FAIRBORN — Tony Hall says he will never forget the day he visited Ethiopia in the 1980s and saw starving people lying on the ground – dead people, children, all starving to death, some dying in a matter of minutes.
It was a day that changed his life forever, he said, as a leader and elected official and human being.
“Mothers were handing me their babies,” Hall told a crowd Tuesday afternoon at Wright State University. “They thought I was a doctor, that I could save them. I was stunned. And I never got over that. The next three days, I saw death, lots of death. And they all died from hunger.”
A beloved, renowned and decorated lifelong legislator, humanitarian and former US Ambassador – Hall has a profound legacy today as a leader in the worldwide fight against hunger.
Now director emeritus of the Alliance to End World Hunger, Hall was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times for his ceaseless efforts to combat world hunger as his list of storied accomplishments span pages now in the history books.
And yet, at 75 and still passionate, Hall explained that he isn’t done.
“Feeding the hungry is not rocket science,” he said during WSU’s launch of its new School of Public and International Affairs. “We have people here in Dayton who are hungry. This past year-and-a-half, Dayton has been the fourth hungriest city in the country…
“We have to do something about this.”
Hall said he is excited about the university’s move to merge the departments of political science and urban affairs and geography to create this new school and prepare students to get involved in complex social issues in the local and global environment – issues like local and world hunger.
“This is exciting to have an international school,” he said during a staged discussion with decorated educators and community leaders in the university’s Student Apollo Room. “Take an issue like hunger – whether domestic or international – this is an issue we can do something about. We don’t have to solve the problem. We have to learn how to create a political will – a spiritual will.”
How do “we” create this spiritual will? Hall asked.
“We show people,” he said. “Get involved. Go to your synagogue or church’s food pantry. Go into the city. Meet these mothers… We have a problem in Dayton. We have a problem in America first. Forty-eight million people are hungry. They aren’t dropping over dead. But they’re hungry.”
Hall said it is mostly women, children and senior citizens going to bed hungry.
“By the time they pay the daycare bill, the rent bill, the utility bill – whatever kinds of bills they must pay during the month – they run out of money and if their child gets sick they can’t take them to the doctor,” Hall said. “One of the reasons why it’s the fourth (hungriest city) is because we’ve lost 40,000 jobs, numerous manufacturing jobs, automobile jobs. These people are not only out of work, but some of them are still unemployed or underemployed. You cannot make it on $8, $9 $10 an hour.”
So Hall challenged the emerging school’s staff and students to take action, in whatever capacity they can.
“We know what to do,” he said. “We are starting to do it. But if Wright State takes on this issue and helps us solve this problem here … Let’s say you took the problem in Dayton and decide you are going to end hunger here in Montgomery County …”
Outsiders would be impressed, he said.
“Here is a city and county that takes care if their own,” he said, explaining it would make the area more appealing to entrepreneurs and employers. “(They would say) ‘this is a place where I want to take my business. This is where to be.’
“We know what to do. This is not rocket science.”
Recalling his legacy to the crowd, Hall briefly recalled his famous 22-day fast for hunger around the world, which drew international attention and support in 1993.
He also recalled a few of his many meetings with the legendary humanitarian Mother Teresa, whom many of faith consider to be a “saint.”
“The first time I met her, she came up to me and grabbed my hand and said ‘I never want you to forget this,’” he recalled. “She didn’t say ‘how are you?’ or ‘what is your name.’
“Instead she took each finger on my hand and said ‘for the least of these,’” he explained. “She recalled Mathew 25: (Truly I tell you for whatever you did for one the least of these brothers and sister, you did for me).”
Hall also challenged those in attendance to read the verse when they get home.
“She was the most amazing person I ever met,” Hall said. “She was a light of life. She brought tears to my eyes.”
Such passion and empathy for other human beings, suffering human beings, is what brought fulfillment to Hall’s life and legacy, he explained – for it is in giving to others, that one obtains true fulfillment and spiritual growth.
And that’s the message Hall tried to instill into some of the young and aspiring minds gathered at the launch event, some of whom stayed after to speak with him one-on-one.
“It’s like Martin Luther said: We need good people in church, but (we need) our best people in politics,” he said. “I’m 75. I’m telling you if you get into this work, you are going to love it. So please do it. Get involved.
“Make this an issue. You have to help. Write letters, e-mails… It’s not that people don’t care. It’s that people don’t know. You have the clout. You have the ability to teach, to educate. That is what Wright State is all about… If Wright State took this hunger issue on – that’s exciting.
And even one person make a difference in the world, he said, as he recalled a story of when a reporter once asked Mother Teresa is she felt like what she was doing was a mere “drop in the bucket?”
He said she responded with a famous quote now coined today for inspiration:
“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean,” she said. “But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”
For more about Wright State University, its new School of Public and International Affairs, or other classes, go to www.wright.edu on the Web.
Brian Evans is a freelance journalist for Greene County News, and can be reached at [email protected]