Molly Ivins

Remembering "Do-Gooder" Walter Hall

Walter Hall, that wonderful citizen, died Sunday, March 12, at ninety-two. Hall was, of all things, a liberal banker active in the public life of Texas for many decades. He has so many credentials on his résumé that it could give you an inferiority complex just to read it.

To be called a “do-gooder” anymore is a sneering insult, but Walter Hall did good. In addition to all his work as lifelong liberal Democrat (and proud of it), he helped everybody from the Boy Scouts to the cause of clean water to tackling organized crime back when it ran rampant in Galveston County, to schools to libraries to the Texas Bill of Rights Foundation to his alma mater, Rice University. One of his last, loveliest gifts was Helen’s Garden in League City, Texas — a park full of old oaks and flowers in memory of his late wife, Helen Lewis Hall, who so loved flowers. He was one of the organizers of the Texas Independent Bankers Association and once owned banks in Dickinson, Alvin, League City, Webster, and Bay City. At his death, he was chairman of the board and owner of Citizens State in Dickinson and the League City Bank & Trust.

“Some people laugh at me for making small loans,” he said back in 1962. “Yet I know when people need money in a country town they have no other place to go. Loan sharks have tried to move into the towns where my banks are, but they don’t stay long.”

Like his friends J.R. Parten, Bernard Rapoport, and Billy Goldberg, Hall was not only a man of considerable self-made wealth, but a man of great principle, as well. In the biography of him by A. Pat Daniels, Citizen First, Banker Second, he is quoted: “I have been regarded by the ‘establishment’ as something of a liberal when they were kind, a radical when they were irritated, and a communist when they were mad as hell, none of which bothered me in the least.

“I have been called a liberal, and I suppose by some measure I am. This is because I know that change is inevitable, and orderly change is the most desirable.” Hall once said he knew more about losing than most people — the first vote he ever cast for president was for Al Smith in 1928. Hall was one of seven Smith voters in his hometown.

Over the years, Hall supported Ralph Yarborough, Sissy Farenthold, and innumerable other crusaders against the establishment. But he was also close to Lyndon B. Johnson and often acted as one of Johnson’s better angels. Hall liked to try to get his more liberal friends to be more pragmatic and his less liberal friends to be more principled. He particularly loathed crooks and racists in public office.

Hall never took himself all that seriously. He liked to quote his old friend Ed Clarke’s introduction of him: “Hall is a country banker and as honest as the present conditions permit.” Hall once said of Allan Shivers: “He and another man who became Governor of Texas had in common what I consider one great defect. They both, in my judgment, had far too great respect for money and people who had it. Many people think he made a tremendous Governor of Texas because of his intelligence, his powers of leadership, and his gift of speaking. He could have led Texas down a highly progressive road, and the same could be said of John Connally. But that’s not the case, as we all know. Texas, under their leadership, and those who came before and after them, has continued to worship at the shrine of the dollar mark. The ‘establishment’ has been in control.”

Hall loved fishing, hunting, woodworking and gardening. He had a ranch in the Hill Country, where old friends often gathered. He was a lovely man.

Especially for a banker.

Molly Ivins is a former Observer editor and a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Her new book from Random House, with Observer editor Louis Dubose, is Shrub: The Short and Happy Political Life of George W. Bush. You may write to her at [email protected]

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