Hank Aaron: A man of the people

Carla Brooks
Carla Brooks

Credit: Courtesy Carla Brooks

Credit: Courtesy Carla Brooks

Fans share their personal stories of the baseball hero and everyman

Atlanta lost a legend last Friday when Hank Aaron died in his Atlanta home at the age of 86.

Though one of the greatest baseball players ever, a Hall of Famer, he also was much more.

A neighbor. A friend. A supporter. A regular guy, who never refused a photograph, autograph or handshake.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked fans of Aaron to send their photos and stories of their encounters with him.

Carla Brooks shared a photo that shows Aaron surrounded by kids, including her children Russell and Mandy Brooks.

“This was a photo op that my sister-in-law, Claudia D’Avanzo, arranged,” Brooks said. “It was with one of the organizations that Hank Aaron supported. I believe it was the Boys Club. He was truly a great man, both on and off the field.

Here are some others, which have been edited for space and clarity when necessary.

Brittany Mackey: A gasp

Brittany Mackey
Brittany Mackey

Credit: Courtesy Brittany Mackey

Credit: Courtesy Brittany Mackey

I was headed to Cooperstown for (Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz’s) induction. I walked on the plane and gasped when I saw Hank Aaron already seated on the plane. I asked to take a pic with him. He was kind, friendly and ever the gentleman.

I thanked him for his life and legacy, both on and off the field, and moved on. I saw him again on the way back to Atlanta. He asked me how I enjoyed Cooperstown. He told me to have a nice flight back and off we went. I’ll never forget it.

Len Roberts: Support through tragedy

Len Roberts
Len Roberts

Credit: Courtesy Len Roberts

Credit: Courtesy Len Roberts

My friendship with Hank spans over 35 years. We have been in business together, been together with our families, at birthdays and weddings, and on vacations. And yes, we have supported each other through tragedies. I will never forget the time when Hank gave Laurie and me the strength while our daughter, Dawn, was fighting for her life.

As a pedestrian, Dawn was hit by a drunk driver and sustained horrific injuries. Hank made sure that the ICU hospital staff were giving her the best of care. Yeah, a few signed baseballs helped the cause. Not a few..... MANY!

Princess Wilkes: A steak man

Princess Wilkes
Princess Wilkes

Credit: Courtesy Princess Wilkes

Credit: Courtesy Princess Wilkes

I met Hank Aaron in late 2010 while working for a media research firm as a field interviewer. Unbeknownst to me, the work led me directly to his home. Shocked when I saw him, he was very gracious and said come back tomorrow when he had more time. The next day, we had so much fun conducting the interview that he invited me to come back.

Over the next week or so, he showed me some of the souvenirs he had collected around the world in his beautiful home, gave me a tour of his Atlanta Braves office at Turner Field and took me to lunch at Ted’s Montana Grill downtown. He’s a steak man. All this time, we never talked baseball. We talked about our families and hometowns, our mutual past employment at CNN, our entrepreneurial spirits and, believe it or not, my hopes and dreams.

The last time I saw him is when he said to come visit him in the hospital after foot surgery. His schedule and travel became busy again, and there was no more time for me. But I will never forget the span I spent with the great Hank Aaron, getting to know the man.

Ellen Weaver Hartman: Taking his time

Ellen Weaver Hartman
Ellen Weaver Hartman

Credit: Courtesy Ellen Weaver Hartman

Credit: Courtesy Ellen Weaver Hartman

I had the pleasure and honor of working with Hank Aaron for the past 25-plus years. I traveled with Hank all over the country, promoting the Arby’s RBI Awards program, opening up his restaurants for Arby’s, Church’s and Popeyes, including an Arby’s in Sheboygan, Wisconsin that was attended by his teammates from the Milwaukee Braves, attending the MLB Awards ceremonies, hosting Olympic baseball teams at his home in 1996, and so many galas and events.

On one trip, Hank and I went for a run near the hotel, and I asked him if he could pick up the pace a bit. Hank said to me, “That’s why I hit so many home runs, I wanted to take my time around the bases. I didn’t have to be fast.” Hank taught me how to live with humility and grace.

Maynard Holbrook Jackson III: Always there

Maynard Holbrook Jackson III
Maynard Holbrook Jackson III

Credit: Courtesy Maynard Jackson III

Credit: Courtesy Maynard Jackson III

Some of my earliest memories center around being taken to Braves baseball games to watch him play and the relationship my parents had with the Aarons. We all lived in southwest Atlanta only minutes from each other and growing up in Atlanta back then felt like the America Dr. King must have dreamed about.

