Ricky Hall has spent much of his life trying to find a work-around.
The 60-year-old retired GIS mapping specialist grew up “on the wrong side of the railroad tracks” but learned early on to improvise and to never give up.
Hall’s hometown of Martinsville, Virginia is perhaps best-known for the Martinsville Speedway, a NASCAR short track, but it was far from the world he inhabited. For most of his life, he lived next door to his grandfather, whose house was a stone’s throw from the sawmill where he worked. His father and grandfather brought home blocks of wood that Hall and his brother would turn into toys.
“There was nothing like taking a piece of raw wood and making something out of nothing,” Hall recalls of his childhood. “We only got store-bought toys two times a year – Christmas and your birthday. The rest of the year, we got blocks of wood and what we made out of it was what we had.”
He credits his father, Millard Hall, now 80, with giving him an analytical ability and tenacity that would serve him well into adulthood. “If we didn’t have a wrench, we would make a wrench,” Hall explains.
Last fall, Hall found another work-around. He placed second in the November municipal election, edging out Graham incumbent councilman Lee Kimrey by 2.66 percentage points (56 votes), along with four other candidates who had been competing for one of two open seats on the city council.
Just five months earlier, Hall had been passed over for reappointment to the city planning board on which he had served for 10 of the 15 years that he and his wife, Judy Hall, have lived in the city. Instead, the council voted 3-2 to appoint a newcomer, Rachel McIntyre, to the city’s planning board, after an earlier attempt to institute term limits for Graham’s advisory boards – which would’ve been made retroactive to apply to current members – was aborted. (The council ultimately voted 3-2 in November to limit terms of service on the city’s advisory boards to three, three-year terms. As their final act in office, Kimrey and his fellow outgoing councilman, Griffin McClure, who didn’t seek reelection, voted in favor of instituting term limits, for future members of the eight advisory boards that the council appoints.)
Hall also credits his father – who “still works at a garage every day” – with giving him a strong work ethic. His mother, Nina, is retired from the school system in Martinsville and today looks after her husband and their home.
Hall was a quick study in the proverbial woodwright’s shop but a late bloomer when it came to academics. He nevertheless earned the first of four degrees, in welding, at age 30. Three other degrees soon followed: computer numerical control (CNC) programming; machine tool technology; and computer-aided drafting, the latter of which is used in surveying and “anything you need precise drawings for,” Hall says, adding that he wishes he had gone to college earlier so he could’ve been a better provider for his family. After college, his hourly pay nearly doubled, to $14 an hour, and he and his family moved from a mobile home into a house.
Hall also got a job with the Henry County, Virginia tax department, where he came under the influence of a man who would have a lasting impact, Edward J. “Bud” Philpott, Jr. Philpott had been the youngest person, at age 32, to be elected as the Henry County commissioner of revenue in 1955 and was subsequently reelected to nine consecutive, four-year terms, according to a resolution that Virginia’s legislature passed in Philpott’s honor in January 2001, a few months shy of the one-year anniversary of his death in April 2000.
In time, Philpott stoked Hall’s own interest in politics.
“I drew tax maps, did computer programming and recalculations for revaluation,” the new Graham city councilman recalls. “He would come in some days – he was a talkative man – and talk about running for office, how to listen to residents, and how to use that information to position yourself to better help residents. That’s [where] I learned to do addressing and how I got into 911 mapping. We went through a total readdressing; we moved from rural route numbers to true 911 [addresses] to meet a federal mandate.”
The 911 mapping process involves assigning numerical street addresses, according to how far a driveway is located along a road; and that information is fed into a computer database that allows dispatchers and emergency personnel to pinpoint the exact location of a 911 call.
Hall later worked on special projects for Salem, Virginia, becoming one of only two people in the state who were authorized to make changes to the state mapping software.
Hall made his first foray into the political sphere in 1994, joining the West Piedmont Planning District Commission (regional planning organization that serves Franklin, Henry, Patrick, and Pittsylvania counties in Virginia), on which he served until 2002. From the mid-1990s until the early 2000s, Hall simultaneously served on the regional planning commission, as well as its technical advisory and rural transportation committees; and as chairman of both the Martinsville planning commission and that city’s board of zoning appeals.
He and his wife of 39 years, Judy Hall, moved to Graham after he was hired to work as a GIS specialist for central communications and addressing administration for Alamance County government. Ten years later, Hall took a job with Google, where he worked as an outside plant engineer and “drew all their maps for their fiber optic run,” he recalls.
During his professional career in North Carolina, he served on the state’s Geographic Information Coordinating Council and as a Local Government Commission (LGC) representative to a state working group for orthophotography, or aerial photography. He currently volunteers with ALCOVETS, a local nonprofit that supports veterans in Alamance County, and Helping Hands Ministry, a ministry that his church, Wendover Church of Christ in Greensboro, runs to assist people in need.
In 2017, Hall entered semi-retirement, though on many days, constituents can find him sweeping the floors at one of his favorite haunts in downtown Graham, Sutton’s at the Wrike.
From his perspective as longtime former member of the city’s planning board and board of adjustment, Hall sees Graham as “poised to explode” with residential growth. “Just with all the building lots we’ve put on the ground in the last three years, we are looking to add probably another 3,000 people.”
He concedes that he would like to see more commercial development in Graham. “I would like to see us get a major brand grocery store here, maybe a Lidl or a Walmart [Neighborhood] Market, so you don’t have to drive all the way across town,” Hall explains, referring to the 688 small-format grocery stores that the retailer had opened as of the fall of 2019.
The new councilman says he would also like to see a “name-brand steakhouse” open in Graham “so you wouldn’t have to drive to Mebane or Burlington” to get a decent steak. “I would like to see a men’s clothing store,” Hall adds. “There are at least two women’s stores downtown; there’s nowhere [close by] I can go to buy a pair of socks. Another thing we need to look at along the [Highway] 54 corridor is trying to find tracts of land that can be commercialized. Along South Main Street, there aren’t that many left that you can build on and maintain a healthy buffer between residential and commercial [buildings].
Hall readily acknowledges that a controversial plan that would dramatically reshape downtown Graham provided the foundation for his campaign for city council and says most of the residents he talked to while campaigning urged him to kill the plan.
However, Graham’s city council voted 3-2 – with the two outgoing councilmen voting in favor – on November 5 to adopt the downtown plan, minutes before Hall and the other new council member, Jennifer Talley, were elected.
Hall nonetheless remains opposed to the plan, saying that while it’s important to have a healthy and vibrant downtown, it’s equally important to provide access for business patrons of all ages.
“It wasn’t right for Graham; it would inhibit parking,” Hall says in outlining his opposition. “Most of the residents I talked to were older; having to walk a block – they don’t have that ability. When I’m hanging out at Sutton’s, I see people drive around the block four or five times just to find a parking space. I would like to see us try to find ways to promote ourselves and to fill in some of the empty stores along South Main Street. It’s getting them all filled in that improves our business, our sales tax [revenue], and makes our community more viable. Our downtown is taking care of itself.”