Those who knew Leslie Baker say she was a kind-hearted soul who made friends everywhere she went. She had seemingly limitless energy and an unparalleled drive to make sure that those around her were well cared for.
“She was just a woman of grace who was selfless and great at connecting people together,” longtime friend Buzz Kolbe said. “She was a go-to person. Her follow-through was outstanding and she always made sure things were happening.”
Leslie was shot and killed Monday night in her car as she was talking on the phone in her own driveway. Two days later, Dallas Police arrested a 16-year-old in connection with the killing. Few details have been released and the investigation remains ongoing.
Buzz had drinks with Leslie and her sister last Friday. The two shared stories and reminisced about past adventures together. Despite their busy schedules they made it a point to get together several times a year. Above all, he said he will remember her as a dear friend who was never judgmental. She was someone he trusted and often confided in.
According to Buzz, Leslie was passionate about nonprofit work and helping those in her life. She devoted time to several organizations in both Dallas and Plano. A few years ago when a friend’s husband died of pancreatic cancer, she immediately set out to do fundraising for that cause. Once when Buzz had knee surgery, it was Leslie who showed up unannounced with some lasagna from Maggiano’s. This despite the fact that he decided not to have the procedure done at the hospital where Leslie worked.
“She didn’t say a word about not going to her place. It was all about friendship. Friendships came first,” he said.
As a professional, Buzz says that Leslie was a “networking extraordinaire” who would often represent her company at various events. For the better part of the past 25 years, Leslie worked for Texas Health Services, serving as marketing director of Texas Health Center for Diagnostics & Surgery since 2007. She was also marketing director of Texas Health Presbyterian in Plano for nine years.
Catherine Bywaters worked with her for much of that time. She first met Leslie when she was coordinating a tennis tournament and awards banquet at Brook Hollow Golf Club. Nearly two years later when Leslie started her job in Plano, she reached out to Catherine to reconnect.
“She never forgot somebody that she met. That’s the kind of person she was,” Catherine said. “She was very much focused on making connections but in a positive way, not in a way that she was going to use you.”
At work, Catherine recalled that Leslie was exceptional at her job and could always identify an angle that would lead to a great opportunity or creative solution. She had an uncanny ability to pull people in and find new ways to engage. A couple weeks ago, the two got together for a small, socially distant happy hour with mutual friends. It was Catherine’s first social outing beyond work and family in months.
“She was great at building relationships and connecting people,” Catherine said. “She was so willing to help people, never expecting anything in return.”
For nearly a decade of Leslie’s time with Texas Health, Phil Wentworth served as the president and CEO of Texas Health Plano, formerly known as Presbyterian Hospital of Plano. He recalled that while Leslie held a traditional marketing role, she became involved with nearly every aspect of the hospital.
“I think she knew probably every employee at the hospital by name,” he said. “She was engaging and had a true interest in our employees’ well-being.”
Phil also credits Leslie with doing an outstanding job at community outreach, helping to build positive relationships with people at city hall. One of those was City of Plano Director of Communications and Community Outreach Shannah Hayley. She said Leslie had a unique ability to make everyone feel special. According to Shannah, Leslie assumed that everyone she met was already a friend. That’s probably because they would be by the time their first conversation ended.
“I am not sure I’ve ever known anyone like her and doubt I’ll have the opportunity to meet anyone like her again,” Shannah said. “Leslie was the human equivalent of the aurora borealis: Colorful, magical, inspiring and unforgettable.”
Leslie’s community outreach extended beyond her professional responsibilities. Despite being a Dallas resident, she took an active role in the Plano community. Local writer Mary Jacobs met Leslie through Mary’s husband Steve Lavine who was in the Leadership Plano program with Leslie. When Steve had a heart attack a few years later, Leslie showed up unannounced, bearing flowers and a heart-healthy cookbook.
“Not very long afterwards I met of friend of hers, and we just kind of said, ‘That’s Leslie. She’s everywhere,’” Mary recalled. “I don’t know how she knew so fast or how she found the time to get over there and have these flowers and a cookbook ready.”
According to Mary, almost everyone that knew Leslie has a similar story of her showing up with a kind gesture, a gift or just something nice to stay. When Mary released a book, Leslie insisted that she have a release party and coordinated all of the planning.
“It’s just kind of hard to wrap your head around that she’s not with us anymore,” Mary said. “She left so suddenly and it was so senseless.”
Plano ISD Education Foundation Executive Director Jamee Jolly served as the president of the Chamber of Commerce for many years. She recalled that during her time there, Leslie always had great ideas and was willing to try new things. She once arranged for Chamber members to witness a surgery, a definite change of pace from the typical breakfast meeting with a speaker.
According to Jamee, walking into a room with Leslie was an exciting experience. Whether it was a business meeting or a social function, she made sure you were introduced to everyone in the room. If she thought someone could help you, she would go out of her way to connect you with that person.
“She just had a unique, interesting personality with a great sense of humor,” Jamee said. “She will be missed.”
Over the past week many others who knew Leslie have paid tribute to her on social media, looking back at the good times while also trying to make sense of such an unfathomable situation. Their sentiment can probably best be summed up by Buzz who is still trying to come to terms with what has happened.
“I’ve always said that anyone’s replaceable, but Leslie is not replaceable.”