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Richard L. Hall, a career McCormick & Co. chemist and expert in flavorings, extracts and food safety, dies

A precocious student, Richard L. Hall entered the fourth grade at age 4.
A precocious student, Richard L. Hall entered the fourth grade at age 4. (Handout)

Richard L. Hall, a career McCormick & Co. chemist, executive vice president and board member who was an expert in the field of flavorings, extracts and food safety, died Aug. 15 of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at the Gilchrist Center Towson. The Blakehurst Retirement Community resident was 96.

“Dick Hall devoted his life to the advancement of science and flavor. He was one of the top 10 flavor and extract experts of the 20th century, and really an icon. He was truly exceptional,” said Hamed Faridi, chief science officer at McCormick & Co.

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“There were five things about Dick. He was an outstanding scientist, a respected leader, a gifted speaker and communicator, a shrewd businessman, and the last but not least, an honorable person and a true gentleman,” said Dr. Faridi, a Hunt Valley resident.

John B. Hallagan of Loveland, Colorado, general counsel and senior adviser to the Flavor Extract Manufacturers Association in Washington, was a longtime friend and colleague. He got to know Dr. Hall as a junior scientist with the association.

“One of Dick’s fantastic achievements was helping establish 60 years ago FEMA’S Generally Recognized as Safe program, or GRAS, which is in regard to flavor ingredients," Mr. Hallagan said. “It is now regarded as the largest and most respected flavor safety program in the world.”

Richard Leland Hall, the son of Leland Hall, a banker with Roseland National Bank, and his wife, Hazel A. Parks Hall, a schoolteacher, was born and raised in Roseland, Nebraska, “a tiny town 180 miles west of Lincoln no one ever heard of,” The Baltimore Sun reported in 1987, where as a child he witnessed the effects of the Dust Bowl, which ravaged the Great Plains during the 1930s.

He was a brilliant student early on and from the age of 4, had decided he wanted to be a chemist.

“He was reading by 2, and when he was 4, entered the fourth grade,” said a daughter, Elzabeth “Libet” Hall Ottinger of Stoneleigh.

Dr. Hall was 15 when he graduated from Roseland High School, and even though he had been recruited by Harvard University as a “Dust Bowl recruit” scholarship student, according to a biographical sketch that he wrote, he had to wait until he turned 16 to enter the university.

As a youth, he worked as a Western Union Telegraph delivery boy and even delivered his own letter of acceptance from Harvard.

A 1943 cum laude graduate of Harvard, from which he earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, he immediately enlisted in the Army Air Corps.

“He never took his final exams and went right into the Army Air Corps,” Ms. Ottinger said.

Trained as a lead B-17 navigator, Dr. Hall was stationed with the 8th Air Force in England, where he flew 30 combat missions aboard Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses, four with a broken finger he received in an accident while riding what he called “Hitler’s secret weapon, the English bicycle.”

Reflecting on his undergraduate days, Dr. Hall wrote: “Harvard eased my culture shock in moving to it from a rural Nebraska high school graduating class of 12. Harvard exposed me to the teaching and research greats of chemistry. I can imagine nothing better, and let me hasten to add, there I met my wife.”

Discharged with the rank of lieutenant in 1945 with decorations that included the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters, Dr. Hall returned to Harvard, where he continued his education on the GI Bill.

On his first day back at Harvard, he and his former roommate, Bryce DeWitt, still dressed in uniform, entered Kirkland House, where both applied to be house tutors, which would provide them not only a salary, but also housing. He encountered the former Barbara Abbott Goodspeed, who was starting her first day as the Kirkland House secretary. The couple later began dating, fell in love, and married in 1948.

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Dr. Hall received his master’s degree in in 1948 and his Ph.D. in 1951, both in organic chemistry.

“I was exceptionally fortunate; I did my doctorate under a legendary organic chemist, Robert Burns Woodward, a Nobel Laureate,” he wrote.

Dr. Hall briefly considered pursuing a medical school career and then biomedical research, but events conspired to make that an impossibility.

“However, by then, I had been a student for 20½ years, the GI Bill had run out, my wife was pregnant, and it seemed to be a very good idea to begin making some money,” he wrote. “I took a job in the flavor industry, a very logical choice for a natural product chemist, but actually it was pure accident.”

His former Air Force pilot, who had married a daughter of Charles P. McCormick, president of McCormick & Co., talked Dr. Hall into considering moving to Baltimore and taking a job with the spice company.

He began his more than three-decade career in 1951 as a research chemist in the company’s research department, with his first assignment being the development of synthetic spices in case the real thing was cut off from foreign producers or had become too expensive for consumers.

Dr. Hall was promoted to corporate vice president of research and development, and to the company’s board, in 1955, both positions he held until retiring in 1988.

In addition to spending most of his career developing synthetic spices against possible shortages and his work with FEMA’s GRAS protocol, Dr. Hall worked closely with the federal Food and Drug Administration shaping public policy regarding food additives.

Dr. Hall’s work with the FDA and half a dozen domestic and international industry groups “has gone a long way in setting industrywide standards for testing, processing and packaging flavorings, herbs, spices and other food additives,” The Sun reported in 1987.

Also while working with the FDA, he helped create a panel of “experts to set standards governing the testing of more than 1,000 food additives, thus exempting them from the normal — and expensive — government approval process,” observed The Sun, which added, “Unlike some professional managers, he realizes that the food processing industry has a moral responsibility to its constituents.”

Said Mr. Hallagan: “What he did for the flavoring industry was bringing analytical techniques and a structural reading to it. His innovations have been adopted by flavoring programs around the world and that is his legacy.”

Added Dr. Faridi: “He was a man like no other. There will never be another Dick Hall. On a personal basis, he had a great sense of humor and loved life. He was comfortable in his own skin and never wanted to be someone else.”

During his career, Dr. Hall wrote approximately 100 papers and chapters or authored, co-authored or co-edited books on toxicology, flavors, and sensory perception. His awards included the International and Fellers awards of the Institute of Food Technologists, the 25th Anniversary Medal of the Polish Academy of Sciences, the Bernard Oser Award and the Kohnstamm Prize in Industrial Chemistry.

He was a longtime member of Grace United Methodist Church and served on the board of Wesley Theological Seminary.

Dr. Hall was an accomplished woodworker, and his reading interests ranged from history to James Bond and Agatha Christie, to Greek literature and technical journals. He was a devotee of The New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly, and was a world traveler.

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“He also loved practical jokes,” Ms. Ottinger said. “He also liked puns and was an accomplished wordsmith.”

In 2000, he and his wife, who died in 2012, moved to the Towson retirement community.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at his church, 5407 N. Charles St.

In addition to his daughter, he is survived by two other daughters, Ann H. Door of Sunderland, Massachusetts, and Nancy A. Cooper of Wilmington Delaware; and five grandchildren.

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