In Memoriam: David Hall ’69

A head shot of David Hall wearing a coat and tie.

David Hall, the longtime director of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid and an advocate so skilled, effective, and relentlessly committed to social justice that he was named one of Texas’ greatest lawyers of the 20th century, died on October 11. He was 81.

A member of the Texas Law Class of 1969, Hall served at TRLA for more than four decades. From that position, he helped launch the careers of countless attorneys, many of them also Texas Law graduates. As noted in his obituary, published earlier this week in the Austin American-Statesman, Hall’s protégés “would go on to devote their careers to seeking social justice in courts and corridors of power across the country, (becoming) judges, lawmakers, mayors, law school deans, district attorneys, statewide political candidates, and more.”

“David Hall changed my life,” says Eden Harrington, the law school’s associate dean for experiential education and the former director of Texas Law’s clinical programs, as well as founding director of the William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law. “He is the reason I came to Texas.”

Harrington continues: “A few years into my legal career I was working in Los Angeles and decided I wanted to join the ‘best’ legal aid organization anywhere. I was told to contact David, and soon I was visiting offices with him from McAllen to Kerrville. His spirit of adventure, energy, and a fearless approach to helping people who needed it convinced me to accept his job offer without even knowing the salary! David loved great food, great company, and especially a great fight on the right side. I thoroughly enjoyed him as a boss and a friend, and I’m proud to forever be part of the TRLA diaspora.”

Heather K. Way, a clinical professor and member of the Class of 1996, remembers Hall as “a fierce and unwavering champion for justice, equality, and human dignity.” Adds Way, “I am so thankful I had the chance to work with him at Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid.”

Way’s fellow clinical professor, Frances Leos Martinez, also counts Hall as a mentor and friend. “I was lucky to join TRLA in the RGV in 1992 as a Skadden Fellow.” Recalls Leos Martinez, “One of the experiences that most impacted me as an attorney was working with David on the El Cenizo bankruptcy which resulted in the transfer of over 1000 lots in the El Cenizo community from a developer to a state affiliated nonprofit which then worked to transfer title to the homeowners. From David I learned not only persistence in knowing,  applying, and arguing the law but also the strategic use of the soft skills necessary to help clients achieve their goals. I share these learnings with my student to this day.”

We share here Hall’s full obituary, as prepared by his family. A celebration of his life will be held at 5:30 p.m. on November 10, at Fiesta Gardens in Austin.

David Gray Hall

David Gray Hall, a Texas legal legend who devoted his career to social justice, died on October 11, 2023, one month shy of his 82nd birthday. Upon hearing his signature baritone drawl, folks often asked him where he was from, and he would declare, “Texas – clear back, both sides.” And it was true. On his mother’s side, he descended from Reuben Hornsby, who in 1832 served as Stephen F. Austin’s land surveyor in what would later become Travis County. 

David loved Texas so much that he made the bold, early choice to devote his entire career to making it better. And for more than 40 years, he accomplished this as director of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA), which is based in his beloved Rio Grande Valley. 

While he never took himself too seriously, David was serious about his work, and his legal successes were legend. In 1978, he ascended the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court – in suit pants ripped getting out of the taxi, no less – to successfully convince five justices that Mexican Americans were being unlawfully excluded from grand jury service in a county that was 80 percent Latino. In an injunction case, he approached a federal judge mowing his yard in Brownsville and asked him to sign a temporary restraining order, which the judge reviewed while David finished the mowing. 

TRLA’s many achievements under David’s watch included the state’s first non-profit public defender services, medical-legal partnerships in hospitals, pro se clinics throughout border counties, colonia infrastructure improvements, enhanced access to the polls and support for candidates of choice for the poor, partnerships with domestic violence shelters, transnational litigation involving parental custody disputes, and representation for children who were jailed by immigration authorities, among countless others. 

David didn’t care much about awards, but he nonetheless received many career accolades, including being recognized by Texas Lawyer in 2000 as one of the state’s 100 greatest lawyers in the previous century. With disarming charm and a mischievous twinkle often in his eyes, he proved a fearless, tenacious battler for the oppressed who had many admirers and more than a few detractors, who labeled him a socialist or a rabble-rouser and – when they were really being mean – a “wannabe Yankee.” In a case involving migrant farmworkers, Dimmit County’s then-sheriff said TRLA posed a problem because “it was telling them about the federal laws and everything.” David relished that comment and made it a permanent part of the TRLA brand. 

