Dr. Gaylord Hanes, scientist, entrepreneur, civic leader and humanitarian, passed away peacefully Sunday morning at his home in Waxahachie following a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 87.
Gaylord was a friend to everyone who crossed his path.
Though he was one of the most brilliant human beings to walk this earth, he had a child-like inquisitiveness and humility that endeared him to everyone. He loved life; he loved people and worked tirelessly to make the world a better place for all.
Gaylord was more than just my friend. For much of the past decade he has been my mentor, and I have been honored to have the title of his “honorary son” as he proudly introduced me to his friends during our weekly lunch meetings.
It’s impossible to capture Gaylord’s life in such a limited space, but I will do my best to honor the man that has lived a life dedicated to the service of God and in the process, has experienced more than most of us could if we had four lifetimes to live.
Most of us know Gaylord as the homebuilder — the man responsible for building several hundred custom homes and office buildings in Ellis County (and the Metroplex) through his Homes by Hanes company. His work in the homebuilding industry is nationally renown, earning industry awards on the local, state and national levels.
In 2011, he was honored with the “Life Director” designation by the National Association of Home Builders of the United States in Washington, D.C. for his contributions to the improvement of the industry. He held similar honors with the Ellis County Home Builders Association and the Home Builders Association of Greater Dallas.
A staunch advocate for consumers, he frequently spoke before legislative committees on new laws (on the state and national levels) that would improve home-building practices and provide a greater level of protection for homebuyers.
He was also a mentor, helping give numerous homebuilders their start in the industry.
In 2010, Gaylord expanded his company, taking on Graduate Builder David Hill as a partner. David continues to build custom homes and commercial structures with the same dedication to quality and attention to detail that made Homes by Hanes legendary in the homebuilding industry.
While Gaylord’s career in the homebuilding industry is impressive, what makes it even more remarkable is that he didn’t get into the business until 1979, after a lengthy career in the energy industry.
After working nearly two decades as a top-level executive with Occidental Chemical, the Hanes family had settled in Houston — right in the middle of a major housing boom.
Gaylord became friends with several of the builders, and after spending two decades of constantly being on the road, he learned a new trade, relocated his family to Waxahachie and began what would become his third career.
It was during one of weekly lunch visits that Gaylord shared the story of how his homebuilding career began. But like most of Gaylord’s stories, it began while talking about an entirely different subject.
It was July 2009 and we were talking about the 40th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s historic landing on the moon while breaking bread at one of Gaylord’s favorite restaurants in town.
“I know Neil. He’s a pretty nice guy. We used to be neighbors in Houston during the Apollo missions, and I’d always visit with him at our monthly block party picnics we had for everyone in the neighborhood. Those were good times. You know, people just don’t get together like that anymore. Everyone that lived on the block would bring a dish, and we’d get the grills out on the cul-de-sac. The kids would play games and all of us would come together, eat, talk and just have a good time. It was a lot of fun…”
“Wait a minute Gaylord,” I had to cut him off mid-sentence because he was famous for his stories that while interesting, often took off on a tangent. “You know Neil Armstrong?”
“Sure, like I said, we were neighbors when I lived in Houston,” he answered, as if it was no big deal.
But that was Gaylord.
He loved sharing stories that lifted up others, but seldom talked about himself — or ever did anything that could be perceived as boastful.
It was during another lunch meeting (while in the middle of a conversation about a completely different topic), I learned that during the late 1950s and early 1960s he had been tapped by the U.S. government to serve on a think tank to develop a way for the U.S. to produce food for the nation in the event of a nuclear war with the Soviets.
After dropping that nugget, he quickly switched gears and had taken the conversation in a new direction when I cut him off mid-sentence again.
“Wait a minute, Gaylord,” I said. “You were part of a group of scientists tasked with figuring out how to make the soil and water safe for food production if the Soviets had launched nuclear missiles on the U.S.?”
