By Derrick Wilson
Whether spiritual or material, the things that matter to us most are the things that we keep closest. I’ve heard it said that you can tell a lot about a person from the items that they hold most dear. I found this saying to be true over the hour that I spent with Houston mayoral candidate Ben Hall. Let me share with you what I learned…
I arrived at the offices of The Hall Law Firm to find it located in a beautifully decorated historic building in Houston’s Montrose area. The building, a former school, has been carefully restored and offers all the modern amenities and I was greeted by the staff with all the hospitality that anyone could expect. I was a few minutes early, but was led to Ben Hall’s private office for our meeting.
Hall was wrapping up a teleconference when I arrived but took a moment to see that I was comfortable before returning to close the call. I was gathering my notes to begin the interview when I began to take notice of the office furnishings. There were pictures of Hall with everyone from his wife of 32 years (Saundra) to former President Bill Clinton. Beautiful oil paintings and sculptures shared wall space with photographs of whipped backs and bills of sale for Negro slaves. Ben Hall’s eclectic collection was something to see.
The most interesting object of all was an old wooden shoebox mounted in a fine wooden frame. The care with which the shoebox was displayed showed that it was clearly a prized possession. It seemed so out of place in the office of this powerful attorney that I asked Mr. Hall why it was there. The story that he told me revealed much about this devoted husband and father.
Ben Hall was raised a poor boy in Columbia, South Carolina by parents who were educators in segregated schools that didn’t pay very much. Ben was the only boy in a house with five sisters, so there was always sibling rivalry for their parents’ attention. Ben’s father was intent that his son would learn the things that a young man should, so there was one time that was reserved for only the “men” of the house… the time to shine their shoes.
His face lit up as he told of the quality time that he and his father shared over the shoebox. Hall says, “When my father was in the chair and we were shining his shoes, I had him all to myself. When my father passed away, this box was the thing that I wanted most of all his personal possessions. It is for me a reminder that fatherhood is not just about the things we provide, it is also about the time we spend.”
I had seen this fact noted on campaign materials that Hall was voted “Father of the Year” a few years ago by Houston non-profit Change Happens. While I thought that this was nice, it didn’t immediately resonate with me as a key point. My time with Ben Hall changed that.
I had expected to learn about the rags-to-riches story of a Texas Super Lawyer, or the ambitious tale of a former city attorney now seeking the office of mayor, but what I learned was far more interesting. I was prepared to hear information on his time at Harvard Law, or his studies abroad in Germany and Africa. However, these were not the highlighted accomplishments. Rather, it was this simple shoebox that shed the most light on who Ben Hall is.