Mr. Henderson, now the executive director of the Maryland Urban League, said he spoke to Mr. Hooks at least once a month up until his death. Mr. Hooks, Mr. Henderson said, formed strong bonds with Baltimore mayors William Donald Schaefer and Mr. Schmoke, and with city residents.
"His personality was one of being the voice of reason in the community," Mr. Henderson said. "That's how we connected. That's what I try to do with the Urban League: Be a leader, not a rabble-rouser, and bring about solutions [to problems] that face us in the community."
Mr. Schmoke spent the past decade working as a board member with Mr. Hooks in a nonprofit organization designed to help children suffering from lead paint poisoning and other health issues.
"He put a lot of energy, time and thought into the matter," Mr. Schmoke said. "It was quite an inspiration to work with him on that. It was an example of a man not resting on his laurels."
Mr. Schmoke said a highlight of his mayoral stint was naming a street in Mr. Hooks' honor.
"One of the many fun days of my tenure was dedicating Ben Hooks Way," Mr. Schmoke said of the road located near North Avenue. "He always said he had many keys to the city but not a street sign."
Mr. Hooks was jovial, down to earth and connected instantly with Baltimore's religious leaders, using their congregations to help boost NAACP membership, said the Rev. Marion C. Bascom, pastor emeritus at Douglas Memorial Community Church.
"We were inspired to give him our support," he said. "He met with pastors at strategic points and worked with them a lot. Whenever he needed a voice in this community, we were there."
Mr. Hooks was dedicated to his job, and at one point he and his wife, Frances, took up residence in the NAACP's Northwest Baltimore headquarters. He left an impression on young staffers and volunteers who followed his footsteps as an advocate for social justice.
Marge Green started as a volunteer in the national office and didn't expect to stay long. But she remained at the organization for a decade, eventually rising to become a national board member, largely because of Mr. Hooks' influence, she said. He mingled with rank-and-file employees, offered freebies to volunteers instead of saving them for bosses, and took time to get to know everyone, she said.
"He called me Dr. Green — he wanted to make a minister out of me," she said. "He was always so encouraging.
Baltimore NAACP branch President Marvin L. "Doc" Cheatham said he did not know Mr. Hooks personally, but his work on the national level had a trickle-down effect on smaller chapters across the country. Mr. Cheatham said Mr. Hooks introduced corporate fundraising, which helped chapter presidents raise money locally.
Mr. Cheatham also praised Mr. Hooks' work with Major League Baseball. "You saw an increase in managing, and blacks getting into more roles than just playing on the baseball field."
Mr. Cheatham said he has approached city schools CEO Andres Alonso about devoting a day to teach students about the NAACP leader who called Baltimore home for a time.
"He was the impetus that brought me to the organization. I wasn't really that hyped-up about the NAACP," Mr. Cheatham said. "When he came in, the membership and image had gone down. He brought both back up."
Although Mr. Hooks was frail during one of his last public appearances, at the NAACP's centennial celebration last summer, his speech was legendary, said Mr. Jealous. During the speech, Mr. Hooks praised the historic election of President Barack Obama but also urged the crowd never to give up the fight for equality.
"He was wheeled out in a wheelchair, looking pretty frail," Mr. Jealous said. "But he grabbed the lectern and gave this incredible sermon. That's the way it was with Dr. Hooks. He had the heart of a young warrior for justice."
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
— NAACP executive director 1977-92.
—First black criminal court judge in Tennessee.
—As the first African-American named to Federal Communications Commission, pushed for minority employment in the media and ownership of media outlets.
—Pushed for better employment opportunities for blacks in Major League Baseball.
—Encouraged major corporations to sign agreements with the NAACP to hire and promote minorities