I grew up playing baseball at Adams Park. Just a short distance from where Hank and Billye still have their family home. I remember the excitement of when Mr. Aaron made history, breaking Babe Ruth’s record. It was a huge deal in my home. My father and I were there. My mother was giddy with excitement as well. My maternal grandfather, Burnalle “Bun” Hayes, had played in the Negro Leagues for the Jacksonville Red Caps, Baltimore Black Sox, the Brooklyn Dodgers Negro League, so the love for baseball and baseball players is imprinted into my DNA. Watching Mr. Aaron play as a child fueled pure joy for me.

Even beyond Mr. Aaron as a baseball player, he and his wife, Billye have remained cheerleaders for my endeavors. Most recently, when my wife, Wendy, and I decided to make the documentary, “Maynard,” about my father, it was Billye and Hank that made the very first donation to get us started. They recognized that my father’s story needed to be told and, in their usual fashion, they supported us.

I always found it encouraging that Mr. Aaron had huge successes in life and could have chosen to live anywhere in the world and, yet, he chose to remain in southwest Atlanta, the community where he knew he had always been protected, loved and respected. Not pretentious and always humble, he kept his friends and family close.

Diane Loupe: A test drive

Daniel Easley
Daniel Easley

Credit: Courtesy DIANE LOUPE:

Credit: Courtesy DIANE LOUPE:

When my son was about 10 years old, he read an ad in the newspaper that anyone who went down to the Hank Aaron BMW dealership and took a test drive would get an autographed copy of Mr. Aaron’s autobiography. Well, I loved my son, so I agreed to drive him down to Union City to get the book. When we got there, I confessed to the salesman that I wasn’t really in the market to buy a BMW, we really just wanted the book. The salesman smiled and asked if we’d like to meet Mr. Aaron.

He’s here? we asked, amazed. Yep, and the salesman led us into Mr. Aaron’s office where he shook my son’s hand and spoke to him briefly. I remember he had a chess set on his desk, and the king was Hank Aaron. My son remembers that Babe Ruth was the queen. He spent a few minutes giving my son a lifelong memory of one of the greats.

In fact, my son, Daniel Easley, now works for the Atlanta Braves as a graphic designer. Mr. Aaron was a class act. I mean, he didn’t have to spend his time on a kid and his mom who wasn’t going to buy a car. But he actually asked my son a few questions about baseball. It wasn’t just a perfunctory hello.

Mark Tolbert: Filling Hank’s shoes

Mark Tolbert
Mark Tolbert

Credit: Courtesy Mark Tolbert

Credit: Courtesy Mark Tolbert

As a 16-year-old growing up in Atlanta, I had a dream job. I was a batboy for the Atlanta Braves. Actually, I was batboy for the visiting team. Every team that came to Atlanta to play the Braves over the summer of 1967 had me as their batboy for their games. I wore their uniform, worked in the visiting clubhouse and rubbed shoulders with future Hall of Famers. I played pitch with Willie Mays!

One day, I arrived at the stadium and realized I had left my cleats at home. It was a few hours before game time, most players were not at the stadium yet, so I took the tunnel over to the Braves Clubhouse. I found my friend, the Braves batboy. He was also named Mark and was 16, same as me. I asked if he had an extra pair of cleats I could borrow. He led me over to his locker and offered me his spare pair. I asked, “What size are these?” “Size 8,” he said. “I need a size 10,” I said. “I can’t wear an 8!”

Someone was standing behind us overheard our conversation and said, “I have a pair of 10s you can borrow.” It was Hank Aaron! He took me over to his locker and loaned me a pair of his shoes to wear for the game that night, which I did.

Mark Tolbert
Mark Tolbert

Credit: Courtesy Mark Tolbert

Credit: Courtesy Mark Tolbert

I like to tell people, “I can fill Hank Aaron’s shoes!” I did ... one night ... for about four hours. After the game, I shined them and took them back.

To this day, it remains one of my best memories. He did not have to do that, but he did. He probably knew what it would mean to me. He may not have known it would be a story I would tell my grandchildren, 54 years later. One of them texted me this morning to tell me the news of his passing. I texted him back: “He was very kind to me 54 years ago! Be kind!”

Jaya Franklin: Getting his flowers

Jaya Franklin
Jaya Franklin

Credit: Courtesy Jaya Franklin

Credit: Courtesy Jaya Franklin

Georgia State University was honoring Mr. Aaron back in 2015 or 2016. I was doing communications for the event, and someone caught me getting a selfie with Mr. Aaron. I was excited to meet him. I knew I was in the presence of greatness. He had accomplished so much beyond baseball in his 86 years on this earth.

