West Palm Beach pays tribute to Hank Aaron

Attendees discuss one-time home run king's sports legacy
Hank Aaron superimposed over bird's eye view of West Palm Beach Municipal Stadium
Posted at 10:50 AM, Feb 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-18 13:46:35-05

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel and other local leaders held a virtual celebration Thursday to honor the life and legacy of Hank Aaron.

The legendary Hall of Fame baseball player, who had deep roots in West Palm Beach, died last month at the age of 86.

RELATED: Hank Aaron found life after baseball in West Palm Beach

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Among the people who attended the celebration included:

• Aaron's wife, Billye Aaron

• George Linley, executive director of the Palm Beach County Sports Commission

• Richard Ryles, managing director of the Ryles Firm

• Dan Calloway, coach, player and mentor in West Palm Beach

• Howard Bryant, senior editor of ESPN who wrote a book on Aaron titled "The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron"

• Patrick Franklin, president and CEO of the Urban League

The one-time home run king had a lasting impact on the West Palm Beach community, including providing scholarships for local children to access extracurricular arts and sports lessons and help children reach college through his Chasing the Dream Foundation.

During the event, attendees discussed Aaron's sports legacy and impact on philanthropy and racial justice.

Frankel recounted how Aaron helped the city raise money by playing in a golf tournament for Coleman Park and the Boys and Girls Club.

"What really sticks out of my mind is before that golf tournament, Hank went out on one of the baseball fields with some youngsters and gave them some tips," Frankel said. "What a humble, generous couple Billye and Hank [were]."

Ryles recalled meeting Aaron when he was 6 years old because his family rented a room out to Aaron's teammate Ralph Garr.

"I met Hank at my house and the stadium. He was always a very kind and gentle man, but he had a presence that let me know that I needed to tread lightly," Ryles said.

He said Aaron's calm presence and demeanor were sincere.

"[He had the] ability to move the room without saying a lot. He was a man of few words, but when he made a statement it was profound and had importance," Ryles said.

Bryant said Aaron impacted people's lives across all backgrounds in America.

"He really does represent the American century in terms of when you look at the scope of where he lived, how he lived, the people he touched," Bryant said. "There are very few people who are mirrors for the entire journey of the 20th century in this country."

The racism that Aaron was subjected to during this Hall of Fame career was touched on by Bryant.

"He played in the old South Atlantic League, and he had no protection. He integrated that league. He was one of the first Black players to play in that league," Bryant said. "He didn't have to go through any of this. This is the environment that he was subjected to, and still was able to produce at a genius, world-class, all-time level."

Calloway recalled how Aaron and other Braves frequently visited Black communities to give baseball clinics to young children.

"With a star like Henry Aaron in our area, everybody was just glad to see him, and because he was so laid back, you would never know he was a star," Calloway said.

Aaron was part of the Atlanta Braves during the 1960s and 1970s, who had their spring training in West Palm Beach until 1997.