“Oh yeah,” he answered. “Back then we were in the middle of the Cold War and things were pretty tense. Everyone was afraid of an all-out nuclear war and…”
“But wait a minute,” I said. Fortunately for me, Gaylord didn’t mind me interrupting his stories, “What did you and these other scientists come up with?”
Gaylord finished his bite of carrot cake, looked at me across the table and winked.
“Let’s just thank God we never had to find out,” he said, then finished off the last of his cake.
Though a highly successful executive with Occidental, the chemical petroleum industry was actually Gaylord’s second career. His first career was with the agriculture extension service in Oklahoma.
Following his service in World War II, Gaylord used the G.I. Bill to earn his bachelor’s degree in agriculture science, landing a job right out of college with the Oklahoma agriculture extension.
Married and with a growing family, his boss told him that a promotion was going to open up in a couple of years, but he would need a master’s degree to qualify.
So Gaylord worked his way through grad school, earning both a master’s and doctorate’s degree in soil chemistry — in record time.
Always humble, he told the story by insisting that earning his degrees in such a short amount of time was out of necessity due to the fact that he didn’t have the money to spend four years in grad school.
I know what goes into earning advanced degrees, and they are all earned.
Though Gaylord would never even hint at the suggestion, he was a brilliant man.
And he loved his work in agriculture. It was his doctorate dissertation (which is still on display in the Library of Congress) that gained him recognition with the government — and Occidental Chemical.
I spent many lunch meetings in awe while listening to him talk about his work with farmers and ranchers, helping them produce better yields while also becoming good stewards of the land.
Though the word “environmentalist” has gained a negative connotation in recent years, Gaylord was a staunch environmentalist insomuch as he believed that God put us all on earth to care for his creation for future generations to enjoy.
But what I loved most were our talks about the Navy.
Both of us were Navy veterans and both of us served on destroyers.
It wasn’t until our Ellis County Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C. that I learned what he really did in the service.
And it wasn’t easy getting that out of him.
When the organization was formed, our goal was to raise enough money to send every WWII veteran in Ellis County to Washington (at no cost to the veteran) so they could see their memorial.
I knew Gaylord served during WWII, and insisted he sign up for our trip.
He wouldn’t have any part of it.
I begged him.
Greg Compton begged him.
Melissa Ballard begged him.
It was only after Melissa told him that it would “break Neal’s heart if he didn’t go” that he finally gave in and signed up.
As a way to raise funds, the Honor Flight board agreed the best way to enlist community support was to put a face on the project. The newspaper agreed to do a feature story on every veteran taking part in the trip, sharing their experience during the war.
It took me 12 times to finally get Gaylord to agree to an interview.
When we finally sat down, his exact quote was: “I didn’t do anything during the war and I really don’t want to waste your time, because I know there’s other men and women so much more deserving than I to be honored.”
Thirty minutes and four Gaylord stories later, I finally got him to tell me about what he did in the Navy during the war.
He was assigned to a six-man crew with a month’s worth of provisions and literally dropped on an island in the Philippines with a radio. Their job was to avoid capture (the Japanese had occupied the Philippines) while monitoring Japanese ship movements and report in as Gen. Douglas MacArthur prepared his return to liberate the Philippines.
One month turned into several months, as they continued to avoid detection by the Japanese patrols that combed the islands. When their provisions ran out, they survived on coconuts and bananas that grew in the jungle.
When MacArthur returned as promised and liberated the Philippines from the Japanese, Gaylord was reassigned to a minesweeping crew to remove the Japanese mines from the harbor in Leyte Gulf. After that, he was assigned to the USS Ludlow (a destroyer) in the Atlantic fleet, until his discharge at the end of the war.
“Wait a minute, Gaylord,” I said as he finished his story. “What do you mean you didn’t do anything during the war?”
“Well,” he answered in the slow, soft Texas drawl. “I never fired a single shot during the entire war. I feel kinda ashamed to get any attention when there’s so many other guys that were right there in the worst of the fighting. They’re the heroes. Those are the ones you should be writing the stories about. Next to them, I didn’t do much at all.”
But that was Gaylord.
