UPDATE 10/16: Here’s the news obituary I wrote about David from Tuesday’s paper. Also, after the jump, I added a couple of vintage Fresno State yearbook pages featuring David passed along by Peter Robertson.
ORIGINAL POST: Word comes over the weekend that longtime Bee arts writer David Hale, who worked at the newspaper 42 years before retiring nearly 10 years ago, has died at age 82.
One of his nieces, Wendy Hunter, says that David passed away Friday evening after a second bout of pneumonia. The family will have a private service.
David preceded me in the arts writing position at The Bee, and he was a big part of my life for many years. He was so well known in the arts community that when he’d call sources he’d often merely exclaim “Hale here!” into the phone before launching into his questions. Or, if he wanted to butter up a source — and it was amazing how quickly he could shift from harried and slightly cantankerous barker to the sweetest, most smooth-talking confidant you could ever run into — he’d initiate the conversation by purring, “This is your friendly Fresno newspaper here.”
He was astonishingly hard-working, pumping out so much copy that it seemed like it took a squadron of copy editors to keep up, and I still marvel when I go back to read through the archives how graceful and economical he could be in his descriptions of the visual arts, classical music, theater and dance. I didn’t fully understand how “up to his eyeballs” he could be in his beat until I took over for him. (Just to illustrate how hard he worked: When he retired, The Bee replaced him with two people. Alas, we weren’t able to maintain that staffing in recent years.)
When he retired in 2003, I wrote a piece for The Bee in salute, which I’ll post after the jump.
In the meantime, if you have any memories of David you’d like to share, include them in a comment on this post. I might be able to work them into a future column.
ARTS REPORTER SAYS GOODBYE
David Hale covered a diverse cultural scene for more than 40 years
Published: Aug. 17, 2003
David Hale always has too many stories to write and not enough time, so it helps that he has one of the most recognizable phone voices in Fresno.
His long-time sources need no introduction when they hear his distinctively cheerful, cajoling, low-pitched growl of a greeting.
Sometimes he’ll simply call someone from the arts desk at The Bee and say: “This is your friendly Fresno newspaper calling.”
Other times when he’s fighting the clock — which he almost always is, as anyone passing by the Leaning Tower of Press Releases on his desk can attest — he’ll answer the phone with a simple, emphatic, memorable “What?”
Hale, 72, who is retiring Friday after 42 years at The Bee, can be forgiven for skipping the phone pleasantries.
Early on in his arts career, he was a one-man band — make that a full-scale orchestra — covering Fresno’s diverse cultural scene.
He’s written extensively about the the development of the Fresno Philharmonic Orchestra, Fresno Art Museum, Fresno Metropolitan Museum, Fresno Grand Opera, Orpheus chamber ensemble and Philip Lorenz Memorial Keyboard Concert Series.
“For a long time I was doing just about all the arts coverage, ” Hale says.
“I loved it. In those days, I’d have almost paid them to do it.”
Coke Hallowell, a longtime local arts supporter, can’t imagine The Bee without Hale.
“He’s been wonderful for the arts community, ” she says. ”He’s such a good listener, and he has the curiosity of a child. Everything is exciting to him.”
Born in Oakland, Hale moved with his family from Red Bluff to a farm on the Kings River between Reedley and Parlier.
He enrolled in Reedley College and went on to graduate from Fresno State College with a journalism degree.
Hired at The Bee as a general-assignment reporter, he was sitting in the city room one day when an editor told him to go out a review a band concert.
“Actually, I was the only one in the room, ” he says with a laugh.
From then on, he gravitated to arts coverage.
Largely self-taught when it comes to culture, he immersed himself in his new beat.
“When you cover everything, you get interested in it all, which is remarkable considering how little I knew starting out. I’ve spent a lot of my time getting background information on artists just so I wouldn’t appear uneducated when I talked to them.”
That wasn’t likely. The preparation often paid off. In 1969, when piano virtuoso Artur Rubinstein visited Fresno’s Saroyan Theatre, Hale sneaked backstage during intermission for a “10-minute” interview that turned into 20.
As he sucked a cigar, Rubinstein mused about his career.
He told Hale: “How divine my life is — to have such lovely music to play and such lovely people to hear it.”
Not all interviews were that easy.
Martha Raye, appearing at the old Hacienda nightclub, repeatedly interrupted Hale with: “Now that’s a stupid question — why do you want to know that?”
Hale says he can’t imagine life without covering music and the other cultural arts.
“I can’t help but feel a little like I’m abandoning the ship and leaving other people to do the bailing, ” he says.
But he adds that his career has been an exciting and gratifying way to make a living.
Hale’s arts education isn’t stopping with retirement, of course.
Now he has time to deal with the extensive collection of books, albums and CDs he’s accumulated over the years — many of them unopened.
“I was going through my house recently and found CDs stacked everywhere — in the kitchen, under the bed, ” he says.
“If I never bought another record, book or magazine, I don’t think I could listen to or read them all.”
1959 FRESNO STATE YEARBOOK PAGES