Billy-Ace Penguin Baker
Billy-Ace Baker passed away at home from esophageal cancer on July 3, 2022. He was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in 1936 and lived there until he joined the U.S. Navy at age 18. He was trained as a communications technician and started in submarine service before being assigned to winterover with the Seabees at McMurdo Station, Antarctica in 1962. He liked the winterover duty so much, he volunteered to go back in 1966, 1970, and 1974. He subsequently returned to serve in Antarctic summer seasons from 1975-80. His primary duties involved handling message traffic, including official Navy traffic, communications with remote science camps and relaying weather information from U.S. and foreign Antarctic stations. He also managed the amateur radio phone patches for people at McMurdo.
Billy-Ace was a contributor to the McMurdo SomeTimes, a locally produced newsletter for McMurdo personnel. He wrote a regular column of Antarctic news and history, as well as gossip and stories of interest to the McMurdo contingent.
He handled radio communications during the response and recovery after Air New Zealand Flight 901 crashed into Mt. Erebus in 1979, for which he received a Navy Commendation Medal.
In retirement, Billy-Ace was a founding member of the Old Antarctic Explorers Association (OAEA). His dedication to that group is legendary. He edited the group's Explorers Gazette newsletter and participated in the Board of Directors until his passing. His newsletters -- which often ran 40 pages or more - were chock full of articles, mail from members, OAEA chapters news, obituaries and biennial coverage of the OAEA Reunions.
He was a bit eccentric in charming ways. He legally changed his name to "Billy-Ace Penguin Baker" and appeared at the courthouse for the ceremony in an outfit that closely resembled a penguin. He loved to tell stories, but it was seldom clear how much truth there was in them. It didn't really matter because they were such good stories. His home was virtually an Antarctic museum, filled with an extensive library of Antarctic books, various Antarctic memorabilia, and thousands of toy penguins of every conceivable size and variety.
Billy-Ace was close to his family and doted on his grandchildren. His daughter Kerry and other family and friends were with him in his final hours.
The Antarctic community has suffered a great loss. He will be long remembered.
We were in touch for many years, beginning with the first OAEA reunions in the early 2000s. He wintered 4 times at McMurdo, in 1963, 1967, 1971, and 1975, as well as summer seasons between 1976 and 1980. He never traveled to Pole, although he did notice, grab, and share with me a few bits of my message traffic when I was managing Pole in 1976-77.
This obituary and photo is from an obituary by Tom Henderson shared in the July 2022 Antarctican Society newsletter.