John William Hall

May 09, 2009|By MARLO BARNHART

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail publishes "A Life Remembered." This continuing series takes a look back -- through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others -- at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about John William Hall, who died April 30 at the age of 90. His obituary was published in the May 2 edition of The Herald-Mail.

Not expected to live much beyond infancy, John William Hall probably was coddled as a young child for just that reason.

He survived, and though he had a legendary and lifelong placid demeanor, the man expected high standards from everyone.

"Dad made me toe the line," said his oldest daughter, Barbara McKendrick. "He also commanded respect from his men."

From 1952 to 1974, John Hall was Hagerstown's fire chief. An injury at a fire forced him to retire at age 56 -- long before he was ready to retire.


"John was a visionary," said Justin Mayhue, a battalion chief who has been associated with John and the Hagerstown Fire Department for 31 years.

Describing John as self-taught about the principles of fighting fires, Justin said John took every class he could get. And whenever he could, John would seek out his own mentor -- former Hagerstown Fire Chief Max Hoover -- for wisdom.

"Uniforms came into being because of John," Justin said.

That happened after a fire on West Franklin Street, when John saw the professional firefighter operating the Western Enterprise Fire Co.'s engine was being treated like a bystander by the police because he was dressed in civilian clothes.

"Chief Hall was a true legend in his time," said C. Kingsley Poole, who now is the regional coordinator of the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute.

A former Hagerstown firefighter, Kingsley said John was the fire chief who hired him in 1969.

"He cared deeply about the people under his command," Kingsley said. "He was fair and could be firm when necessary."

Kingsley and Justin both agreed being called into John's office for an infraction or misstep was no picnic.

Summoned to appear in full dress uniform, a firefighter would step into the chief's office and remain at attention and standing while John continued working on what he was working on at his desk, Justin said.

"There was discipline, but when it was over, it was over," Justin said.

In his personal life, John's first marriage ended, and in 1962, he married Belva Beard. Together, they had a daughter, Laura Reamy, who is 22 years younger than her half sister, Barbara.

"Actually, Belva and I were pregnant at the same time," Barbara said of her first child with her husband, Jack McKendrick, and Belva's pregnancy with Laura.

For her entire childhood, Barbara said she had her father all to herself.

"Dad was an avid fisherman," she said. "We'd go to a place at Taylor's Landing a lot."

There, father and daughter would sit on their special rock and gather their own bait, Barbara said. By the time Barbara met and married Jack, there were no more fishing excursions, but Jack said he still was welcomed into the Hall family.

When she first met John, Belva said her parents lived on Salem Avenue, where she operated the Princess Beauty Shop. John lived one house away.

"I wasn't interested in anyone at the time," Belva said.

One day, John invited her to Richardson's restaurant for a cup of coffee. Things moved quickly after that.

Fire chief at the time, John always was working, Belva said. And she always worried about him every time he went out on fires.

"Once my blouse caught on fire while I was in the kitchen," Belva said. She went outside and rolled in the grass to put out the fire.

"I called John, who was working, and he was home in a flash," Belva said.

A longtime volunteer at the South Hagerstown Fire Co., Tom Cochrane counted John as one of his best friends for more than 50 years.

"It was a privilege to work for John ... he was an outstanding leader," Tom said.

But he did have a bone to pick with John over the subject of jokes -- funny stories listened to and retold.

"I could tell John a funny story and he never laughed or changed his expression, though he stayed and listened to them all," Tom said.

Years later, Tom learned from Laura that John would tell those same stories at the dinner table and just laugh and laugh.

John was injured on the job when Laura was a young girl, and she recalls her father couldn't do the things he had been able to do before.

"He never wanted me to want for anything," Laura said. Once, when she wanted a certain song on a tape he couldn't afford, John came up with a way.

"So he listened to my radio station until the song came on and he taped it for me," Laura said.

As a tribute to her father at his funeral, Laura borrowed some of the lyrics from another of her favorite songs -- "Leader of the Band" by Dan Fogelberg -- a testament to a child's pride for a parent's impact on her life.

"Once when I was sick, dad sat up all night in my room, reading the Bible by a small light," Laura said, recalling one of the many times that pride was enhanced.

When John and Belva no longer could live independently, Laura and her husband, John, took them into their Hagerstown home in January 2008.

Last October, John got to take a ride on the new Western Enterprise firetruck.

It was great day ... for a great man, Laura said.

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