N.H. Politician and Activist, Dies at Age 97
Betty Hall, who served in the New Hampshire Legislature for 28 years, and who was an outspoken and tireless political activist, died on April 26, 2018, of congestive heart failure. She was 97.
She was born Beatrice Barker on March 18, 1921 in Koblenz Germany, where her father was stationed as a special assistant to the the secretary of the Navy. She grew up in New York City, where she could walk to the opera and where famous scientists came to her house for dinner because her father was the Dean of Engineering at Columbia University. She attended the Horace Mann School and graduated from Barnard College in 1943. Her mother died when Betty was 16.
She married Sidney Leavitt Hall of Concord New Hampshire on May 27, 1944 and they later moved to Brookline New Hampshire, where they started Hall Manufacturing Company Inc., a stitching contractor that stayed in business from 1951 to 2001. The company was also known as Hall Tote Bags. Betty continued to run the business after her husband’s death in 1987. She was invited to the White House when the business was chosen to be part of a Clinton symposium on small business.
Betty raised five children in Brookline while working in the business, and later taught mathematics in the Groton and Nashua school systems, from 1962 to 1972. She became heavily involved in local politics in Brookline, and served on virtually every board in town over the years, including the town and co-op school boards, finance committee, board of assessors, conservation commission, and board of selectmen. She was very active in the Brookline Church of Christ where she and her husband ran the junior and senior youth fellowships for many years.
She was a well-known figure in the New Hampshire House, serving seven terms as a Republican and then seven terms as a Democrat. When she was in her 80s she experimented with running as an Independent and advocated for others to do so. She was also known for a Senate campaign in which she rode her bicycle door to door, logging over 1000 miles in 26 towns. She served on many legislative committees and worked primarily on environmental issues, along with government integrity and campaign finance reform. In 2007, she made an unsuccessful run for chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party.
She devoted much of her career to mental-health issues. In the 1970s, she served as the first president of Milford Regional Counseling Services. She was a founder and longtime board member of Harbor Homes in Nashua, an organization that pioneered transition housing for people with mental illness. In 2010, Harbor Homes named a home on Winter Street in Nashua the Betty Hall House, in her honor.
In 2004, at age 83, she made headlines by getting arrested at a protest when George Bush was campaigning in New Hampshire. She refused to move further from the president’s motorcade when she was asked. Three policemen picked her up-chair-cane and all-and carried her away. A photographer caught the scene and the photograph, and her cause, went national. In her court trial, one of the policemen testified that “she was one of the nicest ladies. We didn’t want to arrest her.” She was acquitted after she explained on the stand that she had helped write the rules in the New Hampshire Legislature that were now being applied to her case.
She gained notoriety again when at age 87 she introduced a resolution in the New Hampshire Legislature to impeach George Bush over his conduct of the Iraq war. As she moved into her 90s, she carried on her work on campaign finance reform after she became a friend and champion of Doris Haddock, known as Granny D. Her other great passion was voting/ballot integrity.
Just as Betty was never one to sit back and watch others do the work, she was also known in her later years for encouraging other people to run for public office and for mentoring them. She inspired many younger politicians and activists with her relentless energy and tenacity.
She spent almost all of her summer years, from childhood to her last years, at Merrymount, an association of families on Melvin Bay on Lake Winnipesaukee. She loved to sail on the family sailboat, Tordzus. She is pre-deceased by her brother, John Barker, and by her daughter-in-law, Judith Freese Hall. She is survived by her four sons, Leigh Hall, Thomas Hall, Edward Hall, and Sidney Hall Jr., and her daughter, Mary Batcheller, and by daughters-in-law, Maxine Hall, Ellen Hall and Margaret Hall, and by her son-in-law, Gordon Batcheller. She has 12 grandchildren and 21 great grandchildren.
A memorial service for the public will be held at the Brookline Community Church in Brookline, NH on June 23, 2018 at 1 p.m. Donations in her memory may be made to Harbor Homes or the Lakes Region Conservation Trust.