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A life of laughter: Youth baseball coach Abbott Hayes loses battle with cancer
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Abbott Swift Hayes, who devoted countless hours as a coach of youth baseball, died at home Sunday after a three-year battle with cancer. He was 67.

Born in Atlanta, Hayes came to Gainesville when his late father, the Rev. Zach Hayes, was assigned to a Methodist pastorate here. He grew up here and graduated from Gainesville High School, where he was a devoted sports fan and alumnus.

"My dad was a guy who loved to laugh, and he loved life and loved making other people laugh," said his son, Abbott S. "Abb" Hayes Jr.

He said his father had always loved baseball and connected with his teams.

"My dad was a lot like my grandmother, Sara. They both had a knack for communicating with folks and making them feel at ease. He never met a stranger," he said.

During most of his adult life, he was a volunteer baseball coach, first with the Hall County Boys Club senior little leagues, and then as an assistant coach and general manager of the Gainesville Travelers summer team. He was a fixture at the games of his children and grandchildren.

His brother, Nath Hayes of Gainesville, said that Abbott went far beyond coaching and had recently met a man who said Abbott Hayes was a surrogate father to him.

"He told me that if it wasn’t for Abbott, he would have ended up on the street," Nath Hayes said. "Now, he’s about to retire after a successful military career."

He was also a team manager of the baseball team at Young Harris College under the coaching of Zell Miller, who later became governor and U.S. senator.

"He had friends from all walks of life," Nath Hayes said.

Abbott Hayes was diagnosed with cancer in 2005 and had undergone a rigorous five-day-a-week treatment schedule that included both chemotherapy and kidney dialysis.

The younger Hayes said his father’s health began a serious decline about three weeks ago.

Hayes was a fixture at Longstreet Café, where he was most often found at a group table where coffee and thought flowed in equal measure.

"He had a lot of opinions and was not shy about sharing them. He had a booming voice and loved to communicate at a loud volume," said Abb Hayes. "You knew he was in the room."

Abbott Hayes was a lifelong member of Gainesville First United Methodist Church, where his father once served as pastor. A memorial service will be held there at 3 p.m. Wednesday under the direction of Mason and Ward Funeral Home.

In addition to his son and brother, another son, Justin Hayes of Decatur, survives him, along with five grandchildren.

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