By Vernon A. Williams
These words come to mind in reflection of the Honorable Richard Gordon Hatcher: integrity, intelligence, humanity, humility and courage. What a magnificent legacy those five words constitute; what a meaningful life lived.
It was a privilege to have spent so much time in the presence of a man who achieved a status of greatness in public service that few surpass. It was a blessing to have had so much one-on-one benefit of his vast wisdom.
The first time I ever visited Gary City Hall was in the third grade on a Garnett Elementary School field trip. One person of color was spotted on the hour-long tour. He had a bucket and a mop. At that time, I remember being glad to see him though the look on his face when the class of Black children passed seem to speak his pain.
My next time in the Municipal Building at 5th and Broadway, an African American was mayor.
That first year in 1968 was festive. Curtis Mayfield penned the hit song “We’re A Winner,” to capture the historic moment. My high school – Gary Roosevelt – won its first state basketball championship and with Black and Gold colors, Mayor Hatcher instantly became an honorary Panther as he led the celebration in the parking lot of City Hall.
That summer, this cool, young, smart new mayor was bringing a concert to Gilroy Stadium that included Stevie Wonder and the Jackson Five. I remember taking a photo of the mayor working the crowd in his Nehru suit and sunglasses.
My generation was inspired by the spirit of service preached by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. That’s part of the reason that immediately after graduating Indiana University, a group of us returned to Gary and formed a non-profit community service organization called The People’s Action Coalition and Trust (PACT).
PACT pushed for “Buy in Gary” campaigns, spearheaded “Save the Children Week,” hosted an annual luncheon honoring the contributions of women, held community awareness events, sponsored the first and only Mr. and Ms. Senior Citizen Gary Pageant, participated in neighborhood cleanup and pushed the agenda of Black Pride.
Though we were apolitical and enjoyed support from warring political factions in the Steel City, no one was more supportive of our efforts than Mayor Hatcher.
Then a group of young journalists formed the Lake County Association of Black Journalists to promote increased participation of African American news people in radio, print and broadcasting. The organization sponsored the Miss Gary Scholarship Pageant to raise money for high school graduates aspiring to careers in media.
We also brought to Gary such speakers as historian Lerone Bennett, trailblazing TV news anchor Max Robinson and Georgia Senator Julian Bond. Despite the inevitable occasional adversarial roles of government and the press, whenever we needed anything from City Hall, Mayor Hatcher was there for this group of local Black journalists.
After 20 years of dedication to Gary, voters chose to go another route. Mayor Thomas V. Barnes soon learned that the challenges of his predecessors were real. Then Gary voters decided it all could be turned around if they only returned a white mayor to the city. Despite his intentions, Scott King failed to complete his second term and nothing of significant progress grew out of that “experiment.”
On a personal note, I recall my ordeal before resigning from the Gary Post-Tribune. Many in the community strongly supported my plight against the city’s only daily newspaper. There was a picket line protest a few days into January 1985. While on advice of my attorney I could not personally participate, curiosity drove me to the Popeye’s Chicken parking lot across the street at 11th and Broadway.
To my amazement those participating in the demonstration included Mayor Richard Gordon Hatcher, carrying a picket sign and walking in the circle pattern of protestors on that morning of single digit temperatures. That this important man, with all his hectic schedule required, found the sense of caring and time to speak up for me is something that was never forgotten.
Mayor Hatcher would later be instrumental in the success of my public relations and marketing company, Paragon Advertising. We enjoyed wonderful conversations over time and it was important for me to attend the 50th year anniversary celebration of his election, at West Side High School. It was even more important to sit down with him at the last Gary Crusader Christmas Party at Marquette Park Pavilion to tell him one on one what a major role he played in my life in Gary and beyond.
This is only a drop in the bucket of what I can share about my interaction with Mayor Hatcher but suffice it to say, he was one of a kind, and whoever was blessed to come into the realm of his wisdom was truly blessed. I thank God for that opportunity.
Of my thoughts on the life and legacy of the Honorable Richard Gordon Hatcher, I repeat – intelligence, integrity, humanity, humility and courage. They were the hallmarks of the man.