Sunday, April 14, 2013

30 things you may not know about Bob Hall

30 things you may not know about Bob Hall
April 15, 2013

Since Monday, April 15, is my 67 birthday, officially making me Older Than Dirt, I thought my readers might like to know a few obscure facts. Of course, like everyone, there are some things I hope no one knows….

1. I lettered in college…in Chess. I played First Board for the Mount Wachusett Community College Chess Team, and received a trophy as school champion. They gave us “letters” like the real athletes. My wife made me a letter sweater a few years ago.

2. In my checkered career, I did spend one night in jail, in 1965. I was 19, and with a buddy had been drinking in Tijuana on a Saturday, where you were old enough if you could reach the bar. I got a tad over-served, and the Shore Patrol picked me up in the San Diego bus station. I spent the night on the floor in the drunk tank and they returned me to MCRD Sunday morning. The Captain gave me unofficial office hours, which meant no black mark in my record book, so I eventually got a Good Conduct Medal, my highest personal decoration. But I was restricted to base for two weeks, and permanently restricted from the Republic of Mexico. I went back in 1977.

3. I met my wife, Bonnie, when she came to a Scottish Country Dance Class I was teaching. I wore a kilt on our first date. You can do a lot with charm and good legs.

4. I was not a motivated student in high school. I skipped 41 days my junior year and 33 my senior year, and still managed to graduate. I think that is a record that will always stand, because they won’t let you graduate now with that bad an attendance record. Nine years after I graduated, I was a state senator in Massachusetts, and spoke at my old high school in NJ. They were amazed to learn I had made my opponent’s attendance record an issue in the campaign.

5. In my first eight years in the State Senate, I missed only one roll call vote out of thousands, which I think is probably a record. One night I had a class, and they promised nothing else would be taken up. I left and a routine roll call was ordered.

6. In addition to Scottish Country Dancing, which is like American Square Dancing, I learned to do the Highland Fling at age 39 and competed five times in highland dancing, always against girls in their teens or a few in their early 20s, all with better strength to weight ratios than I had. A friend gave me a fake trophy with a Geritol bottle on it after my first competition. I did win two first place medals and even a trophy, when the girl who came in second in the Fling flubbed the Sword Dance, which I didn’t do.

7. When I was about to get out of the Marines, I went to the closest college near my parents’ home in Lunenburg, MA, Fitchburg State College (now a University) and asked about going there. They handed me an application, then asked if I had taken the SAT College Boards yet. I said no. They asked what my high school grades were like. I said there was some Cs. That's okay, they said. I said that Cs were sort of the big ones, except for As in economics, where I loved a teacher most kids hated, Ben Mark. They took the application back and suggested that I go to the community college down in Gardner, Mount Wachusett. Five years later, I was their senator, and Fitchburg State had to talk to me for help with their budget. I did get an MEd in history there, taking classes at night for my own amusement while in the senate.

8. Mount Wachusett said they always took veterans, but I had to take the SAT. Since I had been out of High School for four years, and had graduated in the top 95% of my class, I was a tad concerned, but signed up to take it on a weekend home in NJ at my old high school. I got a score of 1,424 (This was before they made the scoring easier), a 689 in math (95th percentile) and a 735 in verbal (98Th percentile) out of a possible 1,600. (My girlfriend, a math major, got a 650 in math.) These scores got me into Mensa years later. My old high school called Trenton to see if they had the right Robert Hall. I got to be good at multiple choice tests in Marine Electronics School, where every week, the guy who missed the fewest was awarded a 100 by the computer and the three guys who missed the most flunked. If you flunked three weeks during the year, you washed out, were sent to the infantry and thus likely to get killed in Vietnam. It made it a competitive school. I came in second in my class to reservist who was an electrical engineer.

9. Despite being a Vietnam veteran, not terribly popular on campus 1968 to 1972, I served as Student Council President at Mount Wachusett and on the Student Senate at U-Mass.

10. While at U-Mass, I took fencing, and was class champion in Beginner’s Foil. There were a couple of better fencers in the class, I think, but I was a Marine vet and I used to growl at them when I put on my mask. They were a tad intimidated, I think.

11. When I was a Senator, I went back in the Marine Reserves as a corporal in 1977. One year I was high shooter in my company, scoring 235 out of 250 possible points, winning a trophy for shooting, and surprising everyone including myself. While I prefer the M-14, I do shoot better with the M-16 in offhand, because it is lighter, and thus easier for me to hold steady.

