I spent an hour or so talking Jackson with Hal White at the south corner of the bar at Hal and Mal's, his signature spot, two weeks ago. I had just moved back to town, and he was giving me my unofficial welcome back. It was an in-depth discussion of topics ranging from family to politics. He made me feel right at home, as he always did with that wonderful, bearded grin and his warm way.
Hal was like that.
On Thursday, White succumbed to complications from a brain aneuyrsm he suffered last weekend. He had undergone three surgeries since, and spent his final days surrounded by loving family and friends.
It's a huge loss for countless Jackson families, mine included. It's a huge loss for Jackson, because the Bold New City will surely never be the same.
Hal became a staple of Mississippi's only metropolis on his own merit. Along with his brother, Malcolm, he opened Hal and Mal's in the former freight depot building on South Commerce Street 28 years ago. For all 28 of those years, Hal plugged away, turning the family-friendly restaurant and bar into a Jackson landmark. Malcolm was the front man; Hal was more of a background guy. Together, they created a venue that has featured everything from Leon Russell and B.B. King to Snoop Dogg, to oyster poboys and Hal's special soups and gumbos. Hal and Mal's has served as a gathering place for Jacksonians of at least three generations.
If Hal studied the culinary arts at Northeast Mississippi Community College, he got his master's degree and PhD in the restaurant business on South Commerce Street. It wasn't unusual for Hal to work 18-hour days in the kitchen and on the dining-room floor.
Here's what you need to know about his business acumen: Half of independent restaurants close their doors within the first three years of business. Hal and Mal's has survived in the downtown area through two recessions, increasing competition, and legalized gambling in Vicksburg and on the Gulf Coast that drew most of the big acts away from Jackson.
Malcolm would tell you that was mostly due to Hal.
But Hal was way more than the business. He loved golf and basketball, and was an avid Booneville High and Mississippi State fan. He loved red beans and rice and knew how to cook it. He could put on a gruff exterior, but he had a huge, warm heart.
He doted on Ann, his wife of 25 years, his three grown children, Erica, Brandi and Taylor, and his granddaughter, Rivers.
Visitation will take place Monday from 9 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. at St. Richards Catholic Church, with a Mass of Resurrection to follow at 11 a.m. The wake celebrating the life of Hal is set for Monday night at Hal and Mal's from 6 to 9:30 p.m.