February is always among my favorite months of the year, as I attend my annual Mardi Gras legal conference and, back in the day, the Dad 2.0 conference, along with an occasional ski trip and/or AAJ conference (last year I had 4 trips in February!).
This year was similar–my bride and I went to New Orleans for my 29th trip there, and the whole family went to Vancouver and skied Whistler Blackcomb for the Presidents Day weekend holiday (which was crowded but awesome). Canada is the children’s 9th foreign country to visit, as odd as it is that they saw Japan, Egypt, and Scotland before “America’s Hat.”
But on February 16th, I got a text telling me my friend Hal had died. His funeral was yesterday.
Hal and I served together on the Sandy Springs Bar Association Board for 10 years, but I met him pretty soon after starting my own firm in 2009, as we worked in the same building at that time, and he was a workers’ comp lawyer, too. We’d talk in the parking lot before and after work about our cases, our enjoyment of driving German performance cars, our love of dogs, or his hearing from friends who live near us about their unhappiness about our painting our house green (to which I said, “Well, our HOA is just a social club, so they can kiss my ass; I like it.”).
With SSBA, we had Board meetings, organizational lunches, and social events nearly every month. Because he loved German culture and Oktoberfest like I do, sometimes we’d put on lederhosen and go out in public together. Sometimes, my son would come, too.
We always seemed to stand together when being sworn into another year of service to the SSBA Board. The above are just two from many such ceremonies. We’d also hang out at Lawyers Club monthly dinners and parties, and at events in the city of Sandy Springs, as he lived and worked near where I live and work.
Hal was who I wanted to be in 10 years or so–I had no idea he was nearly 70 and was actually who I wanted to be in 20 years or so. For the nearly 15 years I saw him every week or so, I was sure he was about 10 years older than me, given how often I’d see him running with his dogs, playing lacrosse all over the world, or otherwise going on adventures that required mental and physical stamina. He was quick, smart, and funny; he was always a joy to be around.
When I told him of our trip to the UK in 2016, he insisted on taking me out to dinner (with his wife), so that he could suggest places to eat, drink, and explore in York, England (our stop between Edinburgh and London). He had lots of suggestions for Munich, too, having been for over 10 Oktoberfests there, and he helped me plan for my first trip there, too.
I was surprised when he told me they’d bought at house in Beaufort, South Carolina and that he was retiring this year. We had a “going away” happy hour for him in January, and he referred me a few of his remaining cases to work. I told him we would visit in a few months when my son has his CAP encampment in Savannah.
But what made Hal a special friend wasn’t his energy or “life of the party” persona–it was the part of him that suddenly failed a few days ago while playing golf: his heart. Hal was the most deferential person to military service I’ve ever met, especially in a civilian. Any time he’d be around me at an event in which I had to introduce myself for some reason, he’d add, “and he’s also a combat veteran–and a Lieutenant Colonel!” to whoever would listen. At my retirement party in June 2020, he came and talked with my dad about the aircraft my dad flew in Vietnam (I think Hal knew more about military aircraft than I do, despite my 2 decades in the Air Force). They made plans to go fishing together on Lake Guntersville. At Hal’s funeral, a friend said he used to go to the airport and take returning troops out to lunch as they’d come up the escalators from the plane train toward baggage claim.
Hal’s heart was most devoted to his wife, Pat. Despite being the life of any party or event, he was usually the first to leave, always saying, “Well, guys, I’m meeting Pat for dinner, so gotta run!” before heading off. I never heard him speak badly about her. I never saw him act disrespectfully toward any woman, or disrespectfully toward Pat while around other women.
The one time I heard him give even the slightest bit of discontent or longing related to his beloved bride was when I rode up to one of our SSBA meetings on my new motorcycle, and he asked to walk with me into the parking lot to see it. “I’d love to ride, too, but Pat doesn’t want me to,” he said with a shrug, but it didn’t bother him much. He liked that I rode.
I’d like to think Hal’s riding a German adventure bike on streets of gold right now… a BMW R 1150 GSA like Ewan and Charley rode around the world. I’d like to know that very much.
Here are February’s 28 seconds, concluding with some photos that were on display at Hal’s funeral:
Hal was a delight, very literally. I never left an interaction with him that didn’t leave me feeling better. This is a beautiful tribute. <3