After decades of outstanding community service spanning from education to urban planning and the law, Cordell Haymon said he pursued those accomplishments through no extraordinary means — simply by finding causes he feels are deeply important and “getting involved in everything.”
Haymon was honored for that work Tuesday evening as more than 300 people gathered at the Baton Rouge Marriott to witness him receive the 76th annual Golden Deeds award for his commitment to making life better for Baton Rouge residents.
Haymon, 73, said receiving the award prompted him to “look back over my life and reflect on the things that have brought me to this moment.” But it is “kind of weird hearing that many good things said about you,” he said. “I think I’m in danger of believing at least some of them.”
The Golden Deeds award winner is chosen annually by the Inter-Civic Council of Baton Rouge, which is made up by members of various civic organizations throughout the area such as the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank, Cortana Kiwanis Club and East Baton Rouge Lions Club. The Advocate has presented the award along with the council since 1942 — an honor born out of the volunteer efforts that arose during American involvement in World War II.
Haymon spoke about learning the value of service from his mother, the child of Jewish immigrants who grew up in a New Orleans orphanage and later became a social worker, embodying throughout her life the Hebrew phrase "tikkun olam," which means “the repair of the world by good deeds.”
Haymon’s wife, Ava Leavell Haymon, described her husband as “truly kind and fair minded” and said with a smile that “when your wife thinks you deserve an award, you probably do deserve it.”
Cordell Haymon received his law degree from LSU in 1968. While still in law school, he began working at his father’s company, SGS Petroleum Service Corp. He maintained a private law practice for 25 years while still working for the family business but in 1992 went full time with SGS, where he is now senior vice president.
As a member of the Baton Rouge Bar Association, he helped create a lawyer referral service — the first in the state — to give people access to affordable legal services.
Later on, he became heavily involved in Teach For America, a nonprofit founded in 1990 that recruits young people to teach for two years in low-income communities across the United States. Haymon became a donor, then a member of the south Louisiana regional board for the organization and has chaired the regional Teach for America board for about 12 years.
Since 2006, Haymon has chaired the board of the Center for Planning Excellence, the Baton Rouge nonprofit that coordinates urban, rural and regional planning efforts in Louisiana.
Houston Haymon, 44, said his dad has always emphasized the importance of hard work and pursued the sometimes slow but steady progress toward big goals.
In addition to committing himself tirelessly to community service, Houston Haymon said, his father does enjoy midnight snacks of Nilla wafers and peanut butter and spending time outdoors “in the Louisiana tradition of the great cultured outdoorsman” — hunting, fishing and appreciating nature.
Having devoted himself to the Baton Rouge community, Cordell Haymon said he sometimes becomes frustrated at the apparent lack of progress. “But to me, this is real life here. You have people from every corner of the population, and we all have good points and bad points. I’m trying to use my experience and my abilities to help move us forward.”