By Johnny Jackson
Gene Hatfield will finally be able to attend to the humming bird garden he has been wanting to start. The 63-year-old history professor retired last month, following a 32-year tenure at Clayton State University.
"I wanted to be able to retire while I had some time to enjoy it," said Hatfield, who retired on June 30. "I wanted more time to pursue interests that I had not had time to pursue as a professor."
He was one of the remaining members of a group of 30-year professorial veterans at the university, including John Kohler, Brad Rice, and Bob Welborn.
"At times, change seems slow and meandering, but then, when one looks back, it is possible to see the magnitude of the change, which, often at the time, went largely unnoticed," Hatfield said. "I have watched Clayton State move from a junior college to a university offering graduate programs. In itself, the process of becoming a university represents dramatic change."
Hatfield had been a part of many changes since joining the Clayton State faculty in 1976. "I remember Jim Baker, a student I taught in my first semester at Clayton Junior College, whose name is now on the largest building [the James M. Baker University Center] on our campus," he said. "While few of our students have enjoyed the success Jim has enjoyed, we have had thousands go on to productive careers in their communities, empowered by the education they received here."
Jim Baker, a 1976 graduate of the college, is now the president of real estate development firm, Chaseland Corporation and Baker & Lassiter. He recalls being a student in Hatfield's class.
"He was very much an astute young man in the politics of the United States of America," Baker said. "He was well-versed in the history of Georgia, as well. I've known Dr. Hatfield for a number of years, and he's an outstanding individual. Dr. Hatfield is someone who has been a big part of south-metro Atlanta over the past decades."
Hatfield credits other Clayton State faculty members as being equally influential individuals. "Over the years, we have had outstanding teachers on our campus and that continues true today," he said. "I am very impressed with our young faculty and their commitment and enthusiasm. They work with our students both in and out of the classroom."
Hatfield is the outgoing chairman of Clayton State's Social Sciences Department and director of the American Democracy Program. He has also served as a founding director of the university's Honors Program.
"Serving as director of the program for its first 10 years is the high point of my career at Clayton State," he said. "It was a privilege to work with our students. We emphasized academics to be sure, but we also emphasized service to campus and community. Many events that have become fixtures on campus originated as ideas from Honors students and are still carried on by students in the Honors program."
Hatfield is still active with the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC); he is an original member of the Georgia Civil War Commission; and he is the chairman of the Friends of the Georgia Archives. He was appointed to the ARC in 1990 and has been re-elected on a number of occasions, and is commission's longest-serving member.
"I have had a front-row seat on Atlanta's development in recent years," he said. "I witnessed close-up the preparations for the Olympics, the dramatic growth which has occurred throughout the period, the emerging problems of clean air and adequate resources, and the growing congestion in our transportation system."
He is past chairman of the Clayton County Democratic Party, chairman of the Sixth District Congressional Committee, and a member of the State Executive Committee. He was also elected as a delegate to two Democratic National Conventions, during 1984 in San Francisco and 1988 in Atlanta.
"I have always been conscious that I represented Clayton State, and have done my best to bring credit to the institution," Hatfield noted. "I think it very important that a public institution like ours be visible in the community."
Hatfield entered graduate school at the University of North Carolina following his Army service in Vietnam. He said of his military service and decision to study history: "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. It was an exciting time to be in graduate school and study history against the backdrop of events like the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement."
The photography hobbyist, who lives in Jonesboro with his wife, Carol, is preparing a busy retirement that will include, spending time with his family and two granddaughters, traveling, writing and researching on historic subjects.