Henry Kingston Hall Jr., a professor emeritus in organic chemistry at the University of Arizona, died on Oct. 25. He was 93.
Hall, who was published more than 400 times and won many awards, from the American Chemical Society, the UA chemistry department, the Japanese Society of Polymer Science and even one from the American Crossword Federation, was also a prolific letter writer to the Arizona Daily Star and a dedicated teacher.
He was also involved in politics and social causes. In fact, his daughter, Lillian Hall, said one of the last things her father did was cast his vote.
“If this dying 93-year-old man can vote, nobody has any excuse. He felt it was so important (to be involved), and that’s why he used to write all these letters to the editor,” Lillian Hall said.
She said the family always used to tease her father about when he’d be getting his Nobel Prize. Though many of his scientific discoveries contributed to the work of Nobel laureates, Hall never did win a Nobel prize. However, Hall knew that his work and life were defined by more than prizes.
“It wasn’t just that he was this brilliant scientist, which he was, he was this very whole human being that integrated art and science and humanity and being passionate about your work but also making your work count to make the world a better place,” Lillian Hall said.
Lillian Hall donated her father’s awards and plaques to the chemistry department, where they will be displayed.
Henry Hall “slowed down but never stopped,” according to his daughter, as he continued his beloved chemistry work until August of this year. Even when diagnosed with heart failure earlier this year, he went into the lab, wheelchair and oxygen tank in tow.
“He loved chemistry … he knew that was his life, but he was also really much larger than that,” Lillian said.
“He loved geology, he loved literature, he loved language. He spoke German and other languages, he was studying Chinese and the Arabic alphabet. He was kind of a Renaissance man because he loved music, he loved the opera and the ballet and the arts.”
Hall was born in Brooklyn, New York, and graduated from high school at 16. By 20, he had achieved his bachelor’s degree from the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, then went on to a master’s degree from Penn State University. By 25, he had his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois, all of it in chemistry.
Postdoctoral work followed, at Cornell University and UCLA. While at UCLA, Hall met Wini Brown, whom he married in 1951 before they moved back to Delaware. They were married for 66 years, before Wini passed away in January 2017.
Hall worked for the DuPont Chemical Co. as a senior chemist for some time before moving his family to Arizona to take a teaching position at the University of Arizona in 1969. He taught at the UA for 49 years, inspiring thousands of students and touching lives all around the world.
Lillian Hall said her father often heard from past students, and visited them in Japan, Korea, Germany, Iraq and many other places. Around Christmas, the family would receive cards from around the globe.
“When we were kids he would bring his graduate students over and we would have barbecues and go swimming, we knew all of the students and we would meet people from Iraq and Germany and Korea,” Lillian said.
“He wasn’t just a professor from Monday to Friday, he just included people because these students were so far from home.”
When Lillian Hall contacted students he remained closest with to let them know of his passing, she received an outpouring of support and stories about how special her father was to all of them.
Dieter Schlüter, a former student from Switzerland who had come to visit Hall in the U.S. over the summer, called Hall “a true monolith in an ocean of mediocrity” and said Hall was like a father to him.
Brigitte Voit, a former student from Germany, shared similar sentiments with Lillian Hall over email.
“I will remember Henry Hall as an absolute great, passionate person who gave me the most wonderful experience in Tucson in a very early state of my academic career,” Voit wrote. “He will be my role model forever, and I will keep him in my heart.”
Hall loved to travel, both for work and pleasure. He took his last trip last year, when Lillian Hall and her sister Joan took their father to St. Petersburg, Russia, to see the ballet he loved so much, and to Istanbul, to allow him to learn more about Middle Eastern culture.
“It was really sweet because he was obviously very old; he was 92,” Lillian said. “In Russia and in Turkey, people would smile and they would say ‘good daughters, good daughters’ because … we would be pushing him in a wheelchair or helping him, and people were just amazed that here was this guy who is obviously so old but is so engaged and so curious.”
Hall is survived by daughters Lillian and Joan, son Douglas and grandson Trevor. The family already held a small private service, but there will be a public memorial service for friends in the spring. Donations to the causes closest to Hall’s heart are welcome, like to Tucson’s Casa Maria soup kitchen, the Middle Eastern Children’s Fund, Nuclear Resister or any cause that helps save endangered animals.