While taking a leading role in the long, successful campaign to bring a VA medical clinic to Statesboro, the late Ray Hendrix set up a van service to transport area veterans to the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta. Hendrix, who retired as a command sergeant major after 42 years in the Army and National Guard, was also an official advocate for veterans at the national level.
Statesboro’s mayor and council approved a resolution Tuesday seeking to have the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical system’s Statesboro clinic named for Hendrix, who died at age 83 in September 2015. At Tuesday’s council meeting, leaders of Statesboro’s own American Legion Dexter Allen Post 90 sat with members of Hendrix’s family.
Interviewed later, Hendrix’s daughter Diane Long said the clinic was extremely important to her father, who worked for many years to get it here, saw it created and got to use it. Since his passing, veterans have continued to express appreciation to her mother, she said.
“She’s had a lot people come and knock on her door and thank her for all he did for bringing it to Statesboro,” Long said.
She and her husband, Donald Long, attended Tuesday’s meeting, as did her mother, Mary Hendrix, and the Hendrixes’ other daughter, Jennifer Kimbrell, their son Mike Hendrix and one of their grandchildren, Julianna Kennedy.
At different times in his 60 years as an American Legion member, Hendrix was the local post’s commander, a district commander, and statewide department commander. He was Post 90 and state American Legion judge advocate, and represented Georgia on the Legion’s National Committee. Under three different Georgia governors, he served three seven-year terms on the governor-appointed State Veterans Service Board, and became its chairman.
“Whereas Ray was the only person from Georgia to be nominated and honored as Legionnaire of the Decade,” is one clause in the city’s resolution. It also notes that while in the National Guard, he was honored as Outstanding Soldier of Georgia.
The transportation service he helped start involved the donation of a van by the Veterans of Foreign Wars and funding Hendrix secured through the Hospital Authority of Statesboro-Bulloch County to pay drivers, according to the resolution. Originally, the van was to carry veterans to VA medical facilities in Dublin and Augusta. Now with volunteer drivers, the service continues to take veterans to Augusta.
But the crux of the city’s resolution is that Hendrix wanted the clinic here so much that he “campaigned with the VA in Washington and proposed the idea to Congress.” Many others joined in a petition drive.
“There was quite a concerted effort, but Ray was really instrumental and he was well known,” said American Legion Post 90 Adjutant Bob Marsh. “When we were at City Hall the other day, somebody told me that Ray was at all the City Council meetings too. … That’s how active he was.”
A Dec. 22, 2007, Statesboro Herald story put the number of signatures veterans presented to then-Rep. John Barrow, who represented Georgia’s 12th District, at more than 5,800. The reporter on that story was Phil Boyum, who is no longer with the Herald but is City Council member from District 1.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Boyum recalled that one of his first assignments for the newspaper was a story on Hendrix’s drive for the clinic. For several years afterward, each time they saw each other, Hendrix would ask when Boyum was doing another story on the need for the clinic, he said. At long last, Hendrix brought news that the clinic would be established.
“I never saw a man more proud of anything,” Boyum said.
Barrow became a supporter, and took part in the dedication, Boyum noted. He recalled that it was a cold, windy day, but “the place was packed.” The clinic, in an existing building on Northside Drive East near Statesboro High School, opened in March 2013.
“It’s been a great addition for the veterans in our community, and Ray was a constituent of District 1, too,” Boyum said. “But anyway, I couldn’t be prouder. This is the fun stuff I get to do as a councilman, to get to honor someone in our community who did so much and who is making an impact on so many people.”
After Boyum made the motion Tuesday, more than one council member said, “second!”
But literally an act of Congress is needed to change the clinic’s name.
Local American Legion members have been in contact with U.S. Rep. Rick Allen, the Republican who unseated Barrow, a Democrat, with the November 2014 election. Allen had called Mayor Jan Moore nearly a year ago for background on Hendrix, she said.
“I heard nothing but wonderful things when I asked around about him, and passed that word along,” Moore said.
Allen is working on the change, his communications director, Madison Fox Porter, confirmed Friday.
“The House Veterans Affairs Committee requires certain support from local communities and veteran service organizations to advance legislation like facility naming,” Porter emailed. “We have been gathering letters of support and hope to drop this legislation next Congress as this one is over.”
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.