12. In 1966, the artillery battery I was with was scheduled for a six-month cruise in the Caribbean. I got out of that—I volunteered for Vietnam. When they said they didn’t have orders for me, I requested mass to speak with the colonel who commanded the Tenth Marine Regiment. Never talked to him, but I got orders for WestPac. And a promotion to corporal I didn’t expect. I always thought the colonel figured any Marine that nuts/gung ho deserved another stripe. Volunteering worked out okay, as I had an easy tour, both on Okinawa and at Khe Sanh while it was pretty quiet. And the extra stripe meant I never had head (latrine) burning detail.

13. While in the Senate, I took Kempo Karate. I got in a tournament, where I fought five bouts, all against guys at least ten years younger, bigger, and with higher ranked belts than I had. In the first one, I was disqualified for being too aggressive. In the second, I was kicked hard in the left side, but won. I won the next two, before losing the fifth. Then I took part in a forms competition, winning a second place trophy. That night I went on a date. The next day I was bruised and in some pain, so the state house doc sent me to Mass General for x-rays after the senate session adjourned for the day. The doc there asked what happened. After I told him, he said, “Well, Senator, you must have good pain tolerance. You fought those last three bouts with two cracked ribs. Good thing you didn’t get kicked there again.”

14. My scariest moment in Vietnam was July 14, 1967. I had been medevaced—for appendicitis—and was just back in DaNang from Okinawa. We got hit with something like 50 122m rockets, did millions of dollars in damage, blew half the ammo dump, and killed about eight of our guys, I think. And, just being back, I didn’t even have a helmet or flack jacket, which makes one feel obscenely naked with metal buzzing overhead. But my scariest moment in the Marines was at Camp Geiger in 1964, when a flame thrower I was fam firing backed up on me. Thankfully the corporal instructor had a cooler head than me, or I might have cooked myself and several others. Fire has always scared me. My best moment was jumping in when I was monitoring the radio at the CAC in Khe Sanh village. A Marine patrol was in contact with the enemy, and neither the artillery nor their HQ could hear them, but I could hear all three. I relayed messages and grid coordinates for maybe ten minutes, and heard they all got back safe. I did nothing brave, as I wasn’t in any danger, but at least I didn’t screw up under pressure.

15. A girlfriend once asked where I got the scar on my stomach. “Vietnam,” I said. “My God, what happened?” “Took my appendix out.” She pounded on me. I should have said, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

16. Five years ago, my boss opened a bottle of Robert Hall wine at a Board dinner. He had the Board sign the label on the empty bottle, then gave it to me, saying, “Here’s your annual evaluation.” I had it made into a lamp.

17. I wrote my first poem, "Somebody's Loved One," when I was in about 6th grade. I was proud of it and carefully looked up almost every word in the dictionary. My dad thought I had copied it from a book, since no words were misspelled. In high school, an English teacher I didn’t have assigned her class to write a poem, starting with the lines, “I walked beside the evening sea, and dreamed a dream that could not be.” Suddenly I was popular. I wrote several entirely different poems to those two first lines for the kids, getting all As or Bs. In the Marines, my buddies found out that if they would give me their girl friend's name and some details, I could write them three or four stanzas of rhymed iambic doggerel for her they could pass off as their own. I wonder if there are old Marine wives asking, “Why don’t you write me poetry anymore?”

18. On a $2 bet in Junior English, over the weekend I memorized Patrick Henry's "Give me liberty or give me death" speech and recited all 1,224 words (if memory serve) without a mistake. Got my only A in that class, plus the $2.

19. I learned to carry a pad and pen while I was in the Senate. I could be on a date, and people would come to the table, pull out a chair, sit down and say, “Senator, I’ve been trying to get a hold of you.” I’d take out the pad and resist the temptation to say, “Not hard enough to leave me a phone message.” Still always have one with me for notes.

20. Some girls wouldn’t go out with me. They’d say, “You’re the Senator. I wouldn’t know how to act.” I’d reply, “No problem. I give lessons.” At various times when I was in the Senate, I dated pairs of sisters. Some times at the same time, which kept life interesting.

21. In 30 years of managing associations, I’ve had more than once to straighten out a mess and turn around an association, where my predecessor had made at least $40k more than they were paying me. But I’ve never had a full year when I operated in the red, never had a full year when I had fewer paying members at the end than at the beginning, and left every association I was with in better shape than I found it. My detractors call this “dumb luck.” Maybe so.

