The former commander of Fort McClellan died Thursday in Texas after suffering a heart attack. He was 77.
When Hines took command of Fort McClellan in July 1989, he became the first black commander of a military installation in the South.
Mike Abrams was a public relations officer at Fort McClellan when Hines took command and remembers him as having a knack for living up to people’s idea about what a general should be.
Abrams said when he thinks of an Army general, he thinks of people who have “great personalities, and by virtue of those personalities, are natural-born leaders.”
“People want to follow leaders like General Hines,” he said.
Abrams noted that Hines was an enlisted man before becoming an officer, working his way up through the ranks, something Abrams said required a great deal of hard work and dedication.
“His personal drive was something that served him and us well over the years,” Abrams said. “Who he was was good for us as a community and as a fort at the time.”
In 1991, Gov. Guy Hunt awarded Hines the Distinguished Service Medal for his contributions to the Alabama National Guard at Fort McClellan.
Hines’ military career spanned nearly four decades. Veronica Hines, the general’s wife, said he enlisted in the military right after high school and after three years, left the Army as a sergeant. A native of Washington, D.C., Hines returned home and enrolled in Howard University on the GI Bill. By the time he graduated, he led the university’s ROTC program as a cadet colonel and then re-entered the Army as a lieutenant.
He rose through the ranks as a military police officer, and before taking his post at McClellan served as the head of officer personnel at the Pentagon, his wife said.
Despite his successes, Hines was never full of himself, said Janice Powell, a friend of the Hines family when they were stationed at McClellan.
“He was a fabulous person,” she said “He was a great leader, a great commander, a very nice person, a family man, a devoted husband — anything nice you could say about him would be true.”
Curtis Sasser, president and CEO of the Fort McClellan Credit Union, said Hines was a great individual who cared for his soldiers and civilian workers. Sasser added that Hines was greatly concerned about the survival of Fort McClellan.
Sasser said that Hines was a distinguished leader, but “when he’d come around the area, he wanted to be treated just like anybody else.”
Sasser said that when Hines was getting ready to leave his post, the credit union made him an honorary member of its board of directors.
“We thought so much of General Hines ... he was the very first individual who received that recognition,” he said.
After the military
When Hines retired in 1994, he returned to his hometown to serve as director of health and security at the Smithsonian Institute.
Veronica Hines said education was of great importance to her husband.
Over the years, he completed master’s degrees in military science and police administration and public safety. He earned his doctorate in sociology from Johns Hopkins University. Before he retired from the Army, Anniston city school officials approached Hines about becoming the system’s superintendent. He was interviewed for the position before he withdrew his name from consideration.
Two years later he was named president of Prairie View A&M University in Texas. He served as the leader of the university until he retired in 2002, and taught sociology as an adjunct professor with the Lone Star College system until his death.
Frank Jackson, the university’s governmental relations officer during Hines’ tenure at Prairie View, said Hines will “go down as one of the great ones.”
Jackson said the university grew under Hines’ leadership, adding the first juvenile justice doctoral program in the nation, as well as a number of new buildings and other academic program expansions. Jackson said Hines was integral in starting the university’s ACCESS — Academy for Collegiate Excellence and Student Success — program, a freshmen boot camp that helps students with lagging grades and test scores prepare to enter college with their peers in the fall. Jackson said the program has become a model for other historically black colleges and universities in Texas.
“The only thing he asked of them was to be motivated,” he said.
Jackson, like many who remembered the general Friday, said Hines was willing to roll up his sleeves and do whatever work was needed, even if that meant working all night to perfect a report.
Veronica Hines recalled a summer when Hines was still president at Prairie View and discovered the university's dorms didn’t meet his standards. Hines gathered a group of people, including his wife, and they scrubbed the dorms until he felt they were ready for students to return in the fall.
“He would get in the trenches with anyone and do what needed to be done,” she said.
This attitude of Hines’ extended to his homelife. Veronica Hines said her husband would work all day then come home and pitch in with their children, bathing them or stepping in to cook dinner from time to time. She said he did the family’s grocery shopping, and over the years had the routine down so well he no longer needed a list.
“All of our kids just feel like there’s never been anybody like him,” she said, adding that they had seven children and 12 grandchildren.
Veronica Hines said she met Hines while in college in D.C. and married him at the age of 18. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last year.
“He was the best man there ever was,” she said, “and I can’t believe God gave him to me.”
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.