War Hero • Businessman • Community Servant
Born in Geneva, Ala., to a horse trader and a homemaker, Gerow Hodges grew to become one of the state's most celebrated citizens. From his parents, he learned the value of hard work, integrity, humility and courage. These were apparent in his years at Howard College, where he distinguished himself both as a business student and a player on the football field. A shoulder injury ended his football career, and although Hodges served in the National Guard, his injury prevented active military service during World War II. Ironically, it also made possible the wartime acts of courage for which he is still celebrated.
The new graduate joined Brown Service Insurance Company, which soon merged with Liberty National Life Insurance Company, as an accountant and married Mary Louise Shirley, but he still longed to actively support the U.S. war effort. He joined the American Red Cross with the assimilated rank of captain and was assigned to the U.S. Army's 94th Infantry Division as a field director of the Red Cross in the European Theater of Operations. Hodges personally took responsibility for crossing 15 times alone and unannounced into Axis-held territory to take relief supplies to Allied prisoners of war. Recognizing that it would be easier and better for both sides to care for their own men, Hodges proposed an unprecedented prisoner exchange that resulted in the liberation of 169 Allied prisoners. For his courage and service, the U.S. Army awarded him two Bronze Stars, the highest military decoration available to a civilian.
Hodges followed that stunning success with a distinguished career at Liberty National Life Insurance, eventually rising to the office of executive vice president. In that position of great responsibility and influence, so far from his modest rural origins, Hodges never lost his desire to serve his community. Elected to Howard College's (Samford University's) board of trustees in 1962, he became chairman of the board of trustees and supported the institution as a trustee for the rest of his life. His personal reputation and friendship attracted to his alma mater two other Liberty National executives—brothers Ralph and Dwight Beeson—whose subsequent gifts transformed the university. Andrew Gerow Hodges Chapel in Beeson Divinity School now stands as tribute to this Alabama hero's role at Samford.
Hodges is also celebrated for his support for the Boy Scouts of America at the local, regional and national levels; and his service to Kiwanis, Salvation Army, Operation New Birmingham, his church, and a host of civic and charitable organizations. His life was a testament to the power of the humanitarian spirit.