A Life Remembered

By all accounts, Jim Hayes stood above the crowd, ebullient and unsinkable even as cancer rendered him paralyzed and wheelchair-bound. Having fought serious health issues all his adult life, Hayes died at age 60 in 2008, leaving behind many legacies, one of which is the recently established James P. Hayes Jr. Endowed Chair at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Cancer Center.

This summer, Dr. Edward E. Partridge, Cancer Center director, announced a $5.5 million philanthropic initiative to advance gastrointestinal cancer research and patient care. The first phase will raise $1.5 million to establish an endowed chair in honor of Hayes, who was an early champion of the Cancer Center and eventually fell victim to colon cancer. In less than three months, the endowment has already received $558, 000 in gifts and pledges, a testament to the remarkable life of the man.

“We go way back, ” Partridge says of Hayes. “I knew Jim since college days at the University of Alabama. His wife, Ann, was the sister of one of my fraternity brothers.”

Throughout his adult life, Hayes worked tirelessly on behalf of his alma mater, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in industrial engineering.
UA recognized Hayes’ achievements on numerous occasions, naming him alumnus of the year in 1994 and awarding him an honorary doctorate a decade later.

In 2004, Hayes delivered the spring commencement address. Hayes served as chair of the President’s Cabinet and was a member of the Board of Visitors for the College of Communication and Information Sciences. In 2008, the month before his death, a debate program known as the Moral Forum was named in Hayes’ honor.

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Partridge says Hayes’ physical problems emerged when he was in his twenties. “The remarkable thing about Jim, ” Partridge says, “is that in spite of the health adversities he had, he was just always buoyant, optimistic and looking for what he could do to help somebody else. Not just individuals, but also the state, his alma mater, and the Cancer Center.”

That desire led Hayes, a Brewton native and businessman, to a late-life career in public service and economic development.

Hayes joined former Gov. Don Siegelman’s administration in 1999 to serve as commissioner of the Department of Revenue. Later, he served as director of the Alabama Development Office and held other senior positions in Siegelman’s administration.

“A lot of economic developers tend to view things from 30, 000 feet, but Jim got into it at a much deeper level. Whatever he was involved in, he was passionate about it.” -Neal Wade, former ADO director

In 2002, Hayes was tapped to serve as interim president of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama. In 2003, he took over the role permanently and held the position until his death. During his tenure at EDPA, Hayes led the EDPA out of debt and reorganized the private organization to change its focus from direct industrial recruiting to marketing and research while assisting communities with economic development.

Upon Hayes’ passing, Charles McCrary, Alabama Power Co. president and EDPA chairman, termed him “extraordinary, ” “brilliant” and “inspirational.” University of Alabama President Robert Witt echoed the accolades, asserting, “Jim Hayes’ life stands as a model for a life of character, commitment and courage.”
Honorifics aside, a former economic development colleague sees Hayes as a role model for the next generation of economic developers.

“When I came back to Alabama to head the Alabama Development Office, Jim was president of EDPA, ” says Neal Wade, who now serves as senior vice president of economic development for The St. Joe Co. in Florida. “I had been EDPA president for 10 years, and he had been ADO director, so each of us had a unique perspective on the other’s operation.” Wade and Hayes also shared a special interest in developing rural Alabama communities, each having grown up in small Southwest Alabama towns.

“It’s wonderful to focus on Jim’s legacies, ” Wade says, “but other economic developers would do well to mirror his traits.” Wade says Hayes tackled every project with a special brand of intelligence and unwavering passion.

“What I mean by intelligence is that a lot of economic developers tend to view things from 30, 000 feet, but Jim got into it at a much deeper level. Whatever he was involved in, he was passionate about it. He enjoyed seeing the state grow. He had a passion for rural economic development, ” Wade says.

Hayes epitomized the axiom, Wade says, that “if you enjoy what you do, you’ll do a much better job.”

Martha Simmons is a freelance writer for Business Alabama and lives in Stockton.

By Martha Simmons

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