Obituary: Brian Forrest Hall / Multitalented man who loved to fly
Brian Forrest Hall's career with the military and in the private sector led him to an underground missile silo in North Dakota, to a baseball diamond in Colorado, to graduate school in upstate New York and to dairy pastures in New Zealand.
And finally, it was his wife Ellie's job that led him to Mt. Lebanon, 30 miles from his birthplace, where he planned to open, of all things, a probiotic frozen yogurt shop called Yogli Mogli.
Mr. Hall, who lent his leadership skills to everything from childhood pranks to global corporations, died Sunday after his plane crashed in rural Virginia. He was 50.
He had taken off from an airport in North Carolina, where he was visiting his wife's family, when he crashed at around 11:30 a.m. near Harrisonburg, Va., in a "heavily wooded and mountainous area" of the George Washington National Forest, according to Sgt. F.L. Tyler, the spokesman for the Virginia State Police.
Brian Rayner, a senior air safety investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, said Mr. Hall was between 9,000 and 10,000 feet when he radioed to an air traffic controller that he had "lost" his engine, according to a preliminary report. Air traffic control directed him to land at Bridgewater Air Park in Bridgewater, Va. but he never made it, crashing about eight miles away from the airport. An NTSB board will review investigators' findings to determine the cause of the crash, but that determination will not be made for several months.
Mr. Hall was born in Jeannette but moved at a young age to Arizona after his father, Paul, a computer analyst, got a job with General Electric there. In the triple-digit heat, he forged a deep relationship with his father and a mean throwing arm in daily sessions of catch. He also sang and played guitar in a family quartet. His father called him a mischievous "ringleader," known for short-sheeting bunk beds at church camp.
At Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., he walked on to the baseball team as a pitcher. In a stunt that remains famous among family members, the lifelong prankster once switched a tape of chimes meant to summon students to chapel services with AC/DC's "Hells Bells."
While a student, he pursued his true passion -- flying -- taking lessons and earning his pilot's license.
He joined the Air Force after graduation, where he was trained as a missile launch officer and worked in a missile silo in Minot, N.D. It was the Cold War, and he was the man with "his hands on the keys," said his sister, Laurie Knepper of Kingwood, Somerset County.
There, 50 feet underground, in a claustrophobic space behind a two-ton concrete door, Mr. Hall spent his spare time studying to earn a master's degree in human resource management from Central Michigan University. A restless man with multiple interests, he played guitar in a rock band with other Air Force members called the Crew, which performed at military functions and once opened for Toto at the North Dakota state fair.
He had his first child, Amanda Joy, in 1988, with his then-wife Charyl. Amanda died six weeks after birth of sudden infant death syndrome, a tragedy that "flattened him."
The Air Force gave him a humanitarian transfer back to Colorado Springs, Colo., where he became an assistant coach with the Air Force Academy, returning to the sport he loved. But in a cruelly ironic twist, he was struck by a line drive while pitching batting practice. The ball shattered one side of his face, which had to be reconstructed with a titanium plate and compromised his vision in one eye. Because of the accident, he would never fly for the Air Force.
He worked a number of jobs at the Air Force Academy, as an anatomy instructor and speechwriter for a colonel, before a mentor urged him to attend a graduate program at State University of New York in Albany for industrial and organizational psychology. He earned his doctorate there and returned to the academy to teach leadership in its new Center for Character and Leadership Development.
He separated from the Air Force in 1998 as a major, using his skills to start his own leadership consulting firm, Impact Leadership Development Group. His clients included Xerox, General Motors, Arthur Andersen and a dairy company in New Zealand. He remained in Colorado Springs. He purchased his plane, a Beech B24R, which he often used for business trips as he continued to run the firm from Pittsburgh. He also took his daughters to Niagara Falls and traveled to North Carolina to visit his wife's family. Although he never fulfilled his dream of becoming a military pilot, flying was still his passion.
"Some people just need to fly," Ms. Knepper said. "That is where they are free. It's where they feel like there's nothing holding them back, where they're just close to God. I think he was one of those people."
Weary from years of travel for work, he established a franchise of Yogli Mogli, a national chain, hoping it would provide him with enough income to hire someone at his leadership consulting firm to ease his workload.
It was also a way to connect with the community, Ms. Knepper said. His wife, Ellie, said he was hoping to create a space for young people and built a lounge in the yogurt shop, where he hoped they could gather for poetry readings or open mic nights.
And though it seemed like a deviation from his career path, his wife said he was defined by his spontaneity and his multifarious interests, almost as if he lived multiple lives at once.
"He was a man of dichotomies," she said. "[He was] a jock with a Ph.D. He was a guy's guy but he worshipped his mother. He loved to travel but he loved his community.
"He just lived really hard, like good hard, very spontaneous and seizing the moment."
In addition to his wife and sister, Mr. Hall is survived by his parents, Paul and Juanita of Kingwood; two daughters, Kelsey of Fort Collins, Colo., and Taylor of Colorado Springs; and stepchildren, Sarah Johnson of Mt. Lebanon and Zachary Johnson of North Carolina.
Visitation will be Friday from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. at Miller Funeral Home and Crematory, 555 Tayman Ave. in Somerset, Pa. A service will be held at the Kingwood Church of God, 119 Humbert Road, Kingwood on Saturday at 10 a.m. with visitation at 9 a.m. Interment will be at Kingwood Cemetery.
First Published August 30, 2012 12:00 am