In death, Hank Aaron has been treated with respect, admiration, even reverence.
Yet in life, the Black man who broke Babe Ruth’s home run record was hounded by racist attacks, including death threats.
He heard them again nearly 4 decades later, when he defended Lebron James and President Obama.
Carla Koplin Cohn knows exactly what was in those letters thousands of letters.
She lives in Florida now, after more than 25 years in Westport. But in the early 1970s she was a young secretary, working in the basement of Atlanta Stadium. Aaron asked for help with his correspondence. She became his full-time secretary — a first for any baseball player.
The next year, she handled his 900,000 pieces of mail. She sent a form letter for fans. Aaron kept the hate mail in his attic — after Carla reported the threats to the FBI.
Those letters were nasty. Some included KKK hoods.
Carla got some herself. “They knew I was white, Jewish, and working for a Black man,” she told Slate.
She remained Aaron’s personal assistant for the next 10 years. Cohn sat in the stands and taught Aaron’s second wife Billye all about baseball.
After he retired, they stayed close. Aaron was a guest at her wedding.
He was a frequent guest too at the Cohns’ Punch Bowl Drive home, including her 40th birthday party. Carla ran the annual Bargain Fest; one year, the star helped raise funds by signing baseballs and books.
Carla, her husband Al and daughter Jenn visited the Aarons every Christmas, in West Palm Beach.
Carla and Aaron last spoke a few days before his death. He’d just gotten his COVID shot, and hoped to see her soon.
Though he was 86, his death came as a surprise. Cohn’s daughter Jenn Falik — who graduated from Staples High School in 1997, is an on-air trend reporter for “The Today Show” and “Rachael Ray,” writes the “Ultimate Edit” newsletter and moved back to Westport in 2012 — is gaining a new appreciation for the achievements and life of the man she calls “just he nicest, warmest, humblest and low-key person.”
Her children — in 4th grade and kindergarten — are learning too. “They recognize all these celebrities saying great things about him,” she notes. “To them, he’s just Uncle Henry.”
Aaron was Uncle Henry to Jenn too.
Which leads to a story the Hall of Famer told at her wedding.
In his toast, Aaron said that when Jenn was a Coleytown Elementary School 1st grader, students had to write biographies on either Helen Keller or Hank Aaron. All the girls chose Keller — except Jenn.
Surprised, the teacher asked why. “He’s my uncle,” she replied.
Worried that Jenn had a problem, the teacher and guidance counselor called her parents for a conference. They explained that yes, Jenn really did call Hank Aaron “Uncle Henry.”
Because to her, he was.