A few weeks ago the preservation community lost a very valuable member. Ray Hall passed away on June 15 at the age of 74. After a childhood in Alabama and extensive traveling around the United States, Ray settled in Atlanta and took up his father’s trade of stonemasonry. For 40 years he worked in Georgia and Alabama on both modern and historic properties including the Powers Cabin in Cobb County, numerous cemeteries in Alabama, and Oakland Cemetery. Ray worked with the preservation Team on reconstructing walls in the Bobby Jones Neighborhood and Jewish Hill as well as re-laying historic pathways in Jewish Flats. Over several years our team learned many valuable skills from Ray including bead jointing and how to lay an entirely new brick pathway.
He was a meticulous artisan with an eye for perfection and detail, but he was also a patient teacher. Stonemasonry is very skilled work, and it is not something one learns overnight, but Ray never minded explaining, even repeatedly, how and why we were using the materials and techniques we were using. He was always willing to offer advice and lend a hand. When we were at a dead-end with locating appropriate hexagonal pavers to replace those broken around the Women’s Comfort Station, we called Ray. Of course, he had 100 of them just sitting in his backyard and was happy to give them to us.
A few months ago preservation specialist Sean Diaz and I visited Ray and his wife. Ray had officially retired and was trying to get rid of some of the tools and materials he had amassed over the past four decades. He, of course, knew that we could use them at Oakland. As we followed him from tool shed to tool shed we listened to him tell stories of past projects and explain the proper usage of several different types of hammers and other various implements. I was reminded of the amazing depth and breadth of his knowledge and skill and was struck by the sad reality of his retirement.
Standing at his graveside last month I was hit with a far sadder reality. Good stonemasons are hard to come by, but people like Ray, with his infinite wisdom, patience, and kindness, are even rarer. I am thankful to have had the opportunity to learn from and befriend Ray Hall. Every wall he rebuilt at Oakland is a reminder of his lasting impact.
If there is a Heaven, I’m sure Ray is up there, repairing the stonework at the front gates.