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Leading Through Turbulent Times

Editor’s note: In place of a traditional, first-person essay, we have included an “exit interview” of sorts with Laura Hilton Hallmon (‘96, JD ‘99), our out-going president of Baylor Line Foundation. Laura’s time as president began in June 2019, when the world was still “normal.” Since then, she has led us with grace, strength, and wisdom through possibly the weirdest two years to be president of anything. I hope you enjoy this conversation of reflection with Laura Hilton Hallmon.

Laura Hilton Hallmon next to Allen Holt at a Baylor Line Foundation Executive Committee Meeting

Jonathon Platt: So, you would have accepted the opportunity to be president-elect when Jackie Baugh Moore (‘86) was becoming president, correct? When was that?

Laura Hilton Hallmon: I became president in June of 2019, but I served as president-elect for, I guess it would probably have been her last year. I think it was when we had made the decision to extend the president’s term to a two-year term, instead, that we started talking. So that would have been 2017 when I accepted the role.

And how did you become involved in Baylor Line Foundation? Was it through a friendship with Jackie?

No. Really, Tom Nesbitt is the only person I knew. And Fred Norton, a little bit.

The first meeting I attended was about brainstorming for the new organization. Tom held it at the Hilton in Waco. Tom is not my “vintage,” but he’s not far off. My sister and I are four-and-a-half years apart, I think he was in school with her — somewhere in that mix. He just was like, ‘I like the cut of your jib, we need you on our board.’ And that’s how I became involved. So he invited me to be on the board and said, ‘Come to this meeting and you’ll get the flavor.’ I’d really already committed, but that was Tom’s sell.

I was invested, but I was curious more because I knew what the Baylor Alumni Association was. But I didn’t know what the — none of us knew — what the Baylor Line Foundation was going to be because we had to reinvent after the litigation. I have a very inquisitive mind and I wanted to learn more about it. Certainly, my mom’s service to Baylor, and my dad’s as well through the years was a part of it. But I was also just very interested to help shape what the organization was going to become — the Phoenix from the flame — that was part of my interest, as well.

And, so, then a few years after you come on, you would have been asked to serve as president-elect. What do you remember were the most important things that you did as president-elect, and how do you feel you best served Jackie, while she was president? What was that relationship like and what are you proud that y’all did in that partnership?

I think that because, as I mentioned, we developed a friendship at the same time as we were serving in these roles together. And this organization uses a triumvirate of the past and current and the future for leadership. And, so, I think that part of what we accomplished, we leaned on each other quite a bit, as the current president and the future president.
And I always like to be careful that we don’t forget where we came from or forget our history, or put it behind us, even, because it’s very much a part of what this organization is. But we also can’t move forward if we’re always looking backward. And, so, I think Jackie and I were of a like-mind on that.

Laura with her husband, Ben, at the 2020 Baylor Line Foundation Hall of Fame Ceremony.

At the same time, another female president is stepping into her role. What do you remember about when Dr. Linda Livingstone took over as president of Baylor?

I remember that she did come on and it was she who approached us as an organization about wanting to sit down and have a meeting. And, so, Allen Holt, Jackie, and I met with her in her personal office there at Pat Neff. And she had identified, this is a schism — that’s my word, not hers — but, to her credit, identified that and figured out very quickly in her presidency that she wanted to start talking about mending those relationships and rebuilding some of that trust. And again, these are my words, not hers. That was the tone of it. And it was cautious…

Cautious from both sides?

I think so. I think so.

So, my focus when I started this interview, was really to talk about the tumultuous time of 2020 and 2021. Now that we’re in conversation, though, it kind of seems like you’ve been in the “tumultuousness” since your first interaction with Baylor Line Foundation. So what do you think you’ve learned most in the ebb and flows of these crises?

I’ve learned it’s better to temper the desire to move forward quickly and, instead, move the organization forward with a healthy respect and caution based on the past.