David accomplished this all through jovial storytelling and an abiding hospitality that drew countless brilliant young lawyers to TRLA for decades. In urging them to pass up the fancy firms and relocate to not-so-glamorous parts of Texas, he knew one way to their hearts was via their stomachs, so he plied them with homemade paella, chipotle fajitas, cabrito, and huachinango al mojo de ajo, not to mention beer and peaty whiskeys. He and his wife, Pamela, also subjected them to his ever-changing Dr. Dolittle menagerie, which included Golden Retrievers, cats, a Madagascar gecko, a goat, parrots, chickens, ducks, fish, and one infamous pot-bellied pig. 

Thanks to David’s guidance and encouragement, many of these young lawyers would go on to devote their careers to seeking social justice in courts and corridors of power across the country. They have become judges, lawmakers, mayors, law school deans, district attorneys, statewide political candidates, and more. Even after his 2018 retirement as director, David continued to consult with TRLA, mentoring the lawyers representing asylum seekers jailed for misdemeanor trespass offenses in the notorious Operation Lone Star. His legacy lives on in them all.

David was born on November 10, 1941, and raised in Baytown, Texas, by his parents, Ike David Hall, an Exxon executive, and Nanene Gilbert Hall, a schoolteacher. After high school, David went to the University of Texas at Austin and served as a Silver Spur. He forever lamented that on his watch as a Spur, those damn Aggies stole Bevo, UT’s famous Longhorn mascot. He got Bevo back by enlisting the Texas Rangers and threatening to charge the Aggies with cattle rustling. David also was a UT Goodfellow, which recognized students for service and personality. His parents forever wondered how 1960s UT transformed their conservative, Baptist-raised son into the fierce progressive he became and would remain, but they continued to adore him anyway.

David then joined the UT School of Law in 1966 but took a two-year break to serve with his first wife, Allison, in the Peace Corps in Venezuela. In Caracas in 1967, they had the first of two daughters, Allison Kelly, followed by Lynn Gray in Baytown in 1969. After law school, David began work in the Valley in 1970 as an attorney for the United Farm Workers Union and then the ACLU before taking the helm at TRLA. 

“David’s consistency and determination in the pursuit of the cause of justice is an enduring legacy,” said David Richards, a leading Texas civil rights lawyer and longtime friend. “The fact that he could at the same time maintain a sense of humor about the vagaries of the world around him is equally remarkable.” 

David was backed by a strong, loving, lively family, including his wife of nearly 27 years, Pamela Brown, an accomplished public interest attorney who shared his passion for social justice. In addition to being David’s advocate, advisor, and muse, Pamela was his fellow adventurer who once bravely accompanied him on a newly acquired sailboat across the Gulf of Mexico. Together they traveled to Scotland, Portugal, other parts of Europe, and deep into Mexico, as well as enjoyed visits with their exchange student daughter, Cigdem Mirrikhi, in Turkey and Pamela’s Tica family, the Solano Rivas’, in Costa Rica. They were married in November 1996, and she was by his side at his peaceful death.

In addition to his devoted daughters – Allison Kelly Lowery (David) and Lynn Gray Harrison (Kevin) – David is survived by four grandchildren: Adam Beach, Joseph Beach, Marguerite Harrison, and Gray Harrison; as well as his nephew John Schwetman (Krista) and niece Katherine Rosen (Scott). He was preceded in death by his parents and his loving sister, Nanene Hall Schwetman (Herb), who had to put up with her little brother’s notorious childhood pranks. 

Anyone wishing to honor David’s memory is invited to contribute to TRLA (, as well as to vote for every Democrat running for office anywhere in every election and encourage all friends and family to do the same. A celebration of his life will be scheduled soon.

In a private graveside service, David will be laid to rest right next to his parents and sister at the historic Hornsby Bend cemetery in eastern Travis County, where he owned a portion of the original land that Stephen F. Austin granted to Reuben Hornsby in 1832. David spent many a carefree childhood summer on his grandmother’s nearby farm, and at his request exactly one week before he died, Pamela drove him to the family land one final time.

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