Billye Aaron reflects on her journey with Hank. ‘I was the lucky one’

The baseball Hall of Fame honored Hank Aaron with a statue in Cooperstown
Billye Aaron, Hank Aaron’s widow, looks at the statue as she speaks during the unveiling of the Hank Aaron statue by the grand staircase at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Cooperstown, NY. (Jason Getz / AJC)

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

Billye Aaron, Hank Aaron’s widow, looks at the statue as she speaks during the unveiling of the Hank Aaron statue by the grand staircase at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Cooperstown, NY. (Jason Getz / AJC)

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Billye Aaron was reliving memories of her late husband Henry “Hank” Aaron with an audience of friends and admirers. She grew emotional at times, pausing at moments to reflect and find the right words.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame unveiled a new bronze statue of Aaron’s likeness Thursday evening at a private event. The statue was placed at the Hall’s entrance, adjacent to the grand staircase leading into the exhibits.

Billye spoke for over 20 minutes during the ceremony, thanking family and friends, including hers and Aaron’s children, for being there to commend the Braves’ home run king. There also were numerous Hall of Famers attending, from Joe Torre to Ozzie Smith to Fergie Jenkins to Fred McGriff to Bud Selig.

“Thank you so much for coming this evening and thank you for loving Henry,” Billye said to the audience, fighting off some tears. “Henry was quiet, unassuming and often just downright not talkative (chuckles). He’d sit, I guess contemplating the next pitch. And Fergie, he was contemplating your pitch so he’d be ready when it came (laughter). And there were many times that when it came, he was ready, and I thank you.”

Billye hadn’t seen the statue until its unveiling. But she met sculptor William Behrends at her home, and he’d showed her photos. She was taken aback, she said, seeing it in person. She felt it embodied Aaron’s best qualities, including his character and humbleness.

“I was delighted that it turned out so beautifully,” she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It just makes me feel proud that I was the lucky one.”

The Hall announced it would be erecting an Aaron statue April 8, the 50th anniversary of Aaron’s 715th home run that made him the all-time home run king. Aaron’s legacy was honored leading into that day and during a pregame ceremony at Truist Park that included Billye, who married Aaron in 1973. She was the constant behind-the-scenes support as Aaron pursued history – and dealt with all that entailed, good and bad.

The festivities surrounding the 50th anniversary of Aaron’s grandest on-field accomplishment left Billye overjoyed.

“It has been amazing,” she shared with the AJC during a sit-down following the event. “I don’t know what I expected, but I didn’t expect all of the attention and the love and support that we got when we celebrated the 715th home run. I was anticipating some celebration, but I thought the Braves were just wonderful in their response to the anniversary, and so was The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“I was just blown away by that front-page cover. That has never happened, that was a historical event. And one that I will always appreciate. I try to make sure as many people as I know get the opportunity to see it. I keep telling my folk, ‘Put this paper up. The kids are not to be playing with it and tearing it up because this is history.’ I thought it was one great, historical moment that Henry would have loved, no doubt. And I love it for him in his stead. I’m just taken by it, really.”

Credit: Jason Getz /

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Credit: Jason Getz /

Aaron, who died in January 2021, has been continuously celebrated for his contributions as a civil rights activist, philanthropist and all-around selfless human being. Billye appreciated the comments, memories and praise shared from so many who knew and revered Aaron.

The latest to acknowledge Aaron the human: the Hall itself. It wanted Aaron’s statue at the front of the museum where it could have the greatest impact. The Hall wanted to emphasize Aaron’s character as much as his statistical achievements.

After the event, Billye further reflected on Aaron’s career five decades after that fateful April night.

“Henry loved the sport, and when you love something, you expect to be honored when you do things outside the box and you have a chance to break somebody’s record,” Billye told the AJC. “It was no fun, to be honest, in his day, when he was in the run to beat Babe Ruth. As I recall our conversations, that was not his aim. His aim was to do the best job he could possibly do in his career. And of course, if he did that, he felt the honors would come.

“He didn’t set out to break Babe Ruth’s record, but as he got closer, the press started building it up, and he realized that he might be in line for such an honor. And of course, he didn’t plan to stop playing baseball. He was going to do the best he could at whatever point and whatever time he had. That’s what he did. And fortunately for him, he broke the record. So of course he was proud, and I was more proud than him.”

Aaron is considered the greatest player in Braves history and perhaps the best player in baseball history. He was a 25-time All-Star over 23 seasons and remains the all-time leader in RBIs (2,297) and total bases (6,856). He was elected to the Hall in 1982.