Local political icon Ralph Hall, who left the U.S. House of Representatives in 2014 after losing a runoff primary battle to current U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe, was the body’s oldest serving member when the electorate for his district failed to return him to Washington after doing so unfailingly for the 17 previous elections.
Hall, who died Thursday at the age of 95, was a frequent visitor to the Herald Democrat offices. He walked through this building the way he did courthouses and community centers throughout his district. He shook every hand in the newsroom before going in to talk with the editor or the publisher of the day. And he had something nice to say to almost everyone on his way out again. Those who were quick enough to ask him about his wife would get that wide smile and an earful about his beloved wife Mary Ellen, their children or grandchildren.
His penchant for personal attention was one of the things commented on by those who remembered him Thursday.
“He was a great man,” Sherman attorney Bob Slagle, who worked for Hall and had known him since the congressman was a freshman senator, said. “He didn’t really care what your policy was. He didn’t care if you were liberal or moderate, conservative, Democrat or Republican or Indian chief. If you got a problem and you were in his district, and you asked him for help, you were going to get it.”
Slagle, who was once the chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, told the story Thursday of a man who walked into Ralph Hall’s office many years ago and said he was about to lose everything, including his house and his car because he had lost his military benefits.
Slagle said Hall sent the man to the outer office to sit while Hall made phone calls about the situation. Soon enough, Slagle said, it was time for more than calls.
“Call your wife and tell her you’re going to be gone for several hours,” Slagle recalled Hall saying to the man. “You’re going to the Regional Office of the VA with me.”
Slagle said the pair were off and by the time they were finished, Hall had all of the man’s benefits restored.
“That was Ralph Hall,” Slagle said. “He was a good constituent-oriented politician.”
Retired Grayson County Judge Horace Groff agreed that Hall served the people of the district well.
“My recollection is that he was the most accessible state or national elected official I worked with, if he could not take your call at that time, you would get a prompt return and a later response to your inquiry,” Groff, who served as Grayson County Judge for 21 years, said. “Constituent service was his hallmark, whether it was a local government issue, contact on your behalf with a federal agency or accommodating visitors in Washington.”
Groff added that Hall did not miss many weekends crisscrossing his district.
“It might be a community picnic, a school reunion, building dedication or a birthday party,” Groff said. “Quite often, he was late because he scheduled too many events, but he always showed up.”
U.S. Attorney Joe Brown said Thursday that Ralph Hall “aggressively protected the interests of the Sherman federal court by ensuring that when a Plano court was created, it would not negatively affect the hearing of cases in Sherman.”
Brown said he is eternally grateful to Hall for his efforts to get the federal courthouse in Sherman renamed for Brown’s uncle, the late Paul Neely Brown, who served as a federal district court judge there for more than 20 years.
Grayson County Republican Party Chair Barbara Woodroof said hearing about Hall’s death was sad even though he did live to be 95.
“He was an icon,” she said before adding that he was a good man in addition to a man who did good things.
Ratcliffe’s office also issued a statement Thursday about Hall’s death.
“Today, the 4th District of Texas lost a great leader, statesman and friend,” Ratcliffe said in his emailed statement. “From his defense of our nation during WWII through his time as our Representative in Congress, Ralph Hall lived a remarkable life dedicated selflessly to serving his fellow citizens. Congressman Hall leaves behind a timeless legacy that will forever be remembered and appreciated by generations of Texans. Michele and I are keeping Ralph’s family and loved ones in our prayers during this difficult time.”