In memoriam: Otis F. Hall
May 15, 2015
Professor Emeritus Otis F. Hall, who served as head of the Department of Forestry and Wood Products from 1974 to 1984 and taught in the college until his retirement in 1991, passed away on Jan. 23 at the age of 93. He was among the first in the country to apply computer technology to enhance forest inventory and management decisions.
Hall was the consummate steward of natural resources and rode a bicycle to campus and around town well into his 80s, usually in his “ageless” Bermuda shorts, remembers Lynn Davis, college communications director, who worked with Hall on the Jefferson National Forest Plan. “He was a scholar and a gentleman, and in today’s polarized political world, his skills in bringing fractious parties to agreement would be manna in the wilderness,” she said.
Originally from Oberlin, Ohio, Hall earned a bachelor’s from Oberlin College in 1943, studying botany and chemistry. After serving with the U.S. Army Air Corps in the Pacific Theater during World War II, he earned a master of forestry from Yale University in 1948 and a doctorate from the University of Minnesota in 1954.
Hall served in faculty positions at the University of Minnesota, Purdue University, and the University of New Hampshire before coming to Virginia Tech, where he held the Thomas H. Jones Professorship of Forestry (1984-89) and the Garland Gray Professorship of Forestry (1989-91).
“Part of his legacy is his early adoption and application of computing technology for acquiring and utilizing quantitative data for improving forest management decisions,” said University Distinguished Professor Harold Burkhart.
Hall is remembered as well for his personal skills and character. According to his family, one of his greatest satisfactions was watching the successful careers of the 28 graduate students he advised. “Otis was outstanding in his work with graduate students,” said Professor Emeritus John Hosner. “He showed empathy to his students, an important factor in being a great teacher.”
“He was the ultimate professional in every way, as well as a totally congenial man,” added Professor Emeritus David Wm. Smith.
Hall was a member of the Society of American Foresters for 67 years, serving at many levels, including the Editorial Board of the Journal of Forestry and chairman of the Virginia Division. He was elected a Fellow in 1979 and received the society’s Distinguished Service Award in 1992.
He is survived by his wife Helen of Blacksburg, Virginia, three children, five grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. The family requests that memorial donations be made to the Virginia Tech Student Chapter of the Society of American Foresters, Cheatham Hall Rm. 313 (0324), 310 West Campus Dr., Blacksburg, VA 24061.