George Hickman, A Legendary Husky

Via Wiki Commons, Library of Congress.

Mr. Hickman passed away the morning of August, 20th, so we’ve decided to run a profile we put together on him now, to celebrate the life of one of The University of Washington and the city of Seattle’s greatest treasures.

Mr. George Hickman passed away the morning of August, 20th, so we've decided to run a profile we had put together on him now, which was originally published at DailyUW.com, to celebrate the life of one of The University of Washington and the city of Seattle's greatest treasures.

For George Hickman, life has always been better high above the ground.

Whether it was flying with the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II or serving in his current role as press-box staff during UW football games, Hickman has always achieved lofty heights, both in his professional and personal lives.

Hickman, who moved to Seattle in 1955 to work as a manager at Boeing, knows more about old Husky Stadium than anyone you'll ever meet. He's been there for nearly every memorable moment and has been a fixture at Husky football games since he bought his first pair of season tickets in 1962.

"I thought I was going to get real high-end seats," Hickman said. "But I was tunnel three, row F in the west end. With my binoculars and telephoto lens I saw all the yardage lines from zero in the west to zero in the east."

Rather than wait for his seats to gradually get better, Hickman noticed that many of the men working the games as ushers and ticket takers were his coworkers at Boeing.

In 1965, Hickman joined their ranks. As a ticket-taker on the North side, Hickman worked the student section. This meant occasionally chasing down students who would throw their coats over what was then a barbed-wire fence in an attempt to sneak into the games.

Other times, it meant dealing with students who were taking part in some of the more psychedelic aspects of the '60s. Often the kids would be passed out on the ground near the stadium.

"You didn't know if they were ill or whatever, so I had to go down with a guard and sometimes we'd have a stretcher to put them in," Hickman said. "But then you'd get down there and find out there was nothing wrong with them, they were just knocked out."

Of course, dealing with a few stoned students was a small challenge for a man who'd signed up to fight the Germans in 1943. Especially for someone who'd joined the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-American aviators in the United States military.

It was a tough assignment, not only breaking the color barrier but entrusting his life to a machine that was a relatively new contraption to most of the world.

But it wasn't new to Hickman.

"As a kid I started loving airplanes," Hickman explained. "I'd look up there and wish that an airplane would come down so I could play with it. I was 4 years old and just fascinated by them."

So fascinated by them that he saved up all his Kellogg's coupons and sent in for a tiny model airplane that he built with his father in his hometown of St. Louis.

Hickman never got to play with his model, however. Shortly after it was built, Hickman's mother, weary from a long day and carrying groceries, sat down on the tiny model, squashing it.

"It was like she sat on my chest," Hickman said. "It was crushed and I was crushed."

Rather than remain crushed, however, Hickman got a paper route. He used the money he earned to buy a bicycle for the princely sum of $3.50 and rode around St. Louis, eventually happening on a store that specialized in model airplanes.

Hickman was ecstatic; he went in and bought one for 25 cents. The next day he came in and bought the 50-cent model, and then the day after that he bought one for a dollar.

"By the time I got to high school I had gasoline engines ... 5-foot, 6-foot airplanes with timers and plugs."

In 1943 he took the test to become a pilot, which consisted of a physical test and a much more strenuous mental test, composed of hours upon hours of inkblots, all of which looked like "butterflies."

Soon after graduating, Hickman was sent to Tuskegee, Ala. for flight training. It was there that he came face-to-face with the fact that no matter how friendly, intelligent and charming he could be, some people didn't like him because of the color of his skin.

Hickman has always been acutely aware of his heritage. Both of Hickman's grandparents were slaves and both rose above the circumstances that controlled their lives.

His grandmother, one of her master's 23 illegitimate children says Hickman, was raised in the house due to her good nature, and was given property. His grandfather was a schoolteacher, one of the few slaves with a college education.

"At the end of slavery the slave master that my grandfather had said, ‘You're a smart little nigger, and I'm going to send you to college,'" George said. "He sent him to Fisk University in Tennessee for a year and he became a schoolteacher."

Still, even two generations later, the hatred remained for some. George could recall times he was spit on in town when he was in uniform, times when servicemen refused to salute him and even one time when a car tried to run him off the road.

But all that disappeared when he got up in the air.

"Just to know that you're doing it, and you're doing it by yourself, and here you are in Alabama with a blue sky, white cumulus clouds, the sun in shining ... it's like you're in heaven," Hickman said.

"But doggone it, you're suffering from all this racism down here and you just say, ‘I don't care. I'm enjoying what I see, and what I love to do' and I just have to ignore it and say, ‘I am somebody! I wand to do these kinds of things and I want to be the best at what I'm doing because if I'm not any good I'm going to get shoved down.'"

But Hickman doesn't dwell on the bad things people have done to him. He's known throughout the UW athletic program as a warm, friendly, humble man who makes a point of giving everyone a "Hi!" or a "God bless!"

It's this innate kindness that makes it so Hickman won't allow a reporter to pay for his coffee, and makes it so that everyone who comes into contact with him loves him.

When Hickman, who has been awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor, was invited to attend president Barack Obama's inauguration, the staff of the athletic department passed the hat so that he could afford to make the trip.

It's a testament to the lives Hickman has touched and the people he has made an impact upon. No matter what obstacles Hickman has had to face, he's always risen above them, high above the ground.

*This article originally ran on DailyUW.com

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