ROCKWALL — It was sometime in the middle of 1981, and the telephone at Ralph and Mary Ellen Hall’s Rockwall home was ringing. The newly-elected representative from Texas’ 4th Congressional District answered, finding an oddly familiar voice on the other end of the line.

ROCKWALL — It was sometime in the middle of 1981, and the telephone at Ralph and Mary Ellen Hall’s Rockwall home was ringing. The newly-elected representative from Texas’ 4th Congressional District answered, finding an oddly familiar voice on the other end of the line.

"Congressman Hall, this is Ronald Reagan," said the man.

Retelling the story from the living room of that same home last Wednesday, Hall, now 90, leaned forward in his chair for emphasis.

"I said, ‘Well, wait a minute, then this is George Washington!’ I said, ‘Martha! I got some guy acting like he’s Ronald Reagan on the phone!’

"He said, ‘No, really.’

"I said, ‘What are you talking about?’

"He said, ‘This is really Ronald Reagan.’

"I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’"

The President, as it turned out, was not kidding. He was calling to request a meeting with Hall at the urging of Vice President George H.W. Bush, and Chief of Staff James Baker, both Texans.

Hall continued: "When Reagan first came up, he came (to Washington) wanting to upgrade the pay for the people who are defending this country and cut the budget. That was his goal.

"And he said (to Bush and Baker), ‘How do you (get Democratic votes)?’ And they said, ‘Well you get Ralph Hall to help you.’ Anyway, we went on (with the phone conversation) and he said, ‘I need to talk to you, I want you to come over to the White House.’

"I said, ‘Well, you know I’ll come, but I have a schedule just like you have.’"

As he talked, Hall leaned back in his chair, his smile growing wider as he neared the punchline.

"And I’ve always wanted to put a … president on hold. So I said, ‘Do you mind holding the phone until I look at my schedule?’"

Ralph Hall — a man born 1923 in Fate, Texas, population 84 — stared at his wrist watch while the most powerful man in the world twiddled his thumbs.

"I timed it. I kept him two minutes. That’s a long time to keep a president on hold!’"

A few months later, said Hall, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed four of Reagan’s signature bills, with Hall’s conservative-leaning Blue Dog Democrats providing the margin of victory for each.

"I didn’t have many dates in high school because I wasn’t popular."

Ralph Hall — a man who’s earned more than 2.1 million votes over 17 Congressional elections — was sitting in a rocking chair in the living room of his Rockwall home. His back was turned to a breathtaking view of Lake Ray Hubbard, a reservoir east of Dallas, litigation over which made Hall a millionaire as a small-town lawyer five decades prior. In his hand, he held a picture of the 1941 graduating class of Rockwall High School — all 38 of them.

"I was about six-foot, two-and-a-half inches, and I weighed about 140 pounds, and looked like Ichabod Crane, I guess," Hall said. "I graduated 38th out of 38. … I was a terrible student. And I wanted a girlfriend, I knew I could be a good boyfriend if I ever got a chance, … but they just didn’t want to date me."

After graduation, Hall followed his father’s footsteps into the energy industry and became a pipeliner, running a bulldozer during the construction of the Big Inch Pipeline, a war-time effort to connect the oil fields of East Texas with the shipyards of New England. He was 19 when Uncle Sam came calling.

"I was working on the Big Inch Pipeline up through, oh golly, I don’t know where we were," said Hall. "And I was running the dozer, and I got my call from the Navy to come. So I climbed off of a bulldozer and climbed into an airplane. I was stationed first at the University of Texas (for flight school), and then they picked 20 of us to go to TCU to fly 140-horsepower airplanes."

With his training relocated only an hour from home, Hall was able to stay close with high school friends, a situation that provided him a lucky break.

"When Mary Ellen moved to town … all the girls (in Rockwall) met her and grabbed her and said, ‘We’ve got just the guy for you, Ralph Hall.’ I think because they wanted to get me off their doorstep," Hall said with a laugh. "But she was a beautiful girl. I got to know her. I was still in training, but I had a uniform then and the uniform helped me a good bit. And I knew I wanted to keep her if I could. And somehow, someway, I got a ring on her finger during the time I was in the service.

