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We will broadcast special coverage of both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, starting with the RNC tonight at 8.

Beacon blog: In praise of human resources

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 24, 2011 - Because of its ubiquity in contemporary corporate culture, the term "human resources" has evolved into another name for the Man, the guy responsible both for getting your paycheck to you and for making sure that you put in enough effort at work to deserve it.

However, if you draw the term "human resources" from its corporate confines and apply it literally to women and men who present themselves as living sources of knowledge, nourishment and intelligence, it has potential as an effulgent term, a bouquet in which the most resourceful members of this flawed and fascinating tribe of ours are presented to us for praise and recognition.

In St. Louis, many men and women make the grade as human resources, and we have various ways of celebrating them. We at the Beacon are particularly proud that the St. Louis Business Journal singled out our editor, Margaret Wolf Freivogel, and her husband, Beacon board member and contributor William Freivogel, as being among the most influential members of the community. All of us send our thanks to our colleagues at the Old Post Office for bestowing this honor on our co-workers and cherished friends.

The Business Journal took note of many other individuals who contribute to the life and vitality of St. Louis, and we send congratulations to them as well. But I'd like to create a special category to the list of influentials, and that is for endurance. My nominee for this distinction is Mary Taussig Hall.

Mary Hall has been my friend almost as long as I've lived in St. Louis. I was introduced to her by relatives of her late husband, Thomas Steel Hall, himself an exceptional and brilliant human resource. Tom Hall had a distinguished professorial career in the sciences at Washington University from 1949 to 1971, and also served as dean of my alma mater, the university's College of Arts and Sciences, from 1949 to 1961. The Halls and I were West End neighbors and devotees, and we had friends in common and interests in common, namely current events and history. Because of all that, an enduring friendship commenced, one that goes back now to the late 1960s.

Her life has always been a fascination for me. Although born to privilege, she defied convention and was never hesitant to dig in and get her hands dirty dealing with injustice and populations within society many chose to regard as disposable. Her conscience was forged at home. Her parents were members of the Ethical Society and to describe them as socially active did not mean they hung around a lot at the country club. Quite the contrary.

When Mary Hall was 5 years old, her mother, Florence Gottschalk Taussig, took her along on the famous Golden Lane march for women's suffrage in 1916, a silent march that made its way past the old St. Louis Coliseum where the Democratic National Convention was in full swing.

Her father, Frederick J. Taussig, was a physician and one of a number of St. Louis doctors active in efforts to provide medical services for indigent patients. These influences informed Mrs. Hall's heart and intellect, and fueled a propensity to action in the face of discrimination and inequities that have remained with her her whole live long.

After graduating from Bryn Mawr College in the early 1930s, Hall studied for a master's degree in social work and put her education and her keen social conscience to work fighting for child labor laws, having become familiar with abusive practices involving children in the Missouri Bootheel. She helped to establish the Child Welfare Service Union and served on the Missouri Children's Code Commission.

She worked in Chicago with Jane Addams, founder of the Hull House, during the Depression. Her commitments to civil rights, world hunger relief, international peace and human dignity were unflagging throughout her life. In 1988, her efforts were honored at a huge banquet thrown by the United Nations Association of Greater St. Louis.

Although her activities have lessened in recent years, her passion for worthy causes remains undiminished. And at a splendid celebration put on by her family Saturday night, she demonstrated that even at 100 years of age, she loves to go to a good party and loves to have fun. So to the list of her other qualities, one is compelled to add perspective.

Here's a toast, first to the real meaning of "human resources" and second to Mary Hall, a woman who truly is one. Hooray for human resources in all their myriad manifestations and for Mary, happy birthday, happy birthday to you.

Robert W. Duffy reported on arts and culture for St. Louis Public Radio. He had a 32-year career at the Post-Dispatch, then helped to found the St. Louis Beacon, which merged in January with St. Louis Public Radio. He has written about the visual arts, music, architecture and urban design throughout his career.