Humble. Shy. Always smiling. Always lifting up others.
I loved his stories about his grandparents, and their farm in western Oklahoma.
He enjoyed telling how they were part of the great Oklahoma land rush during the 19th Century and they settled that homestead which remains in the Hanes family today.
Shortly after his birth, his parents divorced and he was literally “dumped” on his grandparents’ farm. They raised him and every time he spoke of them his eyes would twinkle as he remembered their kindness and love.
All of our conversations over the years focused on kindness and love.
Gaylord was filled with love.
When his wife, Jeane, passed away in 2006, Gaylord came to the paper immediately after her passing.
She had been sick, and when he walked in the door I asked how she was doing.
“She just passed away,” he said, as I stood and gave him a hug and he wept on my shoulder. “I haven’t even told the kids yet. God put it in my heart to come and see you first. I don’t why, but you always seemed to know what to say.”
While saddened at Jeane’s passing, I was also deeply touched that he held me in such high regard. It was an honor that I always tried to live up to.
Following Jeane’s death, Gaylord told me he had resolved himself to being a bachelor for the remainder of his life and was dedicating himself to doing God’s work as a missionary.
While he did a great deal of missionary work, he wasn’t expecting a chance encounter with Jeanette during Sunday school class at Waxahachie Bible Church.
He came to see me the following Monday and was as giddy as a high school boy experiencing his first crush.
“Neal,” he told me, “She touched me on my shoulder to get my attention (Gaylord was hard of hearing) and adjusted my collar. When I turned around and looked at her, I heard God whisper in my ear. It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever experienced.”
Both widowed, Gaylord and Jeanette began a courtship that resulted in marriage.
Gaylord came to get me when he popped the question. He has a billboard on Interstate Highway 35E at the Waxahachie-Red Oak border. He had them change the billboard to read: “Jeanette, will you marry me.”
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a man more excited — or nervous — in my life.
Jeanette said yes and a few months later, Gaylord asked me to stand with his son, John, as one of his groomsmen during the wedding.
I was so happy for them both and they shared a wonderful life together until Gaylord’s passing.
Gaylord spent the past several years dedicated to his mission work with Bill Glass’ Champions for Life Prison Ministry. He was steadfast in his belief that the power of God could change lives and help give those in prison a second chance.
He was also dedicated to multiple community projects through the Waxahachie Rotary Club and his involvement with the homebuilders associations in Ellis County, Greater Dallas and the National Association of Home Builders.
Even in death, Gaylord chose to donate his body to science to help benefit others through research and by helping train future physicians.
That’s the kind of human being he was.
During the past week I’ve spoken with numerous members of the community, all saddened by his failing health and his passing on Sunday. All note his contributions to our community and the loss we all feel.
I will miss him greatly. He made me a better person and I will always be thankful for the opportunity to have called him my friend.
Gaylord is preceded in death by his grandparents, Samuel and Rhonda Hanes; his parents, Gaylord Lester Hanes and Betty Mae Sleenturgen; sister, Roberta Jo Hanes; his much loved wife of 40 years, Jeane Burnam Hanes and son, John Edward Hanes.
He is survived by his son, Joseph Gaylord Hanes of Hollywood, Calif.; daughter, Deborah Hanes Aspenleiter and husband Rick of Santa Barbara, Calif.; son, John Charles Hanes and wife MaryAnn of Waxahachie; grandson, Santiago Steele of New York City; and his faithful wife of six years, Jeanette Hanes.
In lieu of flowers, the family has requested those choosing to do so assist Gaylord in blessing his treasured ministry The Champions for Life Prison Ministry by visiting www.billglass.org or making a donation in Gaylord’s honor through the Waxahachie Bible Church.
The family is in the process of preparing for a memorial service. The Daily Light will publish the announcement once available.
Neal White is the Editor of Waxahachie Newspapers Inc. Contact Neal at firstname.lastname@example.org or 469-517-1457. Follow Neal on Facebook at Neal White – Waxahachie Newspapers Inc., or on Twitter at wni_nwhite.