim Brinkley of IA - 03/11/04
Thanks, Jim!

As a 10th grader, I had no clue as to what I wanted to do with my life. (Did any of us?) Then came Mrs. Baker's Chemistry class. Her slightly scatter-brained, klutzy way of doing things (and that IS meant lovingly) gave those of us who tended to be class clowns plenty of chances to cut up.

However, her obvious enthusiasm for chemistry was infectious, and I fell in love with the subject, ending up with A's. I went on to get a degree in Chemistry from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, and worked in the field full-time until 1987. I still do consulting work in that area. So I am eternally grateful to her for the spark she lit in me.

One of the most satisfying moments of my life came a few years back, when I visited someone at Riverside Hospital. I stopped at the front desk to get their room number, and there was Mrs. Baker doing volunteer work, manning the front desk!  That was the first I had seen or heard of her since I left NNHS in 1958. I chatted with her a few minutes, and got the chance to personally thank her for what she had done for me. She got rather teary-eyed, and to be honest, so did I. I am so very happy and thankful that I got the chance to do that, for she truly was the one teacher who made the biggest difference in my life.

- Ronald T. Miller
Class of 1959 (but moved away in 1958) - 06/07/04
WOW! How wonderful - for both of you! Thanks so much, Ron!
I also had Mrs. Baker for chemistry. My memory of chemistry class is that I sat in front of Willard Robbins ('62) and was in love with him the entire year! He would pull my hair or tickle me or do something to get a reaction and then I would get in trouble with Mrs. Baker...she never seemed to catch on that he was the instigator... but once or twice she would call on him and start by saying something like, "Mr. Robbins, if you can kindly take your attention away from the lady in front of you..." and of course he did not know the answer so I was gleeful.

- Jean Poole Burton ('64) of RI - 07/21/04
Giggles!  Thanks, Jean!
Wayyyyy back on 11 March 2004, Jim Brinkley replied to my entry of 9 May 2003 concerning our subliminal bird call plot against Mrs. Baker's sanity.

He wrote, in part: "I was surprised to read my name as the class clown in his article on Mrs. Baker, our chemistry teacher. I don't remember making the bird calls ......"

His amnesia about this has always gnawed at me for some reason, and now I know why. While looking through my 1963 Anchor at the written entries on final page, I came across this:
C'mom, Jim. 'Fess up. The statute of limitations on this has long expired.

- Dave Spriggs ('64) of VA - 05/19/07
Thanks, Dave!  AHA!!!  You are exonerated!

And it gets even better. I now have confirmation that our cohort in crime was none other than James Smith '65.
And .... it gets even better than that. Mr. Brinkley had THIS to say in my 1964 Anchor:
BTW, the "Scrouch/Scrooch" in Brinkley's entries refer to a sort of "gang" identity word which we used. The use of that word tells me that Jay Bluxome ('64) was somehow involved in all this. Now, as for the "Woodchucks", even my recollection is foggy, but I believe that it was the informal group name for the "Make Baker Crazy Club" in her Chemistry class.

Anyway, Mr. Brinkley's memory of this affair was so vivid that he mentioned it in not one, but two Anchors ... the last a full two years after the event.

- Dave Spriggs ('64) of VA - 05/20/07
WILD GIGGLES!!! Thanks again, Dave!

And to complete the page, here is her obit from the DP:

Daily Press - Newport News, Va.
Date: Nov 10, 1999

Mrs. Virginia Lee Baker, 89, died Tuesday, Nov. 9, 1999. A native of Cape Charles, she was the daughter of O.V. and Ruth Tilghman.

Mrs. Baker graduated from Randolph Macon Women's College and was a teacher in the Newport News school system for 31 years. She was a member of Chestnut Memorial Methodist Church and was actively involved in the Clyde Smith Sunday School Class, the United Methodist Women and the Live Wires. She spent many years as a volunteer at Riverside Hospital and was a docent at The Mariners' Museum. She was also a member of the Newport News Women's Club, the Alpha Chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma and the Retired Teachers Association.

Mrs. Baker was preceded in death by her husband, Lloyd M. Baker. Survivors include her daughter, Nancy Cooper, and her husband, Lawrence, of Gloucester Point; her son, Paul Douglas Baker of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; four grandchildren, Tray Cooper of Hampton, Stacy Bowman of Quinton, and Hilliary and Katie Baker of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; and three great-grandchildren, Cory, Courtney and Zachary.

The family will receive friends Wednesday, Nov. 10, from 7 to 8 p.m. at Peninsula Funeral Home. A graveside service will be conducted at 10 a.m. on Thursday by the Rev. Rudy Tucker and the Rev. Rita Staul in Peninsula Memorial Park.

Memorial contributions may be made to Chestnut Memorial United Methodist Church, 1024 Harpersville Road, Newport News, Va. 23601.

- Dave Spriggs ('64) of VA - 05/20/07
WOWZERONI! Thanks once more, Dave!

Mrs. Virginia Baker was the mother of my childhood friend Paul ('62). Her husband, Lloyd, was an owner of Tidewater Hardware. In the summer following my 15th birthday,
after I had my driver license, I took a summer job at Tidewater Hardware as a delivery boy and all around helper. They had a 1930 something Dodge stake body truck
and a new Plymouth station wagon. I never worked harder in my life except in Marine boot camp at Parris Island, which was a whole other level of hard.
But it was a very good summer; my first summer of adulthood, I think. Science was one of my favorite subjects and I enjoyed it. Do we do well in things we enjoy
or do we enjoy the things we do well. It's a "chicken and egg" question but, whichever it is, I did well in her Science and Chemistry classes.
She was a good teacher and a kind person who suffered tragedy in her life and overcame it.

- Mark Van Noy ('62) of TX - 06/16/16
Thanks, Mark!


Love Potion Number Nine

(The Clovers)

I took my troubles down to Madame Rue
You know that gypsy with the gold-capped tooth
She's got a pad down on Thirty-Fourth and Vine
Sellin' little bottles of Love Potion Number Nine
told her that I was a flop with chicks
been this way since 1956
She looked at my palm and she made a magic sign
She said "What you need is Love Potion Number Nine"
She bent down and turned around and gave me a wink
She said "I'm gonna make it up right here in the sink"
smelled like turpentine, it looked like Indian ink
held my nose, I closed my eyes, I took a drink
didn't know if it was day or night
started kissin' everything in sight
But when I kissed a cop down on Thirty-Fourth and Vine
broke my little bottle of Love Potion Number Nine
held my nose, I closed my eyes, I took a drink
didn't know if it was day or night
started kissin' everything in sight
had so much fun that I'm goin back again
wonder what'll happen with "Love Potion #10"
Love Potion Number Nine
Love Potion Number Nine
Love Potion Number Nine

"There are three principal means of acquiring
knowledge . . . observation of nature, reflection, and
experimentation. Observation collects facts; reflection
combines them; experimentation verifies the result of that

-- Denis Diderot, editor of the first modern Encyclopedia

(This quotation courtesy of Kevin Eikenberry
of http://www. - 02/17/04.
Thanks, Kevin!)

"Love Potion Number Nine" midi courtesy of
 at the suggestion of Dave Spriggs ('64) of VA - 06/18/04
Thanks, Dave!

"Love Potion Number Nine" lyrics courtesy of,
also at the suggestion of Dave Spriggs ('64) of VA - 06/18/04
Thanks again, Dave!

Laboratory clip art courtesy of - 12/04/03

Birth and Death Dates courtesy of the Social Security Death Index via Dave Spriggs ('64) of VA - 11/02/03
Thanks, Dave!

Divider Line clip art courtesy of - 03/12/04

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