by Dennis Rogers
The News & Observer
October 31, 1995
Most of us would be happy to make it to life's goal line, to paraphrase Andy Griffith, without falling down or stepping in something. To also make someone else's life significantly better is more than most of us could hope for. To do it repeatedly is such a rare achievement as to be worthy of note.
Mike Hooks was my friend. I'd known him since he joined our veterans' group several years ago, and he was one of those sparkling people you want to be near. His grin was a thousand watts bright, and he was so unfailingly positive that you just knew the good times would be where he was.
"It was a good feeling to know that Mike was in charge," our buddy Ron Harris said. "You knew you could relax because Mike would take care of it."
What Mike took care of mostly was the people around him. He owned a company called Raleigh-Durham Rubber and Gasket Inc., and he probably did more to help veterans in this area than any government program going.
"If you were a veteran, your esteem when up in Mike's eyes," Ron said. "He'd create a job to give you some income and the time to get back on your feet. He hired a lot of people over the years that he really didn't need, just to give them a job."
One of the primary reasons our organization exists is to provide college scholarships. We've had a number of fund-raising efforts over the years and, like most non-profit groups, some of our events have been more successful than others. But Mike was always there with his checkbook -- and swearing people to secrecy -- to make sure the folks we're helping send to college didn't suffer when our plans went awry.
It sounds trite to say it, but Mike really believed in education. One of the things we've done over the years is visit schools to give students a first-person lesson on Vietnam. Mike loved that and always made sure his lessons were full of hope, not bitterness. He didn't tell war stories that made him out a hero -- although as an elite long-range reconnaissance patrol veteran who was wounded three times rappelling out of helicopters into hostile fire, he certainly could have -- but used his time to talk about how even though 58,000 died in Vietnam, five times that many died from drugs and alcohol abuse at home during the same period.
Mike died last week at age 48. He survived combat in Vietnam, but an invisible virus damaged his magnificent heart so severely that it quit beating early on a Sunday morning. He was a successful businessman, a native of Apex and a lifelong member of Apex Baptist Church, and the movers and shakers who knew and admired him would have been proud to carry him to his grave.
But it was his buddies who took him home, the vets who'd shared the experience of Vietnam, the blue-collar guys at his plant, the ordinary guys who loved him like the brother he was to all of them.
"You can't buy the kind of loyalty that developed around Mike Hooks," Ron said. "He didn't just talk the talk, he walked the walk."
There was a saying in Vietnam when things were going to hell: "Don't mean nothing," the guys would say, closing their hearts to the almost unbearable pain that engulfed them.
Mike Hooks proved that was a lie. His was a life that meant an awful lot to everyone he touched.
Note from Grover: Mike was my cousin, whom I loved like a brother. He was the soul and spirit of our family, the bright light we all turned to when ours were in danger of extinguishing. I miss him very much.