How Hank Aaron used his legendary status to help others

In 2015, baseball legend Hank Aaron and his wife, Billye Suber Aaron, announced a $3 million gift to Morehouse School of Medicine to expand the Hugh Gloster Medical Education building and create the Billye Suber Aaron Student Pavilion. The gift was presented during the school’s 40th anniversary and 31st fall convocation, white coat and pinning ceremony. (Courtesy of Morehouse School of Medicine)
In 2015, baseball legend Hank Aaron and his wife, Billye Suber Aaron, announced a $3 million gift to Morehouse School of Medicine to expand the Hugh Gloster Medical Education building and create the Billye Suber Aaron Student Pavilion. The gift was presented during the school’s 40th anniversary and 31st fall convocation, white coat and pinning ceremony. (Courtesy of Morehouse School of Medicine)

Credit: Morehouse School of Medicine

Credit: Morehouse School of Medicine

Beloved Braves legend was dedicated to philanthropic efforts

The ballroom at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis was packed the night Hank Aaron celebrated his 75th birthday. Former President Bill Clinton was there, as were former Gov. Roy Barnes, former Atlanta Mayors Andrew Young and Shirley Franklin and former Braves owner Ted Turner.

“Hank has been the perfect role model for me, on the field and off the field,” Braves player turned commentator Brian Jordan said that night in February 2009. “This is the guy I wanted to be.”

While Aaron was the star of the show, the event was in fact about helping others. The celebration that drew a capacity crowd of sports, business and political leaders benefited Aaron’s Chasing the Dream Foundation, known for providing 44 grants each year to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

“It’s wonderful to see him in the second half of his life working with young people to give them opportunities that, quite frankly, he didn’t have,” Franklin said of the Braves’ beloved No. 44 that night.

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It’s the kind of story those in Atlanta’s philanthropic circles love to share. Long after his jersey was retired, Hammerin’ Hank was still swinging for the fences in the name of charity.

“Hank Aaron was more than just the home run king,” said Tommy Dortch, who served as chairman of 100 Black Men of Atlanta before becoming chairman of 100 Black Men of America. “He was a phenomenal humanitarian. He was a civil rights leader and he always fought for the rights of others. In addition to that, he was committed to seeing young people succeed by having their dreams and helping them to become reality.”

Billye and Hank Aaron and Andrew and Carolyn Young are shown at a past Mayor's Masked Ball. In the center is Justine Boyd, regional development director for the Atlanta region of UNCF. (Courtesy of UNCF)
Billye and Hank Aaron and Andrew and Carolyn Young are shown at a past Mayor's Masked Ball. In the center is Justine Boyd, regional development director for the Atlanta region of UNCF. (Courtesy of UNCF)

Credit: UNCF

Credit: UNCF

Berry College President Steve Briggs was among the many leaders mourning Aaron in a spirit of gratitude.

“We are grateful to his Chasing the Dream Foundation, which in partnership with Berry College supporters, provides scholarships to deserving students, who might not otherwise be able to experience Berry’s distinctive education,” Briggs said. “Like Martha Berry, Hank and Billye Aaron brought to life a vision for helping children and young people achieve their dreams.”

The Aarons invested more than $2 million over the years in endowments and scholarships to Atlanta Technical College, which officials there say has resulted in an economic impact of about $10 million to the school. Through the couple, the college has eight endowed scholarships of $1,000 to $1,500 each semester along with funding up to $600 each to 12-20 students per semester who need a little help paying their tuition.

The couple hosted events at their southwest Atlanta home where culinary students honed their skills. In many ways, Aaron saw himself in the students, many of whom grew up in neighborhoods nearby.

“He always said he was trying to give back to his community and people who look like him,” said the college’s president, Victoria Seals.

The college last year renamed its academic complex after Hank Aaron as part of an 86th birthday party celebration for the legend.

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From left to right: Atlanta Technical College President Victoria Seals, Hank Aaron and his wife, Billye Aaron, watch as the school renames its academic complex after him in February 2020. The couple donated several million dollars for student scholarships and endowments. (Courtesy of Atlanta Technical College)
From left to right: Atlanta Technical College President Victoria Seals, Hank Aaron and his wife, Billye Aaron, watch as the school renames its academic complex after him in February 2020. The couple donated several million dollars for student scholarships and endowments. (Courtesy of Atlanta Technical College)

The Aarons’ philanthropic efforts over the years have also benefited institutions such as the Morehouse School of Medicine and the UNCF Mayor’s Masked Ball Atlanta.

