Francis Hall is festival’s Honorary Grand Marshal
by Larry Chowning
Francis Hall, 93, of Urbanna has been named Honorary Grand Marshal of the 2013 Urbanna Oyster Festival.
Hall was born in 1920 and grew up near Ordinary in Gloucester County. He graduated from Achilles High School, and a short time later he entered the Newport News Apprentice School for Shipbuilding.
World War II interfered with his shipbuilding career and Hall enlisted in the U.S. Navy where he was involved in the Pacific Theater against the Japanese.
After the war, he re-entered the apprentice school but due to job instability at the shipyard at that time, he left and went to work with his brother, J. Ellis Hall, in the insurance business.
Hall worked for 13 years with Union Life Insurance Co. of Richmond as a regional manager covering Williamsburg and York, Gloucester, Middlesex and Mathews counties. While living in Gloucester, he was a member of the Gloucester Board of Supervisors for six years.
Meanwhile, his brother Ellis had left the insurance business to work for the Pyrofax Bottled Gas business. It was through his brother that Hall met the CEO of Texaco. That contact would later pay off. When Wilbur Revere passed away around 1960, Hall was able to acquire the Texaco business in Urbanna. He ran Hall’s Texaco from 1960 until he retired in 1985.
Hall’s Texaco was on Urbanna Creek, and the dock was a primary spot for oystermen to raft their boats during the oyster season. “I really enjoyed the host of oystermen who tied their boats up at our dock,” said Hall. “I guess there were 30 to 35 boats there every year during the season.
“There was one guy who tied up there every year who would leave a bucket of oysters almost every day,” he said. “I’d take them home and have Ada Marie (his wife) cook them up. It was a delicious meal and plenty of them.
“We did favors for them too,” he said. “There were a goodly number of watermen from Guinea and Sadler’s Neck in Gloucester County who I had known all my life. We enjoyed their goings and comings and our association with them.”
Another oyster boat that tied up to the dock was the big “Muriel Eileen,” a 65-foot oyster buyboat. Hall said he enjoyed his time visiting with the boat’s captain, Lee McNamara, and its mate, Charlie Sayre. “Charlie told the story that he and Captain Lee had come up to the dock in Baltimore and he was tying the Muriel Eileen off when a gal from across the way yelled over to him, ‘How old are you?’
“Charlie answered, ‘I’m 31 years old, I think.’
“She answered back, ‘There ain’t no way in this world a man could get that ugly in 31 years.’
“The watermen and those in the oyster business all seem to have had a wonderful sense of humor,” said Hall.
Hall and Ada Marie raised four children, Craig, Lewis, Frances Marie and Laura. “I appreciate and I’m very thankful for the experience we’ve had living here in Urbanna,” he said. “I’m glad we made the change and moved here. It has been a wonderful place to raise a family and live.”
Hall has been a longtime deacon at Urbanna Baptist Church. Aubrey Hall, longtime choir director and deacon at the church, described Francis Hall as “a pillar” of the church. “He’s just been a go-to guy as far as the Baptist church is concerned and a person whose advice was always sought. At the deacons’ meeting when he had something to say, we listened. I can’t imagine anybody being more important to an organization than he has to the Baptist church.”
Walt Hurley, a member of the Urbanna Oyster Festival Foundation Board of Directors, said he grew up along the waterfront in Urbanna and “Mr. Hall was part of the fabric that made Urbanna’s waterfront so unique. There was a tremendous amount of commercial traffic on Urbanna Creek in those days and Mr. Hall was in the center of it all,” said Hurley.
Charles Bristow, a longtime foundation board member, said, “I don’t know anyone more deserving of this honor than Francis, not only for his contributions to the Oyster Festival, but to the Town of Urbanna and Middlesex County.”