Regardless, he was so nice to me, and he took the time to allow me to take a picture of him with my phone. One thing I can say for sure is, he definitely got his flowers while he could still smell them, and that makes me smile.

Steve Allen: Presenting “The Legend”

Steve Allen
Steve Allen

Credit: Courtesy Steve Allen

Credit: Courtesy Steve Allen

On April 8, 1974, I was one of the countless millions watching television to see Hank Aaron break Babe Ruth’s unbreakable record. I was a 19 years old Black man, at the time just beginning to find his way in the world. When Mr. Aaron hit number 715, I jumped up and down with unbridled joy. A Black man had done what was considered impossible. He did it in spite of all the obstacles he faced, and I saw it happen from our living room in Raleigh.

At that time, I never dreamed I’d ever meet Mr. Aaron. But, 25 years later, on the anniversary of that momentous occasion, there I was presenting “The Legend” to “The Legend.” The event was the Chasing the Dream Foundation Gala, and Mr. Aaron’s 65th birthday celebration. I am hard-pressed to tell you exactly how I felt at that moment. I can say it was absolutely wonderful, I was on cloud 9.

This presentation of “The Legend” ranked with the unveiling of “Uniting Colors of the World,” the official mural I created for the 1996 Atlanta Centennial Olympic Games. To top it all off, “The Legend” now hangs in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. I can truly say Mr. Aaron had a profound effect on my life, first as a young Black male growing up in America and as an artist.

Seeing him and knowing his story, helped me realize I could accomplish great things too. This includes my work with the Olympics and with the Smithsonian Institution NMAAHC. Mr. Aaron blazed a path for me and others to follow, I was truly inspired by his humanity and greatness.”

Karvis Jones: A dream come true

Karvis Jones
Karvis Jones

Credit: Courtesy Karvis Jones

Credit: Courtesy Karvis Jones

I met Hank Aaron for the first time in June 2016, believe it or not. The only other time I was in the same room with him was on April 8, 2014, on the 40th anniversary where he broke Babe Ruth’s home run record, inside a suite at Turner Field. There were so many people in the suite that I only managed to shake hands with his teammate Dusty Baker.

It was a dream come true to meet Hank Aaron because he paved the way for me to enjoy the work that I do in sports broadcasting. As a young person growing up in Holly Springs, Mississippi, I read about Hank Aaron’s life in books and magazines, and he was one of my early sports heroes. I’m forever grateful for his life and legacy. Meeting Hank Aaron was my way of saying thank you for his courage and for giving back to the Atlanta community and the nation.

Delbert Jarmon: I cried

Delbert Jarmon, along with Herb Sellers, and Jarmon's son Mason Pickett at Duke University with Hank and Billye Aaron.
Delbert Jarmon, along with Herb Sellers, and Jarmon's son Mason Pickett at Duke University with Hank and Billye Aaron.

Credit: Courtesy Delbert Jarmon

Credit: Courtesy Delbert Jarmon

No huge story, but I was honored to go and meet Hank Aaron a few years ago when he came to Duke University in honor of having a building named after him and his wife, the Hank Aaron & Billye Williams Young Scholars Summer Research Institute.

I was allowed to bring several of my students and my son along with me to meet the legend. It was a very touching moment. I literally cried when I met him.

Add Seymour: A chance ride

Add Seymour
Add Seymour

Credit: Courtesy Add Seymour

Credit: Courtesy Add Seymour

I was working at Morehouse in communications on Commencement Sunday a few years ago. It was early, and I was driving a golf cart around to get myself prepared and not shuttling anybody around. But I had to stop at some point, and a woman came over to me and asked if I could give her father a ride to the main part of the campus for commencement.

The first thing I thought was, “Dang! I don’t want to get this started with people. That’s going to slow me down.” But something said, go ahead and do it. Who is going to say no anyway? So I said, “Sure.” She got on the back and, the next thing I know, Hank Aaron climbed into the seat next to me! I was sooooooo blown away and excited. I grew up a Hank Aaron fan. I read everything about him when I was a child. Besides Ali, Aaron was my first sports hero. He was a God to me. I told him that and about my grandfather and I watching him hit 715 when I was 7.

He was so gracious on that short ride and was thanking me. I was so blown away. I said, ‘No, thank you for everything.’

A couple of years later, at Morehouse’s Candle in the Dark Gala, I ran into him again. I said, ‘You remember me? I gave you a ride on my golf cart at Morehouse’s commencement.” He laughed and said, ‘I do!” I asked would he take a pic with me. This is the terrible cell phone pic I got.

