In memoriam: Otis F. Hall, professor emeritus and former head, Department of Forestry and Wood Products
January 28, 2015
Professor Emeritus Otis F. Hall died on Jan. 23 in Blacksburg, Virginia, at age 93.
Hall served as head of Virginia Tech’s Department of Forestry and Wood Products from 1974 to 1984 and taught in what is now the College of Natural Resources and Environment until his retirement in 1991. He specialized in forest management and was among the nation’s first 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 1980s, usually in his “ageless” Bermuda shorts, remembers Lynn Davis, director of communications for the college, who worked with Hall on the Jefferson National Forest Plan for the U.S. Forest Service before coming to Virginia Tech.
“Otis provided expertise for forest plans and a calm public presence at the Forest Service public forums,” Davis said. “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.”
Hall grew up in Oberlin, Ohio, and attended Oberlin College, graduating with a bachelor's degree in botany and chemistry in 1943.
After serving with the U.S. Army Air Corps in the Pacific Theater during World War II, he earned a master's degree in forestry from Yale University in 1948 and a doctoral degree from the University of Minnesota in 1954.
As a professor at the University of Minnesota and later Purdue University in the 1950s and 1960s, he began using computer analysis of forest data to inform management decisions. He served as head of the forestry department at the University of New Hampshire from 1968 to 1974 before coming to Virginia Tech.
Hall held the Thomas H. Jones Professorship of Forestry from 1984 to 1989 and the Garland Gray Professorship of Forestry from 1989 to 1991.
“Part of his legacy is his early adoption and application of computing technology for acquiring and utilizing quantitative data for improving forest management decisions,” University Distinguished Professor Harold Burkhart of the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation, as the department is now known.
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 to whom he was the major advisor.
“Otis was also outstanding in his work with graduate students, very supportive,” 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,” said Professor Emeritus David Wm. Smith. “If you wanted an outstanding neighbor, he’s the guy you’d want next door.”
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.
Otis is survived by his wife Helen of Blacksburg, Virginia; son Geoffrey (Lisa) Benedict-Hall of Reston, Virginia; daughter Elizabeth (Jerry) Lubin of San Pedro, California; and daughter Barbara Hall (John Eicholtz) of Murray, Utah. He has five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 31, at Blacksburg United Methodist Church., 111 Church Street. The family will receive friends at 2 p.m. in Whisner Hall at the church. Arrangements by McCoy Funeral Home in Blacksburg. A private interment will be held in Oberlin, Ohio, at a later date.
In lieu of flowers the family requests memorial donations be made to the Virginia Tech Student Chapter of the Society of American Foresters, Cheatham Hall Room 313 (0324), 310 West Campus Drive, Blacksburg, VA 24061.