For Hank Huckaby, service to Georgia was top priority
Ex-state lawmaker was chancellor of University System from 2011 to 2017.
Hank Huckaby (left) is presented the Chancellor’s Medallion at his 2011 induction as 12th chancellor of the University System of Georgia in an investiture ceremony in the Georgia State Capitol’s House Chamber. He died Wednesday after a stroke last week.
By Phil Kloer
For the AJC

Henry “Hank” Huckaby couldn’t seem to extricate himself from tough state jobs and even once famously took a pay cut to take one.

He served the state of Georgia in a wide range of positions over several decades.

When asked to become chancellor of the University System of Georgia, he explained the attraction.

“Being a Georgia boy who got his degrees in the university system, never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be doing this,” Huckaby told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2011. “I like challenges, and the jobs I’ve had in state government have been challenging. This is what I enjoy doing.”

Hank Huckaby, 79, died Wednesday after suffering a stroke last week.

“He cared a lot about this state, and he cared a lot about education.

He literally devoted his life to it,” said Steve Wrigley, who succeeded Huckaby as chancellor in 2017 and had been his friend since 1987.

“He had retired from UGA, then decided to run for the Legislature and got elected and then was asked to serve as chancellor,”

Wrigley recalled. “He didn’t have to do that. He had already had a distinguished career. But he loved the state and wanted to make a difference.”

“He epitomized what it is to be a true public servant, whether it was the work with the budget serving Gov.

Sonny Perdue, to serving in the Legislature, to being chancellor in the university system,” said Eric Tanenblatt, who served as chief of staff for Perdue.

“His style was he was able to work with just about everyone,”

Tanenblatt continued.

“He was very disarming, very cordial, very professional.

He always was honest and straight with you, so you didn’t feel like you were talking to someone who was putting a political spin on things, as unfortunately we have become accustomed to.”

George Hooks, who served in the Georgia House and Senate for decades and worked with Huckaby over many years, agreed. “He was easy to work with. He had no personal agenda and no political agenda. I am heartbroken.”

Huckaby was born in Spalding County and grew up in Hapeville. He received an associate degree in political science from Young Harris College and BA and MBA degrees from Georgia State University. He later studied public administration at the University of Georgia.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Huckaby began his climb in higher education, teaching at DeKalb College, now Georgia Perimeter College, and Emory University. He worked in admissions at Georgia State University and Gordon College and directed the Fiscal Research Program at Georgia State University.

At the University of Georgia, he directed the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, was a senior vice president and then special assistant to the president.

When Zell Miller was elected governor in 1991, he asked Huckaby, then director of the Georgia Residential Finance Authority, to be his state budget director. The position entailed a pay cut and a bigger workload, but Huckaby accepted, partly out of personal loyalty to Miller.

In 1960, Huckaby had been a student in Miller’s political science class at Young Harris College. Miller, while only 10 years older, was already a state senator and became his mentor.

He had to work with tough budget cuts demanded by the times and Miller.

When Sonny Perdue was elected governor in 2002, he also turned to Huckaby on the day after he was elected.

Even though Huckaby had served in the administration of Miller, a Democrat, the Republican Perdue asked him to be the state’s chief financial officer, and Huckaby agreed.

When the Great Recession hit in 2007 during Perdue’s second term, Huckaby again had to direct a state budget under a great deal of strain.

“Georgia has been able to maintain our Triple AAA bond rating, and I give Hank Huckaby some of the credit for that,” said Tanenblatt.

“He played a role advising governors of both parties.”

“I know of few people who have contributed as much to keeping Georgia as solvent and fiscally responsible as it is today,” said Hooks.

Huckaby was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives from Watkinsville but served only one term when he was appointed as chancellor of the University System and its $8 billion budget in 2011.

He oversaw consolidations of some institutions, taking the count from 35 to 29, and navigated controversial political issues such as the legislative fight to bar undocumented immigrants from state colleges and universities.

When Huckaby announced he was retiring as chancellor of the University System of Georgia in 2016, he quoted Atlanta country music legend Kenny Rogers’ song “The Gambler.”

“You have to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em,” he stated.

“To me that’s good advice that doesn’t just apply to gamblers; I think it applies to chancellors as well. It’s time for this guy to throw in the hand,” he added.

“[Huckaby] was the right man at the right time,” Larry Walker Jr., a member of the Board of Regents and former Georgia lawmaker, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2016 when Huckaby announced his retirement.

“He took us through some tough, tough financial times. I hate to see him go.”

Georgia Trend magazine named Huckaby the 2015 Georgian of the Year, and Leadership Georgia awarded him the 2015 J.W. Fanning Award.

He is survived by his wife, Amy; daughter, Mori; son, Clay; and six grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements will be announced later.