Mallette Parry leaves Thursday for the annual International Nanny Association (INA) conference, this year in fun-centric Las Vegas.
Parry does hope to have fun and bring home fresh ideas to entertain her three young charges. But it'll be tough without Lori.
Lori Baker, Parry's close friend and fellow nanny for nearly a decade, was found dead in her apartment in Oakdale on Dec. 28, 2011, stabbed multiple times. Her car and credit cards were used after her death.
Thomas J. Fox, who has a long criminal record, was charged with first-degree murder in April. He and Baker, 39, had dated briefly.
Despite the horror, Parry and Baker's family are hopeful that their friend, daughter and sister will be remembered for how the committed child advocate lived, not how she died. So they were deeply touched to learn about a scholarship established by two nanny groups in Baker's name.
Enough money has been raised, in fact, by Twin Cities Professional Nannies (TCPN) and the now-defunct National Association of Nannies to offer two Lori Baker Memorial Scholarships to the INA conference, May 3-6.
"It means a lot to us that Lori's memory will be carried on and, hopefully, inspire others," said Baker's father, Paul, noting that his daughter was a devoted Christian.
"We want Lori to be remembered as the loving, beautiful person she was, and not as just another victim in a newspaper headline."
Parry is working hard to get past the headlines, but she's still close to tears when talking about losing her friend. The two met as nannies with similarly aged children many years ago.
"We had a lot of interests in common. We love kids. We had that, I don't know, that connection that you find," said Parry, 41, of North St. Paul.
Baker was reserved until you got to know her, Parry said. They enjoyed doing craft projects, seeing movies or walking to Dairy Queen. Baker also bowled in a league in Apple Valley.
Last May, the two women spent a weekend at a Wisconsin water park, which was a nice respite from their nanny duties. "We would probably have done it again this year," Parry said. "All these things I wish we could have done."
Baker loved nothing more than children, Parry said. She worked for the same family for nine years, something Parry found wonderful. "She was always thinking about what we could do for the kids," Parry said. "The kids loved her as much as she loved them."
Parry knew that Baker had been seeing someone. "She seemed really excited. That day [Dec. 28], we were going to have a play date and I was going to be nosy. 'Tell me about this guy.' Obviously, that didn't happen."
Parry texted Baker that she was on her way to Baker's employer's home in Afton for the play date and was surprised, then increasingly concerned, when she got no reply. Baker always texted back with a quick 'k.' Parry knocked on the door repeatedly.
"My first thought was that maybe she stayed up at her parents, or maybe she had an extra day off."
Parry called her boss to share her concerns, then headed with her kids to an indoor playground. She learned that night that Baker was dead.
Baker met Fox, who had been in and out of prison for years on robbery and drug charges, after he escaped from a halfway house. When Baker learned about his past, she broke up with him.
More than 200 nannies from around the world are expected at the three-day conference, said Becky Kavanagh, who sits on INA's executive board. The conference allows nannies to brainstorm educational and service projects, as well as find kinship with others devoting their professional lives to children.
Scholarship winner Julie Martinson, 41, of Forest Lake, is "really excited" to be able to attend her first international conference, especially in such a personal way. She met Baker through TCPN and "had her in mind when I was writing my essay. I really wanted it," she said. "I felt I was honoring her."
The other winner hails from Illinois. Kavanagh said the winners, and all attendees, will remember Baker during the conference "for giving 110 percent to every family." Parry hopes to return from Las Vegas recharged and ready to give the same. "It's going to be hard, but I know she would want me to gain as much as I can out of it and have fun," Parry said.
"She would want me to not feel sorry that she's gone."
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