In the days before integration, a young Richard Patrick Hall had his eyes in the sky and his mind in the books.
Studious and excelling in mathematics, science and French, Hall was approached by the principal of his all-black Louisiana grade school with a challenge.
“Be OK with being different,” he counseled the bright student, who became fascinated with aviation at a young age. “Use [your] love for learning to soar the skies.”
Hall, who died in Miramar Wednesday at 59 of complications from prostate cancer, took the advice literally. He had already learned of the heroes of the sky he wished to emulate.
“He always loved flying, loved aviation,” said his sister-in-law, Christa Dean.
Inspired by people and mentors like Col. Charles McGhee, Lt. Col. Eldridge Williams and other Tuskegee Airmen, Hall received a congressional appointment to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado — the first student from Bastrop High School in Louisiana to receive an appointment to the academy. He would later earn his bachelor’s degree in engineering from the Air Force Academy and master’s in human resource management from Webster University in St. Louis.
“Richard believed that ‘education was the great equalizer’ and knew he had to be intentional and driven to overcome the odds of an African-American small town boy from Southern Louisiana,” his family wrote in an obituary.
Hall graduated from pilot training at the Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi and served in the Air Force from 1979 to 1992. He flew more than 3,500 cumulative hours in the C-130 Hercules and C-141 Starlifter aircraft and was chief pilot in the 76th Airlift Squadron at Charleston Air Force Base.
Hall, a 2015 city of Miramar Veteran Honoree at the United Way of Broward’s Mayor’s Gala, served in the Gulf War, after Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait. While assigned to the Military Airlift Command Headquarters, he was a member of the inspector general’s team as a nuclear surety officer, responsible for the safety, security and effectiveness of nuclear options.
Hall left the service in 1992 to become a pilot for United Airlines. He flew for 21 years until he began his battle with cancer, then remained with United another three years.
The role the Tuskegee heroes played never strayed from Hall’s mind, however. The Tuskegee Airmen, the first all-black military flying unit, was formed in 1941, “helped win a war and helped change our nation,” President George W. Bush told a group of Congressional Gold Medal honorees, including Hall’s late mentor Williams, in 2007.
Through Hall’s military service, his ministry work and various roles at The Fountain of New Life Ministry in Miami Gardens, and through raising a son and daughter with wife LaTéssa Dotson Hall, he strove to preserve the Tuskegee Airmen’s history. He was a life member of the Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. and a past president of the Tuskegee Airmen Miami Chapter.
“During one of our most trying times, they not only overcame racism and incredible injustices, but they went on to fight for this country,” Hall told the Miami Herald in 2013 when he helped secure three Tuskegee Airmen to serve as grand marshals in the Junior Orange Bowl Parade in Coral Gables. “Their role and influence in combat served us well and it proved that African Americans were just as capable as any other group, especially with regard to military service.”
Hall also served as vice president of the Organization of Black Pilots, past president of the Air Force Academy Way of Life Alumni Group and, remembering that long-ago principal who steered him to the skies, Hall helped establish annual outreach programs at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum to encourage youth to embrace aviation.
“Richard, a pilot by profession, an engineer by education and an Air Force officer by training, was a dedicated father with a giving and caring heart. He married my sister and I was proud to call him my brother,” said attorney and brother-in-law Al Dotson Jr.
Hall is survived by his wife, LaTéssa, son Bryant, daughter Briana, two brothers and five sisters. A wake will be at 6 p.m. Friday and viewing and services at 10 a.m. Saturday, both at The Fountain of New Life Ministry, 4601 NW 167th St., Miami Gardens. A second series of services will be held on June 24-25 in Louisiana with interment at the U.S. Air Force Academy Cemetery in Colorado.
“One thing he truly loved was to help children and make a difference in their lives,” said Dean. The family created a foundation to provide scholarships in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), Hall’s passion. Donations can be made to the Richard P. Hall Eagles Foundation.