Dear friends. We have come together to celebrate the life of Wesley Hall. And what a rich, colorful, joyous life it was.
We come together in shock and grief. We are filled with anger at our loss. We cannot comprehend it. But we are filled too with joy and wonder at the great gift we have received. We give thanks for the life of Wesley Hall.
Wes was born in Evanston on February 5, 1926. His father was John Wesley Hall. His mother, Bernadine Hall, died when Wes was only nine months old. Was grew up in Hinsdale, where he lived for many years with his grandparents, whom he loved very much. His grandfather was fiercely independent, a trait he instilled in Wes. His grandmother gave him much love and Wes frequently would quote her wise sayings.
Wes went to grade school and high school in Hinsdale. He was an exceptional student who excelled in all subjects.
He did his undergraduate work at Northwestern and the University of Arizona. While at Northwestern, Wes served in the Naval Reserve Officers' Training Corp. An illness prevented his receiving his commission. Depending on when you talked to him, he was greatly disappointed or greatly relieved by that turn of events.
After college, Wes attended the University of Illinois Law School, where he graduated first in his class in 1950. He joined the firm which is now Jenner & Block upon graduation.
Wes settled in Hinsdale where he and his first wife, Jane, raised their two daughters, Christina and Lynn. Wes was active in his community, serving on the Village Board of Trustees and as the first president of the Hinsdale Junior Chamber of Commerce.
In the law, Wes was an immense and immediate success. He began as a litigator, working principally with Jim Sprowl. Jim described Wes as "a great idea man." Those who knew Jim Sprowl know there was no higher praise. Soon Wes decided to turn his talents to business law, and shortly he became the principal assistant to Colonel Anan Raymond, the senior partner who practiced in that area. He was a brilliant business lawyer practicing at the highest and most sophisticated levels of his profession. In due course, he became the head of the firm's corporate department, and remained in that capacity until his death. He was deeply involved in the management of the firm for many years, and this year, he was serving on the firm's Executive Committee.
Joan Hall joined the firm upon her graduation from the Yale Law School. In 1967, Joan and Wes were married, and continued their careers together. Joan and Wes have two fine sons, Colin and Justin.
Those are the bare facts, but they tell us very little. What is the truth behind those facts? How can we begin to describe this human being whose life and death have brought us here in such joy and sorrow?
It cannot be done. The richness of his life, his love, his humanity cannot be conveyed in words. Joan has shared with me some of the letters she has received about Wes since his death. I wish I could read every one of them to you. Over the past ten days I have spend hours talking with some of Wes' friends, and with Joan, and Chris and Lynn and Colin and Justin. I wish every one of you had been with me, for your spirits would be truly lifted, as have mine.
By profession, Wes was a lawyer. Throughout his life he practiced in the forefront of the law.
When battles for control of public corporations fist began, they were waged by proxy fight. Wes successfully directed some of the earliest and largest proxy fights ever to occur.
When the action turned from proxy fight to tender offer, Wes managed several of the earliest takeover battles. He conceived and successfully created one of the first bank holding companies. He successfully shephered one of the first conversions of a mutual insurance company to a stock company.
He was known throughout his career for innovation and an uncanny ability to see the big picture in any transaction, yet when the occasion required, he could be exquisite in his attention to preparation and detail.
He was a wise counsellor. He was a superb negotiator. He was a deal maker and in thirty-three years he never compromised his integrity.
In the words of his dear friend and client, Chuck Swisher, "in practicing law for forty years, during which I have met and dealt with lawyers all over the country, Wesley Hall, except for my own father, is the most able lawyer, in every respect, I have ever met."
For most any lawyer, that should be enough. But in truth, the special quality Wes brought to the practice of law and to our law firm, was not his ability, great as it was. It was his humanity.
Wes loved to talk about law with his daughter, Chris, who is herself a lawyer. Chris tells me that the thing that always struck her most was how real he made his clients seem. They were not just clients, they were real people. And almost invariably, they became his friends. Not only were their causes his, he cared about their lives, their health, their families. His clients were real people. And so were his partners, his associates, and even his adversaries. What an extraordinary thought.
Tom Boodell writes: "He saw the human and the healing side of the law and loved it and was good at it."
And from Bill Randolph, his oldest friend: "There was no friend more loyal and none that imposed less on friendship. His concern for others wasn't limited to his close friends. He had a sense of justice in the highest traditions of the profession, but it was tempered with a generous understanding of human frailties so that he fought for a very human sort of justice. Those on the Executive Committee no doubt can recount many a battle he undertook for persons totally unaware of his concern that the right and generous thing be done with them."
