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Tribute to F. Marie Hall

F. Marie Hall

This opportunity to pay tribute to F. Marie Hall is a dream come true. She has been an inspiration, a colleague and a mentor to so many people. It is her vision that inspires the people of the F. Marie Hall Institute for Rural and Community Health. We are about focusing our imagination, our talents and our energy to improve the health and well-being of the people and communities of rural Texas. West Texas is the crossroads where innovation meets determination. That is the story of the F. Marie Hall Institute and it is the story of Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.

I remember the first day that I met Marie Hall. Marie put me at ease from the moment we met, even though I was nervous about the meeting. She has a gift for that. A person of disarming charm would be a way to characterize her. We met in my tiny office, discussing a grant proposal across my simple surplus desk. The research team I led needed funding for a new project and Marie was there to evaluate our worthiness for institutional support through an endowment established by her family. We talked for a while about our mutual interests. It’s interesting how, like roads in West Texas connect people and places that are far apart, so also do common things in our pasts connect people. It was a pleasant conversation. Then, she said, “Tell me about your idea.”

I had been cautioned by the Dean of Medicine that only grants that were “edgy” stood a chance for funding. I didn’t know if what our team was working was innovative enough, but I had my doubts based on our dismal success in NIH reviews of our other proposals. Most of our research team was confused because we had read critique after critique about how “transformative” what we proposed could be but then those words were almost always followed by, “but too ambitious…” and “impractical.”

I had just begun to talk, mostly about the challenges, when Marie stopped me and said, “Your problem is that you’re not thinking big enough!” She then asked me what seemed like a naive question, but a question that could have only come from someone who had actually read the proposal. The question was about the implications of a certain outcome. From that question, I realized she had actually thought far ahead of us about our own work. I thought about how correct she was about not thinking big enough!

I had no idea how to respond and I was really wishing that I had my team members to help. So, I did the only rational thing and asked, “So what would you do?” That began a wonderful collaborative exchange that lasted well past the time allotted for the discussion. When we parted that day, I had the feeling that my colleague was going out the door; Marie had given me such good advice. That is Marie Hall. She has always done her homework. She will think beyond the obvious. She has a vision that comes from a keen intellect and a creative imagination. I wondered after she left if I should call the Dean and ask if Marie could be a collaborative investigator on the grant and join our team.

That call was never made. I had our research team come together that afternoon and we worked for the next few days to expand our thinking and refine our project. We were glad for the help that caused us to reconsider our ideas and approaches, but we were not very hopeful about being selected for funding. Our consensus was that if the person asking the questions was more innovative and “edgy” in her thinking than we were, it was likely the funds would and should go to others.

You can imagine how surprised and delighted we were to receive word several days later that the grant had been approved. That initial funding allowed us to perfect our ideas and methods, and over the next 30 years it led to a program of research that achieved NIH funding for over a decade. Moreover, it formed the basis of my career and of others in our team.

Marie Hall was right about thinking big enough. She thinks big enough to know kids in small towns must have opportunities to discover their talents and find their path to a health career. She thinks big enough to know that there must be a place where people work daily to connect rural communities to the health sciences center that serves them. She thinks big enough to understand that research is the next idea that will open new vistas of opportunity in West Texas and beyond—to a global economy. She thinks big enough to have the capacity to take reasoned risk in order to advance practical and innovative solutions to complex community health issues. She thinks big enough to imagine that many brains working together are better than a solo effort, especially if they are interprofessional teams. She thinks big enough to provide a way to sustain people.

I work in a new team now. I am proud to serve with the magnificent people of the F. Marie Hall Institute. As the director of the F. Marie Hall Institute, it is a great honor to repay the start Marie Hall gave to my career. Moreover, the people on our team serve with the same sense of gratitude, each coming to that place because of their great commitment to bring benefit to others. We serve with a sense of excellence that is the culture of the Institute. We are inspired because we have an inspiring person, Marie Hall, who is just one step beyond us.

The people of the F. Marie Hall Institute for Rural and Community Health connect inspired minds with dedicated work and in turn those connect values of the past to the future: steadfast, dedicated, and dependable. We are about caring for others. We connect young people to health education and in turn that ensures to future health care providers for West Texas. We connect communities to healthcare and in turn to better health outcomes. We connect innovation to creativity and in turn to real-world applications of new knowledge. We connect health technology to community needs and shrink distances across the vastness of West Texas. All of these connections are the products of the generosity of spirit from Marie Hall. She has truly provided the means for us to go beyond ourselves.

Billy Phillips