The services for Raymond V. Haysbert Sr. begin with the family hour, 11 a.m. Wednesday, June 2 at the Empowerment Temple, 4217-4221 Primrose Ave., Baltimore, MD 21215. The memorial service will immediately follow, beginning at noon, at Empowerment Temple.

Raymond V. Haysbert Sr., the pioneering community leader and business giant behind Parks Sausage died May 24 at Union Memorial Hospital congestive heart failure, according to reports. He was 90.

Haysbert was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, amid abject poverty. After working for a coal company, he joined the Army Air Corps and was a fighter pilot with the celebrated Tuskegee Airmen.

Haysbert’s time in the military did little to stifle his desire for education, and after touring Italy and Africa with the military, he enrolled at Central State and Wilberforce universities. He went on to earn degrees in accounting and mathematics.

By the early ‘50s, Haysbert was working as a business teacher in his home state. By 1952, he’d settled in Baltimore to join the burgeoning Parks Sausage company, a career move that would transform his social and economic status. By this time he’d also married his college sweetheart, Carol Roberts, after meeting her through Parks Sausage owner Harry Parks.

Seventeen years later the company went public, and by the end of the decade Haysbert was named executive vice president. Under his leadership, Parks Sausage became a Fortune 500 company and grossed nearly $30 million in the ‘80s, a record-breaking number for Black-owned businesses at the time.

In a 2007 interview with the AFRO, the then-Baltimore Greater Urban League chairman reflected on the company’s rise to prominence.

“We were the first Black company to go public with our stock in the history of America in January 1969,” said Haysbert. “Johnson products went public later that year, but we got to it first.”

But Haysbert’s interests transcended business matters and he was also an active participant in the state’s political process. In 1954 he worked as campaign treasurer for Sen. Harry Cole, Maryland’s first Black state senator in Annapolis, and also advocated for Harry Parks’ election to the Baltimore City Council in 1963.

“Ray was a driving force behind the elections of Baltimore City Councilman Henry Parks and State Senator Harry Cole,” said Baltimore Congressman Elijah Cummings in a statement. “Thanks to Ray’s work, those two men served as the first African Americans in those bodies. He used his leadership and determination to transform the Baltimore Urban League during nearly a decade of service. This was a man who used every moment of his life trying to improve the lives of others.”

Haysbert explained his own concern with the state of Black America’s political and economic standing in an interview with the AFRO.

“In those days, welfare was not what we depended on. We had to make it ourselves,” Haysbert said. “We had the philosophy that if we took take of our own, our own would take care of us. We looked to the Lord and to ourselves…now we say ‘when is Ehrlich or O’Malley going to do something?’ We have a dependency syndrome that we didn’t have back in the day.”

Like Cummings, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake lauded Haysbert as a “unique and dynamic man,” and celebrated his dedication to community uplift.

“The passing of Mr. Raymond V. Haysbert Sr. is the end of an era in Baltimore…Over the years, Mr. Haysbert used his success and status in the community to help dozens if not hundreds of other minority-owned businesses start and thrive in Baltimore,” said Rawlings-Blake in a statement.

In 1993, Haysbert became the sole owner of the Forum Caterers, a full-service catering establishment that serves over 100,000 people a year. It has been the training ground for students planning to enter the field of hospitality, and has consistently produced jobs for the Baltimore community. After passing the wealth onto his four children, Haysbert ventured into other realms of service, including work with the Greater Baltimore Urban League (GBUL) and the President’s Roundtable, an organization he founded.

According to J. Howard Henderson, BGUL’s current president and a 25-year acquaintance of Haysbert, the political adviser’s legacy cannot be limited to business expertise or the African-American community.

“He’s not only one of the trailblazers of the 21st century. His legacy will be that he tried to improve the life of not only African Americans in the Baltimore region, but by doing so he has improved the lives of all the citizens of the Baltimore region,” said Henderson. “I think his legacy will also include the number of African-American businessmen who are in business today that he mentored…about a businessman, not just operating a business, but being a good business person…He was truly a renaissance man.”

Stanley W. Tucker, president of Meridian Management Group and head of the President’s Roundtable, a Maryland-based conglomeration of Black CEOs, said his relationship with the business leader began more than 40 years ago when he attended at Morgan State University.

Haysbert, then a professor at the East Baltimore school, exhibited an unwavering work ethic that never waned, even as he grew older and suffered bouts of illness.

“His work ethic was impeccable. Even a week before he went into the hospital, we would schedule 7:30 meetings in the morning and I’d get there and he’d be waiting. He was 90 years old and he was waiting for me,” said Tucker. “So that’s the kind of work ethic and person that Ray Haysbert was. He was a tremendous leader and he will sorely be missed by everyone from all walks of life.”

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Kristin Gray

AFRO Managing Editor