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Allison Joyner Columns

Hank Aaron the businessman: Another way of remembering the home-run slugger

Credit: Mack Wilbourn

The former Braves player died Friday at age 86

By Allison Joyner

A friend to most, but a legend to us all, Henry “Hank” Aaron passed away, but his legacy of inclusivity and compassion will live on. 

“I hope that the home run is not the only thing that people or anybody for that matter of black or white look at me,” Aaron said in an archived interview, “and say that’s the only thing that he could do…” 

Credit: Kelly Jordan

Aaron, a Black man, was best known for breaking the record for most home runs in a career set by Babe Ruth, a white man, on April 8, 1974. The journey to making history was during a time of extreme racial conflict in the U.S., and the closer Aaron got to his 715th home run, the more and more death threats came upon his family, the Braves organization and himself.  

Aaron also holds other baseball records, including most runs batted in (RBIs) and he’s ranked third in a total number of career hits, but his legacy extended well past his time on the field. 

Mack Wilbourn, a well-known Atlanta businessman and Aaron’s long-time compatriot, remembers his friend fondly.

“He was in the community and he had the name people wanted to do business with him,” Wilbourn told SaportaReport, “I think that was a very big plus.”

When Aaron retired from baseball, the opportunities to start franchising with major companies began to come in, and Aaron started to building his business legacy. 

Wilbourn said having a name like Aaron’s to help you sell your products gave them “publicity that you can’t buy.”

Aaron, who led his family-owned business 755 Restaurant Corporation, owned 27 Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen restaurants and two Krispy Kreme Doughnut shops throughout the Atlanta metro area. Being co-founder with his wife Billye, Aaron employed hundreds of people in the capital city and created economic growth in DeKalb, Gwinnett, Cobb, Clayton and Fayette counties as well. 

Aaron continued in the interview, “…the thing that I want them to remember is the kid that helped send somebody to school, helped somebody to get through college.”

Aaron and Billye also made contributions to the community by raising money for several charitable organizations like the United Negro College Fund, Boys and Girls Clubs of America and the couple’s  Chasing the Dream Foundation which provides scholarships to local students who attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities. 

A fond memory of his friend that Wilbourn says he will keep with him was his reaction to the popularity of the famous Popeye’s chicken sandwich that captivated his customers in summer 2019. 

Credit: Kelly Jordan

“When the chicken sandwich came out, he went around to every Popeye’s he owned and [was] just amazed at the line of people trying to get this chicken sandwich!” said Wilbourn.  

But a chicken sandwich is not the only thing Wilbourn will remember of his friend. What Wilbourn will never forget is that “country boy from Mobile [Alabama],” who was a  “down-to-earth person,” and his word was “totally credible.”

There will be two private services to celebrate Aaron’s life. The first memorial service will be held at Truist Park Tuesday at 1 p.m. A second service will be held at Friendship Baptist Church in Atlanta Wednesday at 1 p.m.

In lieu of flowers, the Aaron family would like donations made to his Chasing the Dream Foundation: Hank Aaron Chasing the Dream Foundation 3466 Buffington Center, Atlanta, Georgia 30349.

 

Image credit: Mack Wilbourn

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1 Comment

  1. Britton Edwards January 25, 2021 8:36 pm

    To watch a short video of Maria Saporta’s interview with Henry ‘Hank” Aaron, which was shot and edited by Byron Small, please click here. https://www.bizjournals.com/atlanta/print-edition/2014/10/24/the-king-speaks.htmlReport

    Reply

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