May 30, 1921 – March 27, 2021
Leon Hale, beloved long-time columnist for the Houston Chronicle, and before that, The Houston Post, died on March 27, 2021 at his country place in Winedale, two months short of his one hundredth birthday. He was born in Stephenville, Texas on Memorial Day, 1921, the third child of Leona May Oxford and Fred Hale, and “little brother” to sisters Maifred and Ima Ruth, both of whom also lived into their nineties. The family moved frequently during the years of the Great Depression, but settled for a while in Eastland, “ninety miles west of Ft. Worth.” Leon graduated from Eastland High School in 1939.
The Second World War interrupted Hale’s education at Texas Tech when it sent him to Europe in the Army Air Corps. He served as a radio operator and top turret gunner for fifty credited missions in a B-24 bomber over Germany, Italy, Austria and Yugoslavia.
As an editor for the Texas A&M Extension Service following graduation in 1946, he began to build the network of contacts that served him throughout his career in journalism. In 1947, he moved to The Houston Post as Farm Editor, where he expanded those contacts.
After a brief sojourn editing a magazine for Humble Oil, he returned to the Post as a columnist, and that remained his principal line of work for the next sixty-two years. Ancillary activities during the Post years included an early morning radio program, a feature writing instructorship at Sam Houston State and occasional articles for Texas Parade.
When he moved to the Houston Chronicle in 1985, his column shifted toward personal essay, of which he has been proclaimed a master. There have been five volumes of these columns collected into book form, beginning with A Smile from Katie Hattan, in 1982.
On various occasions he expressed his gratitude for all the newspaper business gave him. “This job enabled me to feed my family doing the only thing in this world I was any good at,” he said. “You don’t get much more fortunate than that.”
In addition to the column collections, Hale wrote two novels, Bonney’s Place and Addison, two memoirs (Paper Hero and Supper Time), a book of linked stories about vanishing Texas (Turn South at the Second Bridge), and his most recent, published this month, the journal of his retirement (2014-2020) entitled See You On Down the Road, a phrase he occasionally used at the close of a column. His accolades include awards from the Headliners Foundation of Texas, United Press International and the Associated Press. In addition, he received the Jesse H. Jones Award for Fiction and the Lon Tinkle Award for Excellence throughout a Career from the Texas Institute of Letters, the state’s literary honor society of which he was a member. His papers reside in the Special Collections of the University of Houston Libraries.
Of Hale’s work, the late author, and friend, John Graves wrote: “His voice in writing is the voice of the man himself. Colloquial, wise, caring, closely observant, and—most often at his own expense—wryly and powerfully humorous.”
Leon Hale’s home base for most of the Houston Post years was Bryan, where he and his late wife, Mary Helen Vick, raised their family. He moved to Houston in 1980 and lived there for the rest of his life, with periods of time in Santa Fe, NM, and, especially recently, at his country place in Winedale. Friends and family will remember Leon as modest, unassuming, quick with a rejoinder that never stung—or almost never, and usually produced considerable laughter. The warmth and receptivity that accompanied his arrival in every room surely eased his entry into the places where he found the people he wrote about. Generations of their descendants populate the southern half of Texas. Many times, even recently, he would be stopped at the grocery store by the granddaughter or grandson of someone he wrote about half a century ago: “Mr. Hale, do you remember…”
Hale is survived by his wife and partner of forty years, Gabrielle Babette Fraser Hale; his children, Mark Hale and Becky Hale Fisher; three grandchildren, Daniel Hale, Travis Hale, and Kacy Hale Hoefler and husband Brandon; by his stepson, Will Warren and wife Maren Warren and their two children; also by two nieces, Jan Taylor Cooper of Denton and Sandra Taylor Allsup of Mansfield and their families; as well as countless friends.
Because of the pandemic, a celebration of his life will take place at a later time.
Memorial contributions in his name, if desired, may be directed to the Houston Audubon Society, 440 Wilchester Blvd., Houston, TX, 77079; M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, P.O. Box 4486, Houston, TX, 77210-4486, or Round Top Festival Institute, P.O. Box 89, Round Top, TX, 78954.
No public services are scheduled at this time. Receive a notification when services are updated.
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April 5, 2021
My condolences to the family of Leon Hale. I had to add my thoughts about Mr Hale. I have been reading his articles for longer than I care to say. I found them amusing, very personal & full of wisdom. He was a lot like the elders in my family who captured you with their life stories. I was sad when he retired but started reading Lisa Falkenberg & found that she too told her stories with compassionate & must have also been a fan. God rest your soul Leon Hale, God must be listening now.
March 31, 2021
I want to send my sympathies to the Hale Family. Then, on behalf of the citizens in Wharton County, Texas especially in the Glen Flora and Egypt, Texas areas, we send our sympathies. In his life, Mr. Leon Hale would occasionally visit our area. He was especially fond of visiting Scheller's Place in Glen Flora, Texas. Although now deceased, Mr. and Mrs. Scheller and Miss Pud Joines enjoyed his visits. Mr. Hale even wrote about this historical place in some of his books. I remember attending a Christmas party at Scheller's Place that Miss Pud had over fifty years ago. Mr. Hale and his friend, the late Pinky Hull entertained us that night. Mr. Hale was a true gentleman and a role model for aspiring writers. He lived a good, long life. May he rest in peace. Mary Lou Krenek, Egypt, Texas.
March 31, 2021
When I moved to Houston 1/1/1973, a co-worker at St. Luke's Hospital told me to be sure to read the Leon Hale column in the Houston Post. We didn't have much money with rent to pay, and because we had two small daughters, and my husband was in graduate school at U of H. But, we subscribed to the Post. I became a Leon Hale fan right away. When Leon switched to the Chronicle, so did we so I could keep reading his column. I became his friend on FB, and got to meet Babette at his book signing at the B & N book store in Champions. I have See You On Down the Road and am reading it now. Leon was a very special man, and he loved Babette and his family very much. He has brought much happiness to me and probably many other of his readers and fans. Thank you Leon for your service to your country and for the years of happy stories you shared.