It is truly one of life’s mysteries that the choices one makes as they move down life’s road can effect and alter the lives of others including people they have never met. Such is the case with Wilbert D. “Bill” Hall and me.
Hall, whom I consider to be Idaho’s finest political columnist and editorial writer died last week 81 years young still enjoying his evening wine as he contemplated a rich and full life.
I owe my first big journalism job break to Hall His decision to leave the Idaho State Journal to move across state to take up the political and education beat at the Lewiston Tribune created a vacancy that I serendipitously was able to fill.
Hall had barely left town when there I stood dressed in my “zoot suit - $5 special from the Salvation Army) before Lyle Olson desperately needing a job. Olson bit and I was on my way. Doubtful if I’d ever have gone down that road otherwise.
I met Hall about a year later when I stopped off in Lewiston to review a performance of Hall’s play, “Gifford Eaton,” for the Journal.
Hall had a wonderful dry wit and droll sense of humor, but he could slice and dice one in a nano-second if he thought he was being lied to or someone was abusing their office.
Thus office holders will often describe a love/hate relationship. Elected officials often critical of Hall included almost anybody who was somebody in the GOP from Larry Craig to Steve Symms to George Hansen.
Even Cecil Andrus was wary around Hall reminding me Bill was a reporter always on duty. Cece liked and respected Hall, but he felt the sting of more than a few bites. “if he compliments you one day give it a week and he’ll bite you. It’s like he kept a scorebook and always tried to keep it even,” Andrus once said.
Hall was smart, did his homework and knew the issues. He relished playing the H.L. Mencken role: My goal is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
Most political journalists after a few years begin to have a yin to see a campaign from the inside. They want to see it from the other side and so they cross-over. In the old days that was it, you’d made a choice and you didn’t cross back. Hall decided to accept an offer to come to D.C. and join the staff of Idaho Senator Frank Church as press secretary. Times have changed as today in D.C. it is a revolving door.
Many of Hall’s friends warned him that he’d be captivated at first but rapidly grow tired of the power seekers, the con artists, the blatantly dishonest, all those on the make. Hall did decide to switch jobs, though, becoming the Church Presidential campaign’s spokesperson. That experience was not all struggle and strife but close to it.
He wrote a somewhat self-deprecating book covering the “highlights”
Entitled “Frank Church, D.C.and Me.” It's well worth reading.
It is doubtful he would ever again cross to the darkside.
No column on Wilbert D. would be complete without mentioning his longtime friendship with Don and Ann Watkins. With Hall serving as Watkin’s biggest fan, Watkins (who worked for State Superintendent Del Engelking) commanded the attention of reporters and journalists, both young and old, all across Idaho. Watkins, a former journalist himself, hosted many an Idaho journalist at the fine table Ann set at their home in Boise. When Hall was in town he was always the prime catch.
Bill Hall was the best Idaho ever produced. With his departure Idaho loses a tremendous amount of institutional history. Rest in Peace!