Richard Hyatt

Hand: a legend in two realms

G. Othell Hand was comfortable in pastoral robes or voguish white suits, patent leather shoes, diamond stickpins and freshly cut flowers. He drove a Cadillac that Goo Goo washed three times a week and preached with the intonations of a dramatic actor.

He pastored the First Baptist Church for 11 years before answering a call to the marketplace to become Vice President of Motivation for the company that became Aflac, spreading its message long before the Duck began to quack.

Hand’s flamboyancy followed him for 95 years. His image was what people talked about last week when he died a remarkably quiet death.

We remember a head of hair that God didn’t grow, televised sermons and his fervent support of the arts in Columbus.

We remember the fountain he installed on the church grounds and his unusual transition into an industry that did not know what to think of his company’s founder or the product it sold.

I remember his kitschy office on Wynnton Road. Fine china was displayed and collectable art hung on the wall. Candelabras dangled from the ceiling. The centerpiece was an impressive desk crafted by a Spanish artisan with a shop near the intersection of 13th and 13th. His boss, John Amos, commissioned a desk by Pepe and so did Hand, who made sure his was a wee bit smaller than Mr. John’s and included a splash of gold.

He said he never left the ministry, just the pastorate. He ministered to a sales team that had to be at peace before it could be brassy. He was recognized in the halls of Congress where he eased the way for the company’s sale of cancer insurance.

It had been 44 years since he left the pulpit, so at his memorial the Rev. Jimmy Elder reminded people how important G. Othell Hand was to First Baptist. The church grew by 1,849 members, donated $5 million and learned to be stewards of its resources. The foundation he created pays for capital projects and keeps the church out of debt.

At the service an Israeli violinist from the Schwob School of Music played melodies that soared and expanded like the ministry of a man with the gifts to serve the church and the marketplace.

Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at