Just two days after in-and-out heart surgery in April, William Hall of Cottage City was back at work on the town’s behalf.
On that day, he was helping stuff 600 plastic eggs for the town’s Easter Egg Hunt. And residents say it’s not unusual for the longtime official to get back to work soon after a difficult situation.
Around 4:30 p.m. July 6, 2010, Hall was awakened from a nap by his smoke detector. A malfunctioning air-conditioning unit had sparked a fire that left his home — where he had lived nearly 50 years with his late wife, Sharon, and raised their six children — a charred and gutted shell.
Yet, a week after the fire, Hall was back at work handling his commissioner responsibilities.
“After losing my wife in 1995 after 35 years of marriage and losing my house, family pictures and all kinds of stuff you collect over the years, it was tough,” Hall said. “What kept me going is the love of this town. The residents of the town are special to me because I always like to help anyone that needs help. They were ready to help me when I needed help, and they’re still ready to help me.”
After nearly two years of construction, Hall returned March 28 to his home on the 3800 block of 40th Avenue, next door to Town Hall.
Hall, 79, has lived in Cottage City for 49 years, and has spent 24 of them as the Ward 2 town commissioner.
In the town’s May 7 election, Hall lost his re-election bid, 70 votes to 55 votes, to challenger Brigitte Young, his next-door neighbor, who was sworn in on May 9.
“He was a good commissioner and he did a lot of good things for the town like helping to get the drug dealers out, but in the last few years since he’d been sick I didn’t really see anything he did,” Young said. “He’s a good man and I probably would have voted for him against anyone else.”
Despite the loss, Hall said he plans to remain heavily involved in the town, although he did not identify any specific plans.
Hall, a lifetime member of the Cottage City Fire Department who rose up the ranks from engineer to a 14-year run as president, said when he started as a commissioner, the town’s population was about 1,000 and his salary was $25 per month. Now the town’s population is a little higher — 1,305, according to the 2010 census — and his salary was at $150 per month.
“We do some long projects like the budget, where we’re working eight- to nine-hour days, and I figure I’m making 25 cents an hour for the time I put in,” Hall said. “I didn’t get in it for the money, but for the people.”
Hall said he briefly considered moving permanently out of the town after the fire, but instead decided to rebuild. In the interim, he said his insurance covered the rent of a Laurel apartment for a year. As construction continued, Hall said he paid the $1,645 rent for an additional six months himself and with donations from town residents.
Despite the property loss, Hall said the most important part was that no one was hurt in the fire. He said he is used to looking at the positive side of things, as he has had four heart surgeries since 2008 — and was given last rites before the third surgery because he said his condition was described as “touch-and-go.”
Hall said the town staff has been especially encouraging as he worked to get his house back in order.
“He’s an elderly gentleman, and most people want to be back in surroundings they’re familiar with,” Town Clerk Vivian Montgomery said. “I have an elderly father, so I know how they feel, so I just wanted to support him in getting his house back.”
Former commissioner Patricia Gross (Ward 3) said during the construction period, Hall had to make sure his house was being completed according to Prince George’s County code, which she said was a time-consuming process. But he always remained optimistic about returning to the town.
“He’s a very dedicated commissioner and citizen for Cottage City,” Gross said. “He thinks very highly of it and does all things necessary for its benefit.”