In Remembrance – Dr. Robert “Doc” Hall

Robert W. “Doc” Hall passed away on February 16, 2024 at the age of 86 I first met Doc many years ago at a Montreat College retreat I attended with my mother-in-law Virginia Bethune. The conference topic was on intersections between the Presbyterian Church and Ecology. It was at this conference I also heard Professor Ellen Davis speak and was captured by her views on the old testament, agriculture, and “sloth”

I was captivated by Doc’s systems understanding of the world and his ideas about “doing more with less” – built on his work as an investigator of lean business operation practices in the 1970s as a business professor at the Kelly School of Business at Indiana University.

Shortly after the conference as I recall he launched The Compression Institute ( For over a decade, Doc facilitated monthly “dialog” calls – first via phone and later via video. His rules for dialog are worth noting:

  • Listen to learn, to understand others even if you vehemently disagree with them. Concentrate on what others are saying without thinking about how to rebut them. Dialog is not a debate.
  • Prepare before speaking yourself.
    • Present facts as you know them. Cite sources.
    • State any major assumptions you are making — if you are aware of them.
  • Everybody should speak on the first round. Everybody has a time limit, so no speaker can dominate.
  • Don’t argue, point fingers, drift into irrelevant stories, etc. If this starts, anyone in the group can voice a code phrase, like “foul,” “below the belt,” or whatever the group selects beforehand.
  • Keep a record of what happened and decisions made. Don’t leave until everyone knows what to do – or what to prepare for the next meeting.

People from all over the world would participate on these calls. Although my attendance was sporadic – over the years participants such as Craig Lindell, Jack Ward, Bill Fleming, and many others deeply, deeply enriched my views about the dilemmas and promises of modernity. With no sacred cows, dialog dealt with our wicked problems through every lens imaginable including those one might expect such as science and technology, but in later years, more time was spent on philosophy, religion, ethics, and especially the mental models of our existence on this little orb in space.

Doc and I sometimes would call each other at dinner time after these calls and together cogitate for sometimes hours on a particularly vexing topic. One call I particularly remember. He rang me just after I arrived home on a typically cold and rainy Piedmont Virginia winter night – answering my phone in the driveway before I got out of my car. We dug into the notion that among our many problems, one was how language, particularly the English language, lacks words to describe a way of living, of being, as one with nature.

He supported our work as a donor and Advisor for years. He was my personal cheerleader, pulling me many times out of the dumps. A fatherly mentor that you could also drink some whiskey with. I’m broken up that he’s gone. For me – he was a totally unique source of wisdom. Rarely have I felt such professional loss as now. Bye Doc. You done good. Real good.