Politics & Government

Jack Hall, longtime political activist and governmental strategist, dies at 57

If anybody lived the American dream, it was Fresno's Jack Hall.

He was born in Cork, Ireland, but his family sought a better life in California when he was just a year old. Mr. Hall ended up working in agriculture and retail before earning a college degree and finding his true calling in the rough-and-tumble world of government and politics.

He headed former-Gov. Gray Davis' Central Valley office and was Rep. Jim Costa's first district director after Costa was elected to Congress in 2004. Most recently, Mr. Hall was director of government affairs at Comcast Cable.

On Wednesday, Mr. Hall died after a short battle with cancer. He was 57.

"Jack was known for a big smile, loyal friendship, and an ability to work with anyone, not because he didn't have opinions, but because he always sought to bridge disagreements and find the truth in the other person's perspective," his younger brother Vince Hall said.

Mr. Hall and his younger brothers Vince and Kevin were drawn to politics and public service. Vince was the vagabond, heading off to San Diego. Kevin is a well-known environmental activist in Fresno.

"You could think of us as left, right, and center," Vince Hall said, describing his older brother as "a solid progressive on social issues, but very pro-business -- especially with ag ... He detested angry partisanship, though he was a Jack Kennedy Democrat through and through."

Mr. Hall was the second of seven children. He and older sister Pat were born in Ireland. The remaining five were born in California.

After living a short time in Los Angeles and then in Firebaugh, the family settled in Fresno, where Mr. Hall graduated from Bullard High School in 1975. He worked at N.F. Davis Drier & Elevator in Firebaugh, where his father was employed, and also worked as a retail clerk and with the Internal Revenue Service.

In 1991, he went to work at a Fresno accountancy firm, and two years later, took a job as a fiscal analyst with the State Center Community College District. By 1999, he'd earned a degree in business administration from Fresno State and embarked on a political career.

He also started a family, and came to know Jeffrey Scott Agency president Bruce Batti when their children attended St. Anthony's Catholic School together. The two became bicycle-riding buddies -- "We were not fast, (but) we could go the distance," Batti said -- and remained close friends.

"When you mix intelligence and humor, it's a great quality," Batti said of Mr. Hall.

Start with Gov. Davis

In 2000, Mr. Hall started with Gov. Davis and advised him on issues such as water policy, local government operations and agriculture. Mr. Hall also was one of the creators of the "Buy California" marketing program and worked to promote the state's agricultural products in a proposal which became known as the "California Grown" initiative.

Davis met Mr. Hall through Vince, who was an adviser on his gubernatorial campaign. That eventually led to Mr. Hall working for Davis, where he became not only a trusted adviser, but also an advocate for the San Joaquin Valley.

Vince was the tough-minded strategic thinker, but Davis said Mr. Hall was "a big bear of a guy. Everybody loved him. He was a family man, and he treated everyone with dignity and respect."

Davis joked that he "made sure Jack knew one thing -- he was my favorite Hall."

After learning in recent weeks of Mr. Hall's illness, Davis left voice messages telling Mr. Hall that he was loved and how much Davis cared for him.

"I don't know if there are politics in heaven, but if there are politics in heaven, I'm sure Jack is already a strategic adviser to God," Davis said.

After Davis was recalled by voters, Mr. Hall was hired by Costa as his first district director, setting up offices in both Bakersfield and Fresno.

"Jack was a good man who cared about our Valley and our nation, which is why he was involved politically and cared about public policy all of his adult life," Costa said. "(He was) an Irishman who never forgot his heritage and was proud of every immigrant group."

Example of his fairness

Mr. Hall left Costa's office after just eight months and took a job with Alliance for a Better California, a coalition of labor groups that formed to oppose controversial governmental reforms proposed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Davis appointed Mr. Hall to The Big Fresno Fair board of directors, one of many volunteer duties Mr. Hall held during his lifetime. During his stint as board president -- and while he was employed by the Alliance for a Better California -- Mr. Hall showed he could put aside partisan differences as he welcomed Schwarzenegger during a fair visit.

After a stint as statewide political director for the California Faculty Association and hanging out a shingle as a consultant, Mr. Hall in January 2010 went to work for Comcast, a position he held until his death.

"It's certainly a sad day for the Comcast family," said Bryan Byrd, director of communications for Comcast California. "Jack was the consummate professional. He knew his job and was a great benefit and ambassador for Comcast in Fresno and the Central Valley."

Hall's cancer diagnosis was sudden; earlier this year he was busy not only with Comcast, but also as chair of the Greater Fresno Chamber of Commerce board of directors.

Last year, Hall set a vision for the chamber, said Al Smith, its president and CEO. Among the priorities were getting more politically involved in elections and working to elect business-friendly candidates, as well as getting the organization to think long-term instead of year-to-year.

Mr. Hall, Smith said, brought a tremendous amount of talent to the position -- not to mention increased visibility for the chamber.

Smith recalled walking the halls of the state Capitol with Mr. Hall. Every 10 steps, he said, someone would stop and talk to Mr. Hall. Political leanings, Smith said, never seemed to matter.

"The guy knows everybody," Smith said, "and it's hard to find somebody who didn't like him."

Jack Hall

Born: May 23, 1957

Died: Aug. 20, 2014

Occupation: Director, government affairs, Comcast Cable

Survivors: Wife Christina Gomez; son Liam and daughter Rachel; mother Rose Mary Hall; sisters Pat and Anne and brothers Kevin, Tom, Bill, and Vince

Services: Rosary, 7 p.m. Aug. 27, Whitehurst Funeral Home, 1525 Saginaw Way, Fresno; Funeral, 10 a.m. Aug. 28, St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church, Bullard and Maroa avenues, Fresno; Burial to follow at St. Peter's Cemetery