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Friends, Family Honor Hank Aaron At Funeral Service In Atlanta

As Georgia and the nation mourn the death of baseball legend Hank Aaron, presidents, community leaders, and those benefiting from his philanthropy honored his memory at a funeral service Wednesday at Friendship Baptist Church in downtown Atlanta.

Dr. Richard W. Wills Sr., the pastor of Friendship Baptist, said Aaron's absence was immediately felt.

"In the passion of Harry Louis Aaron, something vast and noble has passed from among us," he said. "It’s as if a mighty oak has fallen, leaving a gaping hole on the horizon where its gallant place once stood."

Dr. Otis Moss of Olivet Institutional Baptist Church in Cleveland, Ohio, led the invocation.

"Eternal god, we give you thanks and praise your name for the gift of your servant, our friend, brother, husband, father, servant leader, achiever, we thank you for Henry Hank Aaron," he said. "We praise your name for giving him all that he needed to face the dangers, toils, and indescribable opposition. In all of these brutal circumstances, he grew better and better and greater.”

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President Bill Clinton, Ambassador Andrew Young, and a virtual choir were a part of the funeral service in Atlanta celebrating the life of baseball legend Hank Aaron on January 27, 2021.

Among those paying tribute was a woman named Quiana Lewis, a direct beneficiary of Aaron’s Chasing the Dream Foundation. Aaron met Lewis when she was a child and heard of her aspiration to learn how to play the harp. She said he worked to make her dream happen.

"Because of his philanthropy, I trained for years with the principal harpist of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra," she said. "It was an experience few youth, especially Black youth, could achieve at that time."

Lewis later went on to study medicine, another product of Lewis' philanthropy. She is now working on her Ph.D. at John Hopkins.

Raynal Aaron, grandson of Aaron, shared quotes from his grandfather that impacted his life. He held up an illustration he found in a shop in Savannah that included one of them.

"I don't want them to forget Ruth," it read. "I just want them to remember me."

Legends from across sports and leaders across Georgia paid tribute to Aaron in the nearly two-hour service.

"The imagery of a Black man being given a standing ovation in the deep South was a powerful civil rights moment," said Bud Selig, Commissioner Emeritus of Major League Baseball. "Henry received horrific hate mail and death threats. Only a person with great determination and inner strength could overcome the kind of hate mail he received.”

Sportcaster Bob Costas appeared by video conference link and hailed Aaron's place in history in the face of racism.

"Henry Aaron’s monumental achievements on the diamond would’ve made him unforgettable, made him elite even among Hall of Famers," Costas said.

In his tribute, President Bill Clinton recounted when he met Aaron in 1992 when he ran for president.

“I wasn’t with Hank Aaron long before I thought to myself, ‘I’m gonna love this guy for the rest of my life,’” Clinton said.

Hank Aaron died Friday of natural causes. He was 86.

Copyright 2021 Georgia Public Broadcasting