What I’ve Learned: Thomas J. Hall ’65
My dad was a flight instructor and my mom was a dance instructor, so I have always been in love with education through the culture of my family. I was valedictorian of my high school and, in 1961, the University of Nevada invited northern Nevada high school leaders to attend a leadership conference. I met many of my future classmates, fraternity brothers and student leaders, including Paul Bible ’62 (economics), who co-chaired the event.
At Nevada I studied real estate and finance, and took classes that taught the social graces – social dance, bowling, tennis and golf. I took a public speaking course where I was asked to prepare a speech as the final examination, to be delivered in competition with my classmates and, from there, to all the public speaking courses. I was lost for any good ideas and went to the old Clark Library to consider my fate. I picked up a volume of poems and turned to one entitled “Where There Is A Will, There Is A Way” by Eliza Howe. I incorporated that poem into a speech, won my class competition, and placed second in the department-wide competition. That gave me confidence and a life philosophy that has stuck with me through many years.
During my junior year I calculated my grades and I was below a 3.0 GPA. To graduate with over 3.0, I needed straight A’s my senior year. I got a 4.0 and 3.8 during my senior year, allowing me to graduate with a 3.03 GPA, which was not too stellar, but good enough to get into law school. It was a proud moment for me as I received a congratulatory letter from then President Charles J. Armstrong and was among only 17 students to receive a 4.0 during the semester.
Beyond academics, I enjoyed the social aspects of college. I joined Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity in the fall 1963 and learned about the fellowship and fraternal relationships of good people striving to make progress in their lives. I helped with fraternity fundraisers for school events like Mackay Day.
I graduated from Nevada in 1965. I went to Tahoe to be the financial officer for my dad’s water company, but ended up helping him build the seven-mile water pipeline from Lake Tahoe to the top of Kingsbury Grade. I operated a backhoe, jack hammer and dug ditches. Unhappy with this work, I bought a floor covering business, became a licensed contractor and installed floors. My business was up and down so I continued digging ditches for my dad.
I was unfulfilled so a friend suggested I attend law school. I reviewed law school catalogs and everything jumped out at me. It was like going from black and white to Technicolor. I took the LSAT and was accepted at Northwestern Law School in Chicago, Ill. When I arrived I was a little embarrassed to be from Nevada. The guy on my right was from Princeton and the one on my left was from Harvard. It was a sink or swim mentality at law school and I was petrified my first year. But my life philosophy kicked in and I told myself that I could succeed. I made the dean’s list nine out of 12 semesters and got straight A’s during my senior year.
I took a course in government and land which required writing a 30-page paper. I wrote about Nevada subdivision law and received the school’s prestigious Hodes Prize for authoring the best paper of the year. That award helped me obtain a clerkship with David Zenoff, Chief Justice of the Nevada Supreme Court, which provided me with a good start to my legal career in Nevada where I eventually opened my own firm in 1985. I laugh today thinking I went to Northwestern as a ditch digger and returned working for the Nevada Supreme Court.
My involvement with the Nevada Alumni Association began shortly after I finished law school in 1971 when I worked in the Nevada Attorney General’s office for the summer. There I met Jack Swobe ’56 who invited me to an alumni meeting. After attending several meetings, I served on a committee, became an officer, and eventually President of the Alumni Association for three terms.
I became a pilot in 1966 and found a way to marry my passions for education and aviation through the Reno Air Racing Foundation. As its chair, I co-founded Pathways to Aviation, an educational outreach program designed to inspire local youth through aviation education and air racing history preservation. Through this program we bring public aviation speakers to campus and provide free airplane rides to local kids. I also co-founded the University’s Aero Club.
When I came to Nevada my family was not particularly well off financially. They were unable to help my older brother through college so they sent him to the army. He eventually attended the Air Force Academy. I funded my education through work and loans, including Northwestern.
I really believe that where there’s a will, there’s a way. With a good education, nothing can stop you so long as you set your goals and persevere in achieving them. I also recommend finding a mentor for guidance, something I did not take advantage of while a student at Nevada, but did so at Northwestern which helped me tremendously. I consider all of my experiences at Nevada as gifts and greatly value the opportunity to give back – not only to my alma mater – but to my church and community.
While at Nevada, I learned that the opportunities for personal growth and learning were limitless. The university environment created a circle of instructors, mentors, friends and acquaintances that have remained with me my entire life. Nevada gave me an opportunity for growth, the tools for learning, and the will to proceed and excel.
From a conversation in February with Crystal Parrish, director of foundation operations. Tom, a 1965 finance graduate of the University of Nevada, Reno, is the 2012 Foundation Board Chair. He received his juris doctorate from Northwestern Law School in 1971 and runs his own law firm in Reno, Nev., where he specializes in real estate and water law. Tom served as Nevada Alumni Association President for three terms, receiving the Association’s Service Award in 1980. He also received the President’s Medal in 2000. Tom has served on and chaired many local boards and associations including the Reno Air Racing Foundation, Washoe County Bar Association and Community Foundation of Western Nevada. He has been a private pilot for nearly 50 years.