22. On Okinawa, I was in an outfit where my ideas of leadership didn’t match those of the sergeants and staff NCOs over me. Being a corporal, that put me in trouble all the time, so they sent me to NCO school. I came out first in a class of 57, which made it hard for them to say I was a bad NCO. The best senior NCO by far was SSgt Russell, a black Marine, but the other senior NCOs had a racist animus towards him, so he was often out of the loop. I know, I overheard their remarks. Too bad, they could have taken leadership lessons from him. He treated the troops without regard to their race.

23. After a platoon party, I had to walk back to the Camp Hansen from Kin Ville with the Lt, a mustang officer who had been a tad over served, to be sure he made it. I never mentioned it to him or anyone. He wasn’t a bad officer, and everyone screws up.

24. I’ve always been bowlegged and not terribly athletic or coordinated. This created a lot of grief with my DIs at Parris Island.

25. Six of my Senate colleagues ended up wearing orange jump suits. There were forty senators, so with turn over, I’d guess I served with 60 over ten years, making this about ten percent. I came out of the Senate with very little money, but no questions or charges against my integrity. At least one of them I thought got a raw deal.

26. I avoid the draft. On my 18th birthday, I took the bus into Camden, NJ, walked into the Federal Building, and signed up for the draft. I then left the room, turned left, and walked down a long hall past the recruiters for the Army, Navy and Air Force to the Marine Recruiter. There a Staff Sergeant asked, "How can I help you, son?" I said, "Where do I sign." Thus starting my journey to Parris Island and implementing the first of the three best decisions in my life. (The second was to run for the senate when no one but me thought I had a chance. The third was to marry Bonnie when no one but me--except I hope her--thought it would last.)

27. I was 26 when I was elected to the Senate, so I looked quite young. The first week, I came out of the senate chamber and got on the elevator to my office on the fifth floor. A very distinguished lobbyist, about 50, in probably a thousand dollar suit looked at me in my Goodwill suit, and asked, "Well, young man. I saw you come out of the senate. Are you one of the new pages?" "No," I said, "I'm one of the new senators." He got red and apologized. I just thought it was amusing--I don't make a hobby out of being offended.

28.I proposed to Bonnie in August of 1992, and 18 days later we were married in a full Scottish wedding. A friend who managed a hotel provided the room for the reception. Guests brought covered dishes instead of presents. I made haggis, bought a keg of beer, and brought my extensive single malt Scotch collection, storage having become an issue in our joined household. We had a piper, poetry, an Irish folk group, a Scottish folk group and Scottish Country Dancing. I did the highland fling. Total cost was about $400. It was a memorable event.
29.I took my wedding vows on a Scottish broadsword, making the sign of the cross in the church. "Before God, and on this Scottish steel, I Robert, vow that I will love and honor and cherish and protect this woman, Bonnie, while the blood shall run hot in my veins."

30. Our master of ceremonies, David Skipper, wore a hard hat in the church. He was concerned that if Bob Hall was getting married, the roof would cave in.


  1. A true honor to read your blog, as a Vietnam vet, you are a blessing to us all. Brassy with humility, thank you.

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. What a colorful life you've had! by the way, thank you for your service to our country.

    God Bless,

  3. While I read your "Politicl Sitreps" religiously, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post. Keep 'em coming!

    P.S. Your bit about helping the mustang back to Hansen made me laugh. As a young corporal I staggered through that gate after a night out in Kinville on a few occasions. Thank goodness my barracks was only about 300 yards from the gate and the MP's were more likely to give you a ride home than haul you in back in the late '90s. Might never have been commissioned otherwise...

  4. Geez Bob, You are a wonder and a great loss to our association. Best of luck on all of your endeavors.
    I wish you the best of health. Must have been crazy making to celebrate your birthday on :tax day"
    Thanks for being a friend.

    Best regards,

  5. On another note,
    Congratulations to you and Bonnie. She is a tolerant woman.
    All the best,
    The old squid - Jerry

  6. Well Bob, as a recent entrant to your blog, I never saw the likes of this mini "30 Items in Bob Hall's Journey Through Life," but it is one of the best journals I've ever read on a thus far well lived life. Your comments on High school reminded me of my being a multiple varsity letter winner in wrestling, football and baseball...mostly before I turned 17 for graduation, while also notable for being a academic underachiever. At my 50th high school reunion, it was noted that behind every successful high school graduate stands an astonished classmate. Happy 67th Birthday and many, many more in good health, happiness and great humour.

    Semper Fi
    JP Tristani