Raymond Haysbert, Parks Sausage CEO, dead at 90

Longtime chairman of Urban League called influential leader

May 24, 2010|By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun

Raymond V. Haysbert Sr., an elder statesman of Maryland's African-American business community, died at Union Memorial hospital Monday. He was 90.

Haysbert had been the chief executive officer of the Parks Sausage Co., one of the largest black-owned businesses in the country. He was a longtime chairman of the Urban League in Baltimore.

He moved to the city in the 1950s, recruited by Henry Parks, and helped turn the sausage company into a success. Known for its popular "More Parks Sausages Mom, Please" slogan, it became the first minority-owned company to go public on the stock exchange and earned record financial profits. Later, he founded a family catering business, Forum Caterers.

"Ray Haysbert was synonymous with the struggle for entrepreneurship among African Americans at a time when it wasn't very popular," said Kweisi Mfume, former Baltimore congressman and head of the national NAACP.

Influential in politics, he was campaign treasurer for Sen. Harry Cole, the first black senator in Annapolis, and helped integrate Baltimore politics by helping to get Parks elected to the council in 1963. He also served as chairman for Clarence "Du" Burns in his unsuccessful run for mayor in 1987, and twice supported efforts to run black candidates against Martin O'Malley.

Up until his death, Haysbert remained the chairman of the Greater Baltimore Urban League, nearly 10 years after he was approached to bring it from the brink of bankruptcy.

"He always figured he didn't have enough time to get all he wanted accomplished," said son Reginald, 62. "He was terrifically motivated to make the world a better place. … He couldn't say no to people when they needed help."

Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake called Haysbert's death the "end of an era."

"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," Rawlings-Blake said in a statement. "He remained active in his family business well into the time when he should have been enjoying his retirement. Mr. Haysbert was a unique and dynamic man, and he will be missed."

Mfume said he remembered Haysbert inviting him to his home overlooking Lake Montebello on Hillen Road to discuss Mfume's political future.

"There were a lot of people who sat in that house, there in the sun room, who got lectures on life from Ray Haysbert. When he pulled you in, you knew you were in an elite class. Everybody wanted to be asked to be in that sunroom."

City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young called Haysbert a "courageous American hero" who "persevered against discrimination and poverty to become a pioneering businessman and philanthropic force."

"Mr. Haysbert, who came of age during one of America's darkest hours – The Great Depression – remained rooted in the understanding that he had a duty to his fellow citizens," Young said in a statement.

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, he grew up in poverty and worked for a coal company before joining the Army Air Corps, where he served as a fighter pilot in Africa and Italy with the Tuskeegee Airmen.

Haysbert had several health scares over the years. He collapsed at a political fundraiser in 1999 after suffering one of at least three heart attacks, his son said.

Reginald Haysbert said his father remained active with charities and business interests, carrying around a laptop and using the Internet.

In 2003, Coppin State University unveiled the Raymond V. Haysbert Research Center, a hub for research on African Americans in the Baltimore region.

Haysbert is survived by his wife, Carol, and four children.


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