Gregory White: Recognizing trailblazers

Red Moore
Red Moore

Credit: Courtesy Greg White

Credit: Courtesy Greg White

I was able to capture this historical picture of Hank Aaron and James “Red” Moore, a former Atlanta Black Cracker. Hank shared that, if it were not for players like Red Moore, he would never had the opportunity to play in the big leagues.

Hank showed a lot of class and a humble spirit as he took time to take pictures with everyone that evening.

Rose Scott: Look out for my mother

Rose Scott
Rose Scott

Credit: Courtesy Rose Sco

Credit: Courtesy Rose Sco

When you meet your heroes and sheroes, even as a journalist, the inner kid takes over and you can’t stop smiling, despite being in awe of someone you’ve always wanted to meet. That’s how I felt when I met Hank Aaron. Interestingly, at the time, I was still trying to find solid footing in this town as a journalist. I was on the path, albeit slow to my heart’s desire. I had a weekend job working the front desk at the Landmark Condominiums in downtown Atlanta.

Mr. Aaron’s mother lived in the building, and he always came by. We’d talk about sports — of course, baseball — and I bragged about my hometown St. Louis Cardinals. Our conversations were no longer than 10 minutes at a time, but he seemed impressed with my knowledge of the Negro Leagues, quite an honor coming from the Hammer. I remarked about the slow pace my career was taking. He told me to “hang in there” and keep striving. It’s kind of like baseball, he said. “But I want you to go beyond home plate. Keep striving.” And then, with a smile, he added, “And look out for my mother. Call me anytime.”

He gave me his number. I never called, just held onto a number written on the corner end of a torn sheet off a yellow notepad.

Fast forward years later, I’m a reporter and producer in the WABE newsroom. Public Broadcasting Atlanta sponsored a golf team in the annual Morehouse School of Medicine golf tournament, presented in partnership with Hank Aaron. Full disclosure, the PBA golf team consisted of employees who played golf, not golfers — there’s a difference. Before the tournament got underway, as I was taking practice swings, I spotted him.

And, when I went up to Mr. Aaron, he said, “Hey, I know you,” and we laughed. I proudly exclaimed where I was working and what I was doing, as if I was telling my own father. I wanted him to know how much I appreciated the encouraging words. Also, we both admitted golf was fun, but, clearly, we were better at other sports. I’ll never forget his kindness.

Mark Kahn: Unassuming

I grew up in Savannah and used to regularly attend Savannah Braves games in the ’70s and early ’80s as a kid. Savannah was then the AA affiliate of the Braves. In the early ’80s, I went to a Savannah game, and Hank Aaron was at the game in his front office capacity for the big club. I was about 12 years old.

Savannah Braves games were not particularly well-attended then, as the stadium (Grayson Stadium) was pretty rundown. It was unusual for attendance to exceed 1,000 on a non-giveaway night. As a result, Hank wasn’t getting a lot of attention.

I went up to him during the game and asked for his autograph, which he happily gave. Like I said, not much to the story — but I think it was pretty typical — just a generous and unassuming soul.

Fred Bundy: How about a beer?

Fred Bundy
Fred Bundy

Credit: Courtesy Fred Bundy

Credit: Courtesy Fred Bundy

I worked in the visiting clubhouse at Atlanta Stadium in 1969 and 1970. In addition to clubhouse duties, I was the left field ballboy in ’69 and batboy in ’70. I had several interactions with the Hammer. The most memorable for me was on the night the Braves won the division title in ’69. Despite our boss, Bill Acree, telling us kids after the game to stay in the visiting clubhouse and not go over to the Braves clubhouse.

I didn’t listen and went over anyway to witness the celebration. The Hammer was being interviewed at his locker by numerous reporters. He spotted me in my Braves uniform and asked if we still had beer in our clubhouse.

Apparently, the Braves had gone through theirs celebrating. I dashed over to the visiting clubhouse, washed out a milk jug and filled it with draft beer. I went out of the dugout and walked to where home plate had been (celebratory fans had dug it up), sat down and took a couple of swallows before proceeding back into the Braves clubhouse. I marched straight through the crowd to deliver the Hammer his request. He was very happy. However, I cannot say the same for my boss.

Dave Hamrin: ‘Hey Ham’

Dave Hamrin
Dave Hamrin

Credit: Courtesy Dave Hamrin

Credit: Courtesy Dave Hamrin

My dad was on a flight to Sarasota that Hank Aaron was on. He introduced himself and asked Hank if he’d help pull a prank on the guy who was picking my dad up at the airport. My dad told Hank that he and his friend were big baseball fans (true). He asked Hank Aaron to pretend that he and my dad were old friends.