I think one of the things that I’ve learned to do better is to develop that appreciation for the history and that it’s not enough to just say, ‘Okay, we got to kind of move forward. We’ve got to put that in the past.’ It can’t be like that. No one’s told me this outright, but I feel like I’ve been granted a lot of grace in the ways that I, from the beginning, kind of wanted to say, ‘Okay, okay. Okay. But we’ve got to move forward.’ And I’ve had to learn to reign that back and have more appreciation. Appreciation is probably not the right word and it’s not really respect either, but it’s…

Reverence?

Reverence is a good way to describe it. Yeah. And to temper those two perspectives, because it takes both. It absolutely takes both perspectives for us to move forward. So, when we’re meeting with somebody like Dr. Livingstone, who is new to the relationship, you’ve got to know that history and not just the history, but the way that treatment and the degradation of that relationship makes people feel. Because the way that it makes them feel, it impacts everything that they do with a mind toward Baylor.

That’s the thing that I personally appreciate the most that I learned: being able to kind of meet in the middle of those two extreme positions and to recognize that there are many other perspectives among us too, that are not on either extreme end, but somewhere in the middle, and that’s a good place to be.

How do you think that applied in your time as president specifically in the Covid era? They’re different crises, but do you think that what you learned from the previous crisis helped you in the present crisis?

I think so. I mean, in the same way that we’re all having to learn to be respectful of differing sensitivities and perspectives and levels of engagement and find new ways to engage. We’ve all done that, “we all” meaning not just our organization, but our world, have done this in the way that we engage with work and the way that we engage with family and accepting the limitations that are imposed upon all of us and finding, instead of just closing up like we all did for one month in April. And we’ve all done that when we poked our heads out and things weren’t back to normal. We have all pulled ourselves up by the bootstraps and figured out new ways to march on.

I mean, I would have never thought we could have a virtual Hall of Fame and it was incredible. We learned so much about ways that we engaged with folks that are persisting, even in spite of our inability to get together, we’ve learned new ways to reach one another. So, to the extent that there’s always going to be criticism about the way you lead, the decisions that you make, the ways that you proceed, the choices that we take, the directions that we take rather the organization in.

But I think some of that same grace is there in terms of listening, understanding different perspectives and sensitivities, and being able to kind of meet those folks halfway and encouraging them to come to meet you halfway as well. I think it’s just embracing a new time and being able to be innovative and be flexible and instead of being disappointed when things don’t go the great way that we were hoping they would go and we can’t do it the way we wanted to do it, trying to find the ways that it’s unique and if not really better, I suppose, but different and different in great ways.

And we got great feedback on those things and the ways that we were able to engage, and created not just an event that was singular, but now a library of content of archived information. Information is not a great way to describe it because it’s so much more than that. It’s richer. The narratives and what we learned.

Possibly — and hopefully — the last great turbulent event you experienced as president was the sudden passing of Wayne Tucker (‘85), president-elect of Baylor Line Foundation. You and Wayne had been friends since almost your first year on the board. Let’s just skip to the hard question and not try to wade our way in. What do you miss most about him?

There’s nothing I don’t miss about him. He was the total package. And it’s not been long enough yet that I still don’t reach to text him or call him or something with a thought about something we need to be sure that we do.
I told Wayne when I asked him to serve, ‘You need to understand, if you say yes, you’re not going boldly where no man has gone before, and you’re not alone. And I will be by your side.’

How did he respond?

He was very glad.


Through turbulent times, Laura Hilton Hallmon has led Baylor Line Foundation to new heights. Though her time as president is coming to a close, her influence, leadership, and importance in our organization is not.

Thank you, Laura, for leading us all so very, very well.

At Baylor Line Foundation’s September board meeting, it was voted on and approved that, following the loss of president-elect L. Wayne Tucker, Jr., Tony Pederson (‘73) would serve the first year of Wayne’s term as president. Gordon Wilkerson (‘82) was selected and approved to serve the second year.

In true fashion, Laura said she’s already told Tony to expect the same commitment from her that she promised Wayne.

*Originally Published: Fall 2021 Baylor Line Magazine

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