Portrait of a Lady

Gail Hall was the sub-school 5 secretary at Robinson High School in Fairfax for about a decade in the 1980’s and 1990’s, but she was more than that. She was a teacher, a friend, a colleague, a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, dedicated Christian, gentle lady, devoted daughter and heart of our subschool during what one of my colleagues called “the golden age of Sub-School 5.”

(I should add here that subschools were smaller administrative units within the larger school. Each had its own principal, counselors, secretary, librarian, staff and faculty and was “home” for students who took English, social studies,math and science courses.)

Gail was the mother of our subschool. She sat at a large desk out in the open where everyone could come to her and come they did. Like many other school secretaries, she was a vital part of the faculty and staff. She welcomed visitors and parents, counseled troubled students, consoled weeping students, calmed angry ones sent “to the principal’s office,” heard out angry or upset or confused parents, joked with us teachers, coordinated receptions and social events, took calls, trained student assistants to be professional and friendly, did typing, first on an IBM Selectric and then on a computer, and kept an unfailing smile and laughed the most infectious laugh I have ever heard.

That laugh. We treasured hearing it so much that we devised ways to make her laugh. She ate lunch with a group of English teachers and the librarians in a back room of the library office, and we were sure to think of what we could share or tell that would make Mrs. Hall laugh. It wasn’t hard. She had the laughter of an angel.

When Steve Nichols was our sub-school principal, he dressed as Santa Claus and came around to the classrooms in the last few minutes before Christmas vacation with a booming “Ho,ho ho!” and candy for the good boys and girls. At every classroom, he would ask, “Are there any good boys and girls in here?” High school students being who they are, a good many would call out, “No!,” and Steve/Santa would tell them “No candy for you,then,” but give it to them anyway, and to the few self-professed “good” boys and girls. Mrs. Hall played Mrs. Santa Claus, giggling and smiling with delight. We could hear them making their way through the subschool by the jingling of the bells on their clothing and that laugh of Gail’s. That wonderful laugh.

Elizabeth Hudgins, my English department colleague and friend of Gail’s, remembered the visits from “Mr. and Mrs. Claus” during her eulogy at yesterday’s memorial service for Gail at the Church of the Apostles in Fairfax. Over 200 people gathered to remember this special lady, to celebrate her life and to rejoice in her going home, perhaps too suddenly and too soon.

About thirty former teachers from the golden age of  Sub School 5 were there, and four former principals, and several other staff, counselors and secretaries. It was one of those reunions that funerals sometimes turn into, awkward in a way, but touching and emotional as we saw people we hadn’t seen in years and decades. We resolved to get together in the future, to remember the golden times and to share what we are doing now. I think it appropriate that this coming together was occasioned by the lady who was more than a secretary, and more than a friend and colleague, the great warm heart of Sub-School 5 during those years, Mrs. Gail W. Hall. Heaven now rings with her laughter and we rejoice that she is there while we mourn her passing here. Rest in peace, Mrs. Hall.

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