Rev. Leon Bernard Hall Sr., 63, Eastern Shore activist

May 11, 2006|By FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN | FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN,SUN REPORTER

The Rev. Leon Bernard Hall Sr., a prominent Eastern Shore minister and community activist, died of respiratory failure May 3 at Dorchester General Hospital in Cambridge. He was 63.

Mr. Hall was born and raised in Norfolk, Va. After graduating from high school in 1961, he joined the Navy and was trained as an aircraft mechanic. After being discharged in 1963, he remained with the Navy for an additional seven years as a civilian employee.

In 1971, he earned a bachelor's degree from Norfolk State College and in 1975 he earned a master's in rural sociology from Pennsylvania State University in State College, Pa. He was studying for his doctorate at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., and the Johns Hopkins University.

While attending Penn State, Mr. Hall worked in the college's personnel department and founded the Black Christian Fellowship and the Soul Ensemble Community Choir, which was composed of faculty, students and university staffers.

From 1975 to 1980, he was a drug counselor for the Maryland Department of Mental Health and Hygiene, and from 1980 to 1992 held a similar position at Hampton University in Hampton, Va.

Since 1992, the Cambridge resident had been an employment services counselor for the Maryland Department of Labor Licensing and Regulation.

"He had accepted Christ at an early age and had studied rural church development as part of his master's degree," said his wife of six years, the former Theona Price. "His first pastorate was at Rehobeth AME Church in Chesapeake, Va., in 1968, and then he was appointed pastor of Bethel AME Church in Easton in 1975."

After leaving Bethel in 1980, he was pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Hampton, Va., and Mount Zion AME Church in Virginia Beach, Va., before being named pastor in 1992 of Bethel AME Church in Cambridge, where he remained for 12 years.

Since 2004, he had been pastor of his former church in Easton, and also was an adjunct instructor at the Cambridge campus of Sojourner-Douglass College, where he taught social science courses.

"He believed his mission was to help lead people to Christ and uplift and empower people. He said, `Jesus came to seek and save the lost, but Jesus also came that they might have life and have it more abundantly,'" wrote a daughter, Vernetta H. Myles of Upper Marlboro, in a tribute to her father.

"His favorite saying was, `Peace be unto you,'" Mrs. Myles said.

Mr. Hall was a community organizer for the Center for Poverty Solutions on the Eastern Shore, and was a member of the boards of Management Resources Associates, the State Migrant Advisory Council, Maryland Department of Education, Choptank Community Health Systems and Mental Health Association of Talbot County.

He was a consultant to the Rural Church Development Second Episcopal District and was vice president of the Dorchester County Department of Social Services and Cambridge Community Development Corp.

Mr. Hall voiced skepticism in 2000 about the proposed 400-room, $225 million Hyatt Chesapeake Resort, two years before it opened, and what he said was its lack of benefits to Cambridge's African-American community.

"This community is still affected by things that happened in the '60s," Mr. Hall told The Sun in 2000, in a reference to the Cambridge riots of 1967.

"During my tenure, he was one of the pastors you could always rely upon. If there was something going on in the community, you knew he was involved. He was laid-back, never wanted any recognition and wanted to carry his load," Cambridge Mayor Cleveland Rippons said yesterday.

"He was a servant of God and lived that. Everything he touched revealed the uniqueness of his spirit. He was a man who knew what his purpose was in his life," the mayor said.

Mr. Hall enjoyed fishing and preparing seafood dishes for family and friends. He also enjoyed bowling, listening to music and reading.

Services will be held at noon Saturday at Easton High School, 720 Mecklenburg Ave.

Also surviving are three sons, Leon B. Hall Jr. of Cambridge, Therian T. Hall of Norfolk, Va., and Monty A. Royster of Tacoma, Wash.; another daughter, Tasha Hall of Suffolk, Va.; five brothers, Roger Hall and Ronald Hall, both of Virginia Beach, Sidney Hall of Capitol Heights, Clinton Hall of Chesapeake, Va., and Wallace Hall of Norfolk; six sisters, Oney Williams of Newport News, Va., Vivian Floyd and Gloria Carter, both of Norfolk, Geraldine Thompson of Florence, Ala., Shirley Hoggard of Ridgecrest, Calif., Shirley Clary of Wakefield, Va.; and five grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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