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    Remembering Rear Adm. Mary Hall – Visionary, Trailblazer and Consummate Leader of the Navy Nurse Corps

    Remembering Rear Adm. Mary Hall – Visionary, Trailblazer and Consummate Leader of the Navy Nurse Corps

    Photo By André B. Sobocinski, Historian | On July 21, 2022, Rear Adm. Mary Fields Hall, the former Director of the Nurse Corps...... read more read more



    Story by André B. Sobocinski, Historian 

    U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery

    On July 21, 2022, Rear Adm. Mary Fields Hall, the former Director of the Nurse Corps and the first Navy nurse to command a hospital died. She was 88.

    The Clear Ridge, Pennsylvania native joined the Navy in November 1958 and reported to the Naval Hospital St. Albans, Long Island, N.Y. At the time newly commissioned Navy nurses were required to go through a 5-week introductory course at Navy Nurse Indoctrination Centers located at training hospitals like St. Albans where they learned about protocol, ethics, and how to be Navy nurses. Fellow nurse Capt. Edna Peters first met Hall at St. Albans during this indoctrination. Hall’s impact was immediate.

    “Mary came in as a Lieutenant Junior Grade and was the Senior Officer Present (SOP) [of the indoctrination class],” said Peters. One day in January 1959, “when the wind off the Atlantic was so cold it went into our bone marrow, Hall filled up her car with newly commissioned nurse ensigns – three in front and four or five in the back – and drove them to see the sights in New York City.” Hall was not one to be deterred. This would be the start of Peters’ 63-year friendship with Hall. And remarkably Hall still owned this same car until the end of her life.

    Over her formative years in the Navy, Hall served as a Charge Nurse/Coordinator at the National Naval Medical Center Bethesda (1959-1962); Naval Hospital St. Albans, N.Y. (1962-1964); an education coordinator at Naval Hospital Guam (1966-1968); ambulatory care coordinator, Naval Regional Medical Center Camp Lejeune, N.C. (1968-1971); patient care coordinator, Naval Regional Medical Center Portsmouth, Va. (1973-1975); Director, Nursing Service (DNS), Naval Hospital Quantico, Va. (1975-1978); and Head, Professional Nursing, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery (BUMED), Washington, D.C. (1978-1981).

    Throughout her career higher education was always important to Hall. In 1955, she graduated from Philadelphia’s Episcopal Hospital School of Nursing with a Registered Nursing (RN) Diploma. She later was among the first generation of Navy nurses to obtain advanced degrees—obtaining her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from Boston University in 1964 and Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) from the University of Maryland in 1973.

    In 1976, Capt. Sandra Lindelof—then a Lieutenant Commander—who had just obtained a BSN from East Carolina University—reported to Naval Hospital Quantico to serve as Hall’s assistant. Hall quickly made an impression on the young nurse. “She was a fair, but firm leader,” related Lindelof. “[She] gave the staff military, civilian nurses and hospital corpsmen many opportunities to learn and expand their knowledge and skills.” Under Hall’s leadership, Quantico placed an increased emphasis on quality patient care in both inpatient and outpatient capacities and encouraged continuing education through programs offered at the University of Maryland.

    Rear Adm. Joan Engel, a future Director of the Nurse Corps (1994-1998), was a Junior Nurse Detailer when she first met Hall at Quantico in the 1970s. “As I walked into her office I was surprised to see her height, her commanding presence, her booming voice and her sense of humor,” related Engel. “I was impressed with her knowledge of the staff. [And] she let me know in no uncertain terms about her nursing shortage, particularly with respect to the hospital being able to support the recruits at the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot in Parris Island, S.C.”

    Whether it was Quantico, Camp Lejeune, Beaufort or Parris Island, it could be said that the Marine Corps played a special role in Rear Adm. Hall’s professional as well as personal life. In 1964, she married Marine Msgt. Noel Orbia Hall, Sr., at the Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort, S.C. They remained together until his death in 2021.

    For Capt. Don Wilson, a retired Medical Service Corps Officer, Rear Adm. Hall is impossible to forget, even after 45 years. As the Assistant Personnel Officer at Naval Hospital Quantico he frequently interacted with Hall. “Cmdr. Hall was a most efficient and professional leader who exacted loyalty through personal example of leadership,” said Wilson. “She exuded pride and dedication in all that she did. And her personal excellence was fortified with a wonderful sense of humor.” One evening at a gathering of command officers, Naval Hospital Quantico’s Director for Administration gave a Hall a certificate signed by the MSC Chief “elevating” her to an honorary Ensign in the Medical Service Corps.

    Hall made Captain out of Quantico before transferring to BUMED in 1978. This was followed by tour as the DNS at the Naval Regional Medical Center Newport, R.I. (1981-1983). Engel, who was then completing a 6-month preceptorship in hospital administration at the Medical Center, remembers Hall as an ever-present figure with a firm pulse on the organization. “She was very visible at the command and could be found making rounds at various times of the day assessing the delivery of care both on the inpatient wards as well as ambulatory care,” said Engel.