Wes Hall was a curmudgeon. He was a rock ribbed conservative Du Page County Republican. He didn't like welfare, he didn't like social programs, and he had no use whatsoever for fuzzy headed liberal thinking. He could and would argue passionately for his conservative principles and he maintained them consistently in everything except for the conduct of his own life.
In describing Wes, Judi Hume wrote: "I remembered a beautiful quote I once read from La Rochfoucauld. He said, 'Only the truly firm are truly gentle. In the rest, it is only weakness, which is readily converted into harshness.' I think Wes enjoyed having people think of him as a hard-liner, but he was one of the few truly gentle people I've ever known."
One of Wes' greatest concerns was how, and indeed whether, it was possible, to retain humanity in a law firm of our size. He was especially concerned about the younger lawyers, and he fought ferociously to protect them from the dehumanization which he so greatly feared.
I don't know how many years Wes served on the firm hiring committee, but it must have seemed to him forever. For years he was by far its senior member. We would not let him go. To those who didn't know Wes, it must seem strange. Why would we want that old curmudgeon recruiting law students? It was, of course, because he was so wise, so witty, so urbane, but mostly it was because he cared about the students -- and they knew it.
A few years ago, after a hiring committee meeting in which the candidates for employment were discussed and dissected in an especially cold and impersonal manner, Wes distributed to the committee a passage from a story by one of his favorite authors, Franz Kafka. The story is called "In the Penal Colony," and the passage is one of stark horror, in which an executioner describes with complete dispassion the awful process by which he put his victims to death. On behalf of Wesley, I commend it to all of you.
So much for the lawyer. It is said that the law is a jealous mistress, but not for Wes. The law was his profession, but his vocation was the world, and everything within it.
His energy for life was unsurpassed. He knew more, and cared more, about more things, than anyone I have ever known and he was as full of human foibles and frailties as he was of wisdom, and love, and understanding.
He read until two or three in the morning almost every night of his life -- the only exception being those nights when he could persuade Joan or a friend or one of his children to stay up and talk with him. He read everything, Shakespeare, Dickens, detective stories. Kafka, Camus, Dostoevski, espionage novels, philosophy, religion, poetry, economics, sociology, science, politics, world affairs.
He could quote extensively from hundreds of books, and often did.
He loved music of all kinds, but most especially he loved jazz and country & western. His all time favorite client was an insurance company owned principally by musicians. Through that engagement he became fast friends with Eddy Arnold, and travelled throughout the country with him. He could recognize the music and name all the players in country & western bands that no one else ever heard of.
He loved jazz from his youth. Once, when Duke Ellington was playing at a night club in Chicago, Wes attended the performance every night for 30 days running. You could not travel with him to any city in America where jazz is played, without him taking you to a performance. And he knew the musicians personally, and they knew him, and if you could stay awake long enough, you would join them for breakfast when the club closed.
Finally, Wes loved people. He loved to watch them, analyze them, talk to them, argue with them. But most of all, he cared for them. The most common theme which ran through all of the letters, and all of the conversations was this. If you were sick, if you were in pain, if you were in trouble, Wes would try to help. And always he would anguish that he had not done enough.
When I came to the law firm in 1958, the entire book-keeping department was an elderly lady named Nell Hocker. She retired a short time later, but lived for many years and died quite recently. She must have been in her nineties, and had not worked for the firm for nearly twenty years. To the best of my knowledge, Wes Hall was the only partner in the firm who attended her funeral.
When Wes' dear friend and client, Levering Cartwright, was in his last protracted illness, Wes visited him in the hospital almost every day. And he grieved that he had not done enough.
As Wesley grieved for his friend, so we grieve for him. But most of all we grieve for his family. For his four children and for Joan.
He was so proud of them. He loved each of them in such a very special way.
Wes' daughter, Christina, is 31. She lives in San Francisco. She was the apple of his eye. When Wes moved into Chicago, Chris would come to visit him from Hinsdale. He would beam from ear to ear the moment he saw her. When she decided to attend law school, not without some gentle prodding from her father, he was proud as a peacock, and when she excelled, as he had, he was prouder still, and would discuss the law with her for hours on end.
Throughout the years, Christina and Wes were there for each other. If Chris was in trouble, Wes dropped everything, and found a way to help. In recent years, it was Chris, more than anyone, who would sit and talk to Wes into the small hours of the morning. Chris has asked me to share with you these thoughts, from some of Wes' favorite authors:
Dickens, Dombey and Son
"And can it be in a world so full and busy, the loss of one weak creature makes a void in any heart, so wide and deep that nothing but the width and depth of vast eternity can fill it up."Whitman from Song of Myself
"All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses, and to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier . . .Albert Camus, Actuelles
They are alive and well somewhere, the smallest sprout shows there is really no death, and if there ever was, it led toward life, and does not work at the end to arrest it, and ceas'd the moment life appeared."