Dad mentioned that his friends all called him “Ham” (also true.) Anyway, when my dad landed he told his friend that he had never mentioned it before, but he and Hank Aaron were old friends and that Hank was on the flight with my dad. My dad’s friend just shook his head in disbelief. But, as dad and his friend were picking up my dad’s luggage, they heard a booming voice yelling, “Hey, Ham! See you later, buddy!”

It was Hank Aaron, smiling and waving, just like an old friend would do. So, I’ve always thought Hank Aaron was a pretty great guy. My dad’s friend was quite impressed. My dad fessed up on the drive home.

Carolyn S. Carlson: ‘May I move your car?’

I’m a huge baseball fan, especially a Braves fan, and held Hank Aaron in awe. So, I was thrilled when Atlanta mayoral candidate Marvin Arrington told me Aaron was a neighbor and friend, and that he would vote for and with Arrington on voting day in the 1997 mayoral race. I was Arrington’s press secretary, so I contacted all the TV stations, and they dutifully showed up at the Cascade Road area polling place at 6:45 a.m.

We had arranged for Arrington to be the first to vote, and Aaron walked up a few minutes before the polls opened. Arrington was introducing him to me and others when a police officer came up to tell Aaron he had to move his car. It was parked illegally and blocking the emergency lane. This news came, of course, just as the poll manager was waving them in.

I jumped in front of them and asked, “May I move your car for you?” He looked at Arrington, who nodded, and with some relief, he handed me his keys. It was a very nice luxury car, a top-of-the-line BMW, if I remember correctly, so you can bet I drove very carefully to a legal parking place.

I ran back to the polling place door in time to watch the two emerge and to hand Aaron his keys. Ever the gentleman, he politely thanked me. I didn’t ask for an autograph, though I thought of it. But I’ve cherished the unusual encounter ever since.

Brad Gaines: A timely autograph

Brad Gaines
Brad Gaines

Credit: Courtesy Brad Gaines

Credit: Courtesy Brad Gaines

I grew up in middle Tennessee. I turned 13 in 1974 when he broke the home run record. I vividly remember listening to the Braves games on my little portable radio to see how many home runs Hank would hit each night. I laid in bed late at night many times, listening to their games when they were playing on the West Coast.

Fortunately, we were able to watch those April 1974 games on television when he tied and broke the record. Then I was fortunate enough to have my parents take me to “Hank Aaron Day” at Fulton County Stadium, in July 1974, where I got this poster.

Brad Gaines
Brad Gaines

Credit: Courtesy Brad Gaines

Credit: Courtesy Brad Gaines

I kept it rolled up nice and neat until 1987. That year, Mr. Aaron came to Nashville on one of his autograph tours, and I was lucky enough to meet him and have him sign my poster. He was without a doubt the most gracious person that I have ever met.

He let us take as many pictures as we wanted and even shook my hand! I will never forget that day.

Craig Camuso: An aura of royalty

Craig Camuso
Craig Camuso

Credit: Courtesy Craig Camuso

Credit: Courtesy Craig Camuso

I was almost 7 years old when I attended the Braves’ game on April 8, 1974, and witnessed history. My dad had secured us pretty good seats in the lower upper deck between the first base dugout and home plate to see Aaron break Babe Ruth’s home run record. Prior to that, but certainly afterward, began my fandom of the Hammer. I even had the 45 record “Move Over Babe, Here Comes Henry” that I played over and over and can still hum the song to this day.

I was able to meet Aaron for the first time in the early ’90s, when I attended a card show and got him to sign (along with Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle) a picture that I still have. It wasn’t a long conversation, as there were many others there also wanting an autograph, but he was just as gentle and modest as all the stories about his have been.

But it was the opening night of SunTrust Park that I was really able to meet him. Two friends and I had tickets to the game, which had a playoff-type atmosphere in the brand new ballpark. We knew there were several dignitaries in the owner’s box because one of the friends with us worked for someone who was seated there. We followed him down to the area and remained quiet while he convinced the bodyguards for Gov. Deal, President Carter and several others that he had been summoned down by his boss and we were with him.

They let us in. As we wandered into the box, seated in the back row over to the right was Aaron. As soon as I saw him, I forgot where I was and who else was in the box. I made an immediate beeline straight to Aaron. He kinda chuckled at me as I rambled on about being there as a kid when he hit 715 and that he was the real home run king and would it be OK if I could get a picture.

He obliged, and I handed my camera to one of the other friends and knelt beside him with that huge smile on my face that you see in the picture. He had the aura of royalty, not by the way he acted, but just by his sheer presence. He chatted with me for a couple of minutes before I realized I was keeping him from watching the game.

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