“I have been patiently waiting for your column on our old friend, the late great Legend, Shake Pepper. You did not disappoint.”
Those were the words that began my last exchange with Greg Hall. It doesn’t do him justice to describe Greg Hall as a Landmark contributor. More importantly he was a friend of 20 years whose bold energy and enthusiasm served as an inspiration, a man who in many ways was a respected brother figure. We had the above exchange on Twitter on Dec. 12. It’s weirdly ironic that our last conversation would be about a column that paid tribute to a good friend.
Sadly, here we go again.
Greg Hall died last Thursday evening at his home in Leawood. Very unexpectedly. “A sudden and massive heart attack,” is how a family member described it. His wife, Donna, and arriving paramedics performed CPR but to no avail. Greg’s sister-in-law, Lois Schieber of Platte City, graciously walked into The Landmark office Friday morning to give me the stunning news.
Greg Hall was a marathon runner. A non-smoker. Non-drinker. A man with boundless energy. A man who had told me in July: “I’m gonna be 65 this year. But I’m gonna work until I’m 70, at least. I’m healthy, I feel good, I enjoy what I do, I work with some great people.”
He will be missed. But his inspiring ways will never be forgotten.
I first came to know of Greg Hall well before I got to know Greg Hall. I knew him as a sports media sound bite columnist in the Sunday edition of the Kansas City Star. His words were bold. His words were succinct. His words were most often spot on. His words were clever. His words were funny. His words were entertaining. His comments were always thought-provoking. In other words, he had all the tools that comprise a great columnist. In the world of sports junkies, he had developed a vast and loyal following. His Off the Couch column was the most widely read regular piece in the Sunday Star.
In 1999 Greg left the Star to take a gig at a fairly young sports radio station that at the time had only a daytime signal. In other words, when the sun went down so did this station. “The radio thing was a mistake. I went to work with 1510. They said ‘we all want you.’ They lied. I lasted a whole six weeks, two of them suspended,” Greg said with a smile in July on Landmark Live.
The radio station suspended Greg following a skit–a politically incorrect skit, admittedly–that poked fun at Bill Grigsby, a Chiefs radio announcer who was somewhat of a legend in many circles. Turns out Grigsby didn’t think the skit was funny. Pressure was being put upon radio station ownership and management from Grigsby and others. The radio station was in its infancy stage and ownership and management were caving to the pressure, folding like a lawn chair in a hurricane. While the controversy was at its peak, I read a Top of the Mornin’ column written by Jeffrey Flanagan in a weekday edition of the Star that quoted radio station management as saying Greg needed to apologize. That same column quoted Greg as saying he absolutely would not apologize. Several thoughts immediately went through my mind: 1. I really like this Greg Hall guy. 2. Greg Hall is going to get fired. 3. Greg Hall could use some encouraging words right now, even if from a stranger. 4. I want Greg Hall to come write for The Landmark.
So I went to my computer and its dial-up modem (remember this was in the very early days of the internet) and fired off an email to this Greg Hall guy. In that email I encouraged him that no matter what happens with the radio gig to keep writing the way he always writes, don’t change your style over one ‘mistake,’ keep giving strong opinions. I urged him to keep Off the Couch going on his website, then closed by offering him a contributor’s gig in The Landmark.
I wanted his column in The Landmark. In the mid to late 90s The Landmark had established a strong reputation as the political and local government watchdog and as a result our reach was growing by leaps and bounds. I wanted this sports media watchdog to join our ranks. Based on the editorial style we use in The Landmark, I knew his column would be a perfect fit. It took several days for him to respond, as the dust was settling from the radio station blow-up/firing. When he did respond he said yes, he was interested in talking about coming on board The Landmark. After some back and forth that included my insistence that The Landmark be the only Platte County-based publication for Off the Couch, we finally reached a deal, and his column made its Landmark debut on Sept. 30, 1999. It ran in the print version of the newspaper for five years and would continue to appear on our website for many years after that. He became a regular at Landmark Christmas parties. He contributed to our NFL Pigskin Picks feature for the dozen or so years that it ran. In the past couple years he had appeared multiple times with us on Landmark Live.
After connecting in 1999 Greg and I immediately found that we had a lot in common, not the least of which was the habit of giving bold opinions in print, and our friendship grew. He loved high school sports so I asked him to help cover the Platte County Pirates’ journeys to football state titles in those early days, which meant road trips to St. Louis for championship games. I have some stories about those trips I’ll share on a future Landmark Live.
For his sportswaves.com web site in 1999-2000, he invited me to start contributing some off the wall pieces that pushed the envelope and poked at the KC sports media world, the country club press corps atmosphere in the Chiefs press box and the Chiefs PR department. The incognito approach of course required a pen name, so I did the ghost writing under the name Poofus Drawers. Good times.
Greg and I had developed our own mutual admiration society at a time when writers who gave bold opinions and upset the powers-that-be were often looked at as the black sheep of the family by ‘journalists’ who didn’t have the courage to do it.
I have so many Greg Hall stories and not enough space. There’s the time his Landmark columns were twisting the testicles of the Kansas City Star so hard the Star’s lawyers were burning up The Landmark fax machine with ‘cease and desist’ orders and other legal threats.
There’s a story to tell about our falling out in the early 2000s with Star columnist Jason Whitlock, with whom Greg had developed a tight relationship during his days at the Star. Despite his now national fame–he hosts a daily sports TV show on Fox Sports 1–Whitlock still hasn’t forgotten The Landmark. To this day Whitlock blocks me on Twitter, even though The Landmark coverage that got under his skin occurred long before Twitter was even a thing.
More stories coming in a tribute to Greg on an upcoming Landmark Live.
(Get more Foley on Twitter @ivanfoley. Follow along on Facebook at Platte County Landmark. Email firstname.lastname@example.org )