"In the midst of winter, I finally learned
that there was in me an invincible summer."
Lynn Hall is 28 and lives in Nashville. With Lynn it was different than with Chris. Perhaps it started with the divorce, perhaps even earlier, but for many years Wes and Lynn were not close. This man had failings, and for a long time his relationship with Lynn was one of them. He was harsh with her, and she, perhaps, with him, and each of them suffered the pain of their estrangement, and then, in recent years, because Wes was one of those rare people would could continue to grow, he mellowed and became more gentle, and Lynn grew more assured, more tolerant, and gradually they became friends again.
Of all the things I have read and heard over the past few days, the most wonderful by far was said to me on Monday night by Lynn. Lynn told me that just two years ago this Christmas she told her father that she loved him, and knew that she meant it, for the first time since she was a little girl.
Colin Hall is 13. As a young man, Wes played tennis, but thereafter adopted an attitude toward anything involving physical exertion similar to that of W.C. Fields. If the idea crosses his mind, he would lie down until it went away. Except with Colin. With Colin, Wes began to play tennis again, and he loved it, and he could even beat him so long as they played by Wes' rules -- which allowed Wes to hit the ball on the second bounce.
With Colin, Wes had a fresh convert for his music, for his books, for his late night conversations. They sat for hours on the walk in front of their house "people watching"-- a process of analyzing and discussing the constant flow of passing pedestrians. Wes gave Colin one of his favorite books, Plato's Republic, and they discussed its meaning. They talked of literature, of music, of history, and most recently the threat of nuclear war.
Colin thinks that his father was a genius, and he is probably right.
Justin Hall has just turned 9. Justin has read all of the Hardy Boys, often with Wes, and they were in the middle of Treasure Island when Wes died. Wes taught Justin to play gin rummy and chess. They also played and worked with their home computer.
Wes taught Justin about modems, and Justin explained it to me but I don't understand it. When Wes and Justin played chess, there was no two-bounce rule. They played for keeps, and one time, before Wes died, Justin beat him. Wes was furious. It is very hard for Justin to talk about his father. He loves him very much.
You can see that a lot of very good things happened to Wes Hall in his life, but the very best of all was Joan. There are a lot of people who will tell you that Joan's effect on Wes was not unlike that of the spirits of Christmas on Scrooge. And there is no doubt that it was Joan who first taught Wes to say Merry Christmas in public. The truth, of course, is that Wes always knew the words - it's just that before he married Joan it was hard for him to say them.
Joan was the only subject on which Wes couldn't even pretend to be the old curmudgeon. Chris says that the single thing Wes did in his life that he was proudest of was marrying Joan. Joan taught Wes to be happy. Thank you, Joan. Without you, most of us would have never really known him.
Joan has asked me to share with you a selection from the Autobiography of Mark Twain. Twain was describing his reactions when he was told of the death of his daughter. He wrote of the way the human mind fragments the impact of a great grief:
"It is one of the mysteries of our nature that a man, all unprepared, can receive a thunder-stroke like that and live. There is but one reasonable explanation of it. The intellect is stunned by the shock and but gropingly gathers the meaning of the words. The power to realize their full import is mercifully wanting. The mind has a dim sense of vast loss -- that is all. It will take mind and memory months and possibly years to gather the details and thus learn and know the whole extent of the loss. A man's house burns down. The smoking wreckage represents only a ruined home that was dear through years of use and pleasant associations. By an by, as the days and weeks go on, first he misses this, then that, then the other thing. And when he casts about for it he finds that it was in that house. Always it is an essential -- there was but one of its kind. It cannot be replaced. It was in that house. It is irrevocably lost. He did not realize that it was an essential when he had it; he only discovers it now when he finds himself balked, hampered, by its absence. It will be years before the tale of lost essentials is complete, and not till then can he truly know the magnitude of his disaster."
It will be years before we truly know the magnitude of our disaster. And yet, the magnitude of our disaster is but the same measure as the magnitude of our gain.
What we have lost is measured by what we have received, and what we have received we can never lose.
Wes Hall was a romantic about many things, but about death he was a realist. He would quote from memory the words of Thomas Gray, from his Elegy Written In A Country Churchyard:
"The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
Awaits alike the inevitable hour;
The paths of glory lead but to the grave."
And from Hamlet, Act V, Scene 2:
"There's a divinity that shapes our ends
Rough hew them though we may."
I do not know, in the end, whether Wes believed that that divinity was God, or some imponderable fate.
I do not know myself.
But if there is a heaven to which good men are taken, than surely Wes is there and will greet us with a wry grin when we arrive.
And if there is not, then still he lives forever in his children, and their children, and in each succeeding generation, and in each of us.
John C. Tucker
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