Wednesday, January 20, 2010

ALS claims tireless California ALS Advocate Steve Hall

I met Steve Hall twice during my tenure as the Advocacy and Public Policy Chair for the ALS Association - Greater Bay Area Chapter.  After his retirement from the ACWA in 2007, as the effects of ALS made it difficult to work, Steve became an advocate for legislation on ALS at the state Capitol. His motto became, "As much as I can for as long as I can." Steve held the ear of many influential legislators in Sacramento, testified on behalf of ALS Patients for legislation carried to the State Senate and Assembly, and helped to open important doors for the CA ALS Advocacy team.  He was every bit as gracious and courageous as Bob describes.  

On Thursday, January 28th, a floor session is scheduled in the California Senate.  Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg will speak about Steve’s life, his battle with ALS, and adjourn the California Senate in his memory.  

I too, am saddened that another champion has been lost to ALS and send his family my fondest prayers and wishes as they grieve Steve's passing.  Each of us can hope that our lives are remembered in such a warm and clearly enthusiastic manner!


It is with a heavy heart, that I share with you news I received this evening that Steve Hall passed away this afternoon due to the ravages of ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease).

Steve was a blessing to me far more than anyone can ever know. He was a competent, loyal and caring boss for nearly 10 years during my tenure at ACWA. He was a wonderful mentor. He was a great friend. He was a brother in Christ. It is the faith I share with Steve upon which I rely upon tonight, comforted in the knowledge that Steve has escaped from his broken earthly body and entered into glory to experience joy and peace eternally with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I know that Steve's faith carried him through the suffering he knew that lay ahead of him when he was diagnosed with ALS. His spirit was strong; his smile and sense of humor still evident long after he lost the ability to speak. What bravery and courage he displayed for all of those who knew him. I shared my e-mail updates with him during the water conference committee hearings this past fall. He replied one day, taking great glee that nothing much had changed in his absence and admonishing me to keep up the fight.

Steve and I first met when I worked as the senior consultant to the Assembly Water, Parks & Wildlife Committee in the mid-1980s and Steve was head of a San Joaquin Valley farm water coalition forged during the Kesterson Reservoir agricultural drainage (selenium) upheaval in the San Joaquin Valley. Water deliveries were threatened; farming was threatened and entire communities held their collective breath. Steve swung into action in the State Capitol, admitting to being out of his element, but one would never know it. He accompanied then Assembly Member Jim Costa and me to meeting after meeting, hearing after hearing. We took on those interests and powerful legislators who would rather see farming in the west side of the San Joaquin Valley abandoned and won a 3-year reprieve for farm drainage ponds from the Toxic Pits Cleanup Act.

Our paths did not cross again until Steve was named Executive Director at ACWA. I was General Manager of the El Dorado County Water Agency at the time and I was asked to take part in the effort to rejuvenate and reorganize ACWA. The personal characteristics that Steve demonstrated in our earlier work together remained when I worked with him again in our respective new roles. His leadership qualities, his ability to listen, his steadiness, his ability to slow down for his members when necessary were becoming more evident to those who did not know him before he took over the leadership of ACWA. He wasn't perfect mind you and I do not intend for you to reach such a conclusion. Steve would be the first to counter any such contention.

I left the El Dorado County Water Agency in the summer of 1993 and embarked on a 2-year adventure in public finance investment banking. My timing was poor as the bottom of the municipal finance market fell out after a historic run of refinancings made men and women in the industry wealthy. I suffered two layoffs within 13 months of each other. In May 1995, I came up to Steve at the ACWA Spring Conference at Lake Tahoe following a luncheon event. I just wanted to say 'hello' and renew our acquaintance. He greeted me warmly and spent a few minutes getting caught up as staff and members swirled around him beside the head table. He asked me if I ever came through Sacramento and if so, could I stop by to visit. Something told me this was more than Steve being gracious, so I called his assistant Audrey Ryder the following week. He and I met about two weeks later and he shared with me that he was thinking about reorganizing ACWA staff--would I be interested in coming to work at ACWA to lobby for the Association? I told him that I would be interested. He said he had a long way to go in the process, a lot of people to talk to, other candidates to think about, an executive committee and a board of directors to convince--if the reorganization occurred, it could be 6 to 12 months away from happening. Four weeks later, while I was assured by the partners of the regional investment banking firm where I worked that they thought I had a future in public finance, they asked me to stay on without pay--relying solely on commissions for the immediate future. Since I hadn't earned a commission in two years while at two firms, and I had a family and mortgage to take care of, I asked to be laid off. I called Steve from a pay phone in Walnut Creek about an hour later. I asked him if he had thought any more about our conversation. He said that he had and asked why I was calling. I told him about getting laid off. He said he would get to work on bringing me to ACWA. I started working at ACWA in the new position of State Legislative Director on August 1, 1995--six weeks after that telephone call!

There are too many funny, too many interesting political and workplace stories to share here--many intensely personal and private experiences that will remain between Steve and me.

Steve was always very health conscious and very athletic--playing tennis with Jim Costa and others; golfing with Mike Dillon and others; playing basketball (and blowing out an Achilles tendon). Well, even with all of that physical activity, he returned from an annual check-up to share that he had high cholesterol and needed to take better care of himself. He tried mightily to stick to a healthy diet. I can't tell you how many times at ACWA department manager meetings during that time that the managers laughed amongst ourselves as Steve--over the course of an hour or two hour meeting, started out eating just one quarter of a muffin or doughnut, only to go back three times to end up eating the remainder of the muffin or doughnut--I guess it had fewer bad calories that way! Well, this lead to one of the few lighthearted moments that came after Steve was diagnosed with ALS. He was still working at ACWA, but at that time confined largely to the JoyRider to move about. I happened to be visiting on the second floor of ACWA HQ one day when Steve came around the corner toward his office with the largest chocolate-covered raised doughnut on a plate in his lap that I think I have ever seen . I said: "Well, I can see you're not worried about your cholesterol buddy!" We both shared a laugh.

I am blessed to have known Steve Hall; I am a better man for sharing a part of my life with him. Words are wholly inadequate to describe the loss I feel tonight. He deserved much better from life, but had no complaints.

Some of you knew Steve well, some of you were acquaintances and some just knew him by observing his work at ACWA. Please feel free to share this small remembrance with others as I do not have all the e-mail addresses of friends and colleagues here at home. Please keep Steve's family in your thoughts and prayers.
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