Virgil Hall Hodges, 77: Former football coach and executive was a ‘connector of people’

Virgil Hodges was a man in perpetual forward motion. He didn’t believe in wallowing in despair or discord.

Whether it was a disagreement between church members or dealing with the untimely death of his daughter, Hodges always looked for a way to move forward.

“He was a leader and had vision,” said Ruth A. Davis, former ambassador to the Republic of Benin. “He didn’t see problems, saw solutions.”

Friends and family members said Hodges would never dwell on the negative, but look for a path to progress.

“That was Virgil all of the way,” David Hodges, of New York, said of his brother. “And I think that approach is also characteristic of the Forward Atlanta campaign (in the late 1960s and early 1970s) in which he was nurtured and raised.”

Virgil Hall Hodges died Thursday of complications from cardiac-related amyloidosis. He was 77.

A service is planned for 11 a.m. Friday at Allen Temple A.M.E. Church, followed by burial at South-View Cemetery. Murray Brothers Funeral Home, Cascade Chapel, is in charge of arrangements.

Hodges was born in Atlanta, but spent most of his professional career in New York. After graduating from Morris Brown College in 1958 Hodges taught at Philander Smith College, where he also coached football, before moving on to the Big Apple.

In New York, Hodges earned a Master’s degree from New York University in social anthropology and served as an administrator of state and city agencies, including as a deputy commissioner of labor and as the executive director of the New York State Martin Luther King Jr. Institute for Nonviolence.

Hodges wasn’t shy about using his contacts in various levels of government if a worthy cause could benefit from the connection, his brother said.

“He was a bridge builder and a connector of people,” David Hodges said. “And he brought people together in unique ways.”

One of those ways was through the memory of Virgil and Verna Hodges’s only daughter. Ruth-Ercile L. Hodges, a 24-year-old Foreign Service officer, was killed in a car wreck near Washington on March 21, 1997. She was a Spelman graduate, and her parents decided to start a scholarship in her name, David Hodges said.

“Not only did they award the recipient the money, but they had an event and made it a point to introduce this young person to prominent people in the community,” Hodges said. “That’s the kind of thing Virgil would do. He wouldn’t hesitate to pick up the phone and call someone in New York to help someone in Atlanta.”

After Virgil Hodges retired, his brother said, he left New York behind and, with his wife Verna, made Atlanta his home once again. As soon he crossed the Georgia state line, he involved himself with several civic activities, including sitting on the board of trustees at Morris Brown.

“He had the option of staying in New York, but he wanted to return to his Atlanta roots,” David Hodges said. “He poured himself extensively into his retirement and life in Atlanta.”

In addition to his brother, Hodges is survived by his wife Verna Hodges and son Virgil A.T. Hodges III of Atlanta.