Over the years, the couple donated $4.2 million to the Atlanta-based medical school, said Bennie L. Harris, senior vice president for the Office of Institutional Advancement for the Morehouse School of Medicine.

That included $3 million donated to Morehouse School of Medicine as part of an expansion of academic facilities at the Atlanta institution. The gift helped fund an expansion of the Hugh Gloster Medical Education building and created the Billye Suber Aaron Student Pavilion, which opened in 2017.

Hank and Billye Aaron co-chaired the Morehouse School of Medicine annual golf tournament in June 2009. They are seen here with then-President Dr. John E. Maupin Jr., who has since retired. (Courtesy of Morehouse School of Medicine)
Hank and Billye Aaron co-chaired the Morehouse School of Medicine annual golf tournament in June 2009. They are seen here with then-President Dr. John E. Maupin Jr., who has since retired. (Courtesy of Morehouse School of Medicine)

Credit: Morehouse School of Medicine

Credit: Morehouse School of Medicine

Aaron believed very strongly in the importance of giving back and was particularly interested in helping students from the Mobile, where he grew up,” said Harris, who said the legend was particularly interested in the issue of health care.

During their conversations, Aaron talked about “how blessed he had been to achieve the things he had achieved and felt a responsibility to give back.”

To the world, Aaron was a “baseball giant,” Harris said in a statement. “To Morehouse School of Medicine, he was also a wonderful advocate, philanthropist, businessman and friend. “

“He was the epitome of grace and generosity. A true icon,” said Jack Sawyer, partner and managing director at Cresset Capital Management, a past honorary co-chair of the Mayor’s Masked Ball. “Hank and Billye were imbued with a commitment to service of others. Hank was, of course, fiercely competitive on the field. Off the field, he had a reputation for caring and doing for others.”

Legendary Events Tony Conway shared happy memories of Aaron from events through the years.

“We were honored to be a part of The Hank Aaron Foundation Gala at the Delta Flight Museum; I loved hearing Mr. Aaron speak about his passion for the kids,” said Conway. “I was equally honored when producing The Tyler Perry Studios’ Grand Opening for 850 guests and hearing that Mr. Aaron would be accompanied by his grandson. It was so great seeing him and Mrs. Aaron again and meeting their grandson.”

Longtime public relations pro Bob Hope was also involved with the foundation’s benefit at the flight museum.

“Hank and Billye are literally the most giving people I ever met,” he said. “Their dedication to their scholarship program to give youngsters a chance to pursue their talents was very pure and honest.”

Jack Sawyer and the Aarons at a Mayor's Masked Ball. Photo credit: UNCF
Jack Sawyer and the Aarons at a Mayor's Masked Ball. Photo credit: UNCF

Credit: Photo provided to the AJC

Credit: Photo provided to the AJC

Former Mayor and former U.N. Ambassador Young said in an interview that Aaron probably helped more than 2,000 young people through various philanthropic efforts.

“He probably gave more money away since his baseball days helping young people continue their dreams, develop their dreams than the money he made in baseball,” Young said.

Andrew Young and Hank Aaron at a past Mayor's Masked Ball. (Courtesy of UNCF)
Andrew Young and Hank Aaron at a past Mayor's Masked Ball. (Courtesy of UNCF)

Credit: UNCF

Credit: UNCF

Sometimes, Aaron’s efforts on behalf of youths took on a fun and casual tone.

“He came on air with me and I brought in a Black youth baseball team. They were about 8 years old,” recalled longtime Atlanta broadcaster Frank Ski. “He spent so much quality time with them talking about everything. It was very special.”

Glenda Hatchett, the founder of The Hatchett Firm, admired Aaron as a dedicated civic supporter over the years. The two headlined the Atlanta Bar Association’s “Celebrating Service” luncheon, held at The Temple in October 2008.

“I called upon Mr. Aaron numerous times to support our efforts to rehabilitate and inspire our children. He always answered the call,” said Hatchett, who starred in television shows “Judge Hatchett” and “The Verdict With Judge Hatchett.” “I thank Mr. Aaron for his tremendous work and generosity to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America during my tenure as a national board member. What a miraculous hero on and off the field. His work and commitment to young people will live on for generations to come.”

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