"I always thought she married me because she was sorry for me; I questioned her wisdom when she said she’d marry me!" again, Hall chuckled. "I thought there must be something wrong with her!"

The two planned to wed after Hall received his wings, but that milestone was no sure thing, given his lack of education.

"I was a guy without any college experience, competing with — then, the Navy pilots had to have a college degree. And that was pretty tough competition for a guy that finished toward the last in his class at Rockwall High School. But I got my wings and when I did, I had ten days to come home and get ready to go back to Pensacola, Fla. (where I was in aircraft carrier training)."

Hall covered his ensign’s stripe with black cloth, as officers weren’t permitted to hitchhike. Thumbing his way back to Texas, he and Mary Ellen reunited and made plans to marry in Florida the next day.

"The next morning, she was available, had her suitcase packed, we got on a train, I got my arm around her and held my arm around her all the way to Pensacola, Fla. She was just a pure woman and beautiful. I had the best you could get."

Hall continued training in Pensacola and Daytona Beach over the next three months, keeping a diary of his daily progress. He casually mentioned playing on an airman’s baseball team with major leaguers Johnny Sain and Ted Williams in the way most people would mention a nice meal they remembered — just a footnote among memories of astronauts and presidents.

In September of 1945, he left Florida for the Pacific Theater, leaving Mary Ellen behind. His penultimate diary entry, dated Sept. 7 and penned aboard an unnamed aircraft carrier, reads as follows:

"Played poker all night. Lost a little; guess I’ll get it back today, as she might say. The night’s sleep wasn’t too good. Terribly hot in the air-crewman’s ward. The water is really blue and beautiful. I wonder what Mary is doing now."

Ralph Hall’s service during the Second World War was, by his own admission, rather unremarkable. He flew approximately 40 sorties in the Pacific, mostly nighttime strafing runs over decimated, Japanese-held islands. After a year and a half, he received his discharge and returned to Rockwall.

After failing to find a job in aviation, Mary Ellen suggested Hall, who had never taken a college class in his life, try law school.

"The (admissions) guy said, ‘Mr. Hall, you have 16 (credit) hours,’ and I said, ‘I don’t have a single hour!’ He said, ‘Yes, you have six hours of physics from TCU. You might not have known it, but these schools were giving y’all credit for the time you did (flight) school because they wanted to attract you when the war was over.

"But I barely stayed at SMU (law school); made bad grades. I had to go before (the review board) time and time again. I was not a good student, but I could stay in law school. Somehow, it was meant for me to stay in law school, and I did."

But money was tight, and the GI Bill only paid for the first two years of tuition. Hall worked three jobs: security at a freight yard, payroll manager for a pair of companies, and "on the ignorant end of a shovel" at a concrete company.

"(Mary Ellen) said we have to have at least $300 more dollars (a month) cause we’ve had a boy born in July that year. And I said, ‘Well, go out and announce me for public weigher; cotton weigher.’ That was a thing you voted on then, and it paid $300 a month; just exactly what we needed."

But a popular incumbent meant the Halls had to look elsewhere. After consulting around town, Mary Ellen signed up Hall to run for county judge.

"Well, when I found out that it was an office against a guy named Bill Laughlin, I said no deal; it’s not gonna be. I worked for their dad. He gave me a job when nobody else would give me a job, pulling onions and cutting onions, and working in his cotton patch."

But before Hall could pull out of the race, fate intervened once again, said Hall. Laughlin ran instead for county attorney, leaving only the uneager mayor of Royse City and Hall on the ballot for judge.

"I beat him, with no hardship or anything."

In 1962, as Ralph Hall aimed to capitalize on 12 years as county judge and a concurrent, lucrative legal career, the television provided him a political boost in the Democratic primary for the Texas State Senate.

"I won that race the last night before the election," Hall recalled. "We had a debate and Jerdy Gary had to speak first, then the union guy (Charlie Hughes) spoke second and I spoke third. Well, Jerdy Gary was a super speaker. He was a great lawyer; way more qualified than either of the other two of us in there, and he should have been the one to win.

"We had (the debate on) television … and (Gary) just froze. … And (Hughes) got up and said, ‘Well, you don’t know what Jerdy seems to be thinking about. Whatever he’s trying to say, he must have been embarrassed about it. ‘Cause he made me sick and I know y’all are sick of hearing him.’ And he just put it on him really good. Because (Gary) was leading, he had all the polls showing he was going to win it.

"And when I got up, I thought, ‘I got to win this … without a run-off, and I got to be somewhat of a good guy.’ So I said, ‘Well, let me just tell ya’; I’ve been in politics a long, long time and I’ve been pubic speaking a long time, and I’ve always had to work hard for anything I’ve got. And I believe in being fair. And in being fair with Jerdy Gary, let me tell ya’ what: He’s one of the finest speakers I’ve ever heard in my life and not accustomed to television. And I really don’t think you ought to judge him on a poor showing, just on what he did tonight. I want you to think about what he’s done for us.’

"‘I want to win. I want to beat him. And I want to beat Charlie Hughes. And I think I’m going to, but I’ve got to have all your votes this go ‘round, cause I can’t beat either one of them in a run-off. But I’d rather lose a race than to delve into something that dirty.’

"I beat ‘em without a run-off," Hall said, grinning.

Ralph Hall served 10 years in the state senate before being hand-picked by Ray Roberts to replace him as representative of the 4th District. With an electorate that skewed heavily Democrat in 1980, the outcome was never seriously in doubt. Hall was reelected to the office as a Democrat 11 times, never with less than 58 percent of the vote.

But the election of Hall’s longtime friend George W. Bush as president in 2000, and the political climate over the next four years, meant Hall faced a choice when he filed for reelection in 2004.

"I didn’t know what I was going to do. I sent two applications down (to the elections office); two checks for $25: one for the Republican, one for the Democrat, and I sent a guy 30 minutes before the deadline to go in there and said, ‘I’ll call and tell you which I want to be.’

"I decided at the last minute, I just tolerated those Democrats running me down so much about the Bushes. … I just had heard all I wanted to hear about that. When I’d come into a meeting, then they’d go to talking about, ‘Well now here’s a guy who thinks the Bushes are all right.’ And I said, ‘You’re damn right I do! Flew with one in the Navy and known the other since he was a little boy, 9 years old.’

"But I didn’t tell Mary Ellen, because I didn’t know when I left (the house) what I was gonna do. And I actually prayed about it and just was really trying to decide what I really ought to do. We got down to where it’s close (to the deadline) and I finally just called and said, ‘Put me down for Republican, I’m going home.’"

The ramifications hit home, quite literally, a short time later. "By the time I got up to the house, my wife was standing right there at that door like this: ‘C’mon in, buddy.’ She said … ‘Did you switch parties?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’

"‘Did you tell me you were gonna switch parties?’

"I said, ‘No because I didn’t know.’

"‘Did you have a telephone there, and did you know I have a telephone?’

"I said, ‘If I’d have gone and voted Democratic, it would have pleased you, and we’d have gone on down the road two more years. But I didn’t feel like that was the right thing to do. I had to make a decision, and I made it.’

"She said something about, ‘Hope you enjoy eating out and sleeping by yourself for about three weeks.’

"I said, ‘Ah, baby, you wouldn’t do that!’

"I loved that woman and she loved me. But she didn’t want to be left out of the deal, and I flat left her out because I didn’t know what I was going to do."

"April 22, 1945: Observed more field carrier landings again today out at Tomaca Field, came home around 9. Mary, Pope, Charlie, Bernie and I went fishing. Oh yes, the boys spent the night with us last night. Eddie’s poor car sure needs workin’-on. It’s rainy tonight. I’m ready for a good night of sleep. Mary is as sweet and lovely as ever."

Mary Ellen Murphy Hall died of pneumonia on April 27, 2008. Her husband, the oldest person to ever cast a vote on the floor of the United States House of Representatives, is expected to file for his 18th congressional campaign sometime in the next month.

Ralph Hall, the Fate, Texas-born pipeliner-turned-politician, sat in his Rockwall rocking chair Wednesday, shielding his eyes from the sun as it sank low in the sky.

Asked to finger the biggest regret of his six-decade political career, Hall paused to gather his thoughts, then spoke.

"I’d have spent more time with my wife. She wasn’t supposed to die when she died. But she wanted me to stay in Congress as long as I felt like I was making it a better place for our children and grandchildren. And that’s what I’m doing."