John Richard Hall, retired Chairman and Chief Executive
Officer of Ashland Inc., died on November 25, 2021, in Lexington, Kentucky,
surrounded by his loving family. He was 88 years old.
John was a man of integrity, strength, courage, compassion and had a deep commitment to serving others. He was known for being a strong leader in a time of crisis.
He was born in Dallas, Texas on November 30, 1932, to Agnes Sanders Hall and John Wesley Hall, and was raised in Knoxville, Tennessee. He attended public schools and became a standout football player at Knoxville High. His prowess on the field earned several football scholarship offers. He chose to attend Vanderbilt University where he was a freshman starter and in his senior year was co-captain of the Commodore football team. He graduated magna cum laude with a degree in chemical engineering in 1955.
After service in the U.S. Army, he worked briefly at the Exxon Corporation as a chemical engineer. He joined Ashland Inc. in 1957 and quickly rose through the ranks. In 1965 he was chosen to be the executive assistant of Paul Blazer, the founder of Ashland Oil. In 1966, at age 33, he was elected the corporation’s youngest-ever Vice President. He was elected a Director of the corporation in 1968. In 1971 he was named President of Ashland Chemical Company and was elected Executive Vice President of the corporation in 1974. He was then elected Vice Chairman of the Board and Chief Operating Officer in 1979. In September 1981 he became Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. He retired as Chief Executive Officer in September 1996 and as Chairman of the Board on January 30, 1997.
During his 40-year career with Ashland, he was known as a refining industry expert, an outstanding corporate citizen and champion of education.
After taking over leadership of Ashland, he created Ashland’s first Code of Business Conduct and then steered the corporation on a steady course to stabilize the company and lead it into profitability. The Gallagher Report named him one of its 10 Best Corporate Chief Executives for 1985.
In 1986, under his leadership, Ashland overcame a hostile takeover attempt with the help of the Kentucky Legislature, which in a matter of days enacted an anti-takeover law.
His skills at crisis management gained national attention in 1988 when a 4-million-gallon storage tank at an Ashland terminal near Pittsburgh collapsed and released 750,000 gallons of diesel oil into the Monongahela River and subsequently the Ohio River. He received praise for his handling of the spill. He was named Crisis Manager of the Year by Carnegie Mellon University. His approach to the crisis became a Harvard Business School example of effective crisis management.
He was a champion for education. Under his leadership, Ashland devoted its entire corporate advertising budget to the cause of education with a goal of improving public schools in Kentucky and West Virginia. He, along with the CEOs of Humana and UPS, co-founded the Partnership for Kentucky School Reform, which gained business and civic support for passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act in 1990.
He served on many corporate boards over the years, which included Bank One Corporation (serving as interim non-executive Chairman of the Board during a management transition); CSX Corporation; Humana Inc.; Keeneland Association, Inc.; Graftech International Ltd.; USEC; Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland; Canada Life; La Roche Industries Inc.; and Reynolds Metals Company.
He served on the Vanderbilt Board of Trust from 1987 – 2008, part of that time as Chairman of the Board. Other boards on which he served were Chairman and Counselor-for-Life of The Conference Board, Honorary Director – American Petroleum Institute, Chairman of the National Petroleum Refiners Association, New American School’s American Corporation, Transylvania University, Chairman of the Commonwealth Fund for Kentucky Educational Television (KET), Chairman of the Blue Grass Community Foundation, President of the Kentucky Historical Society Foundation, and President of the Markey Cancer Center Foundation. He also served as Kentucky State Chairman for the United States Olympic Committee, Chairman of the Corporate Fund for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (in Washington, D.C.), The Conservancy of Southwest Florida and the Chairman’s Advisory Council of The Everglades Foundation.
He received honorary degrees from The University of Kentucky, University of Louisville, Centre College, Transylvania University, and Marshall University, among others.
He received numerous awards for his leadership and service, which include induction into Vanderbilt University’s Inaugural Athletic Hall of Fame, Verizon Academic All-America Hall of Fame, Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Inductee, Southeastern Conference Football Legend, Outstanding Director – Class of 2007 by the Outstanding Directors Exchange, Fuels and Petrochemical Division Award for Management of Petroleum Operations from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, induction into Kentucky Historical Society Foundation’s Abraham Lincoln Society, Vic Hellard Jr. Award from the Board of the Kentucky Long Term Policy Research Center, Ellis Island Medal of Honor Recipient, Flame of Excellence Award from Leadership Kentucky, Commerce Lexington’s W.T. Young Lifetime Achievement Award, and Eagle Award for Philanthropy from the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.
John Hall’s many achievements, while admirable, do not tell the whole story of a life well-lived. Though he created a spotlight through his accomplishments, he walked through it with great humility. He had an unerring sense of fairness and lived by a moral code that drove him, in his words, “to do the right thing.” A 2017 KET documentary hailed him as the “Kentucky Commodore”, reflecting love for Vanderbilt and the Bluegrass State, and featured his life of leadership and integrity. His legacy will live on for generations through the lives of thousands of people he touched through his work, his impact on education in multiple states, and the many causes he championed.
John is survived by his beloved wife and partner of 41 years, Donna Stauffer Hall; his son, John L. Hall, Lexington, Ky.; his brother, Jim Hall (Annie), Chattanooga, Tenn. and numerous nieces, nephews, great nieces and nephews and his faithful dog, Jake. He was preceded in death by his parents and his first wife, Ann McQuiddy Hall.
The funeral service celebrating the life of John R. Hall will be held at Christ Church Cathedral, 166 Market Street, Lexington, KY 40507, at 1 p.m., Thursday, December 9, 2021. A reception in the Great Hall will be held immediately following the service. In observance of COVID-19 safety practices, facial coverings will be requested to attend.
Memorial donations may be made to the John R. Hall Endowment for Education at KET www.ket.org/johnhall , the John R. Hall Scholarship at Vanderbilt University vanderbilt.alumniq.com/giving/to/general or to Christ Church Cathedral, Young Adult Program www.ccclex.org.
Milward Funeral Directors of Lexington are entrusted with Mr. Hall’s arrangements. www.milwardfuneral.com
watch the service via livestream at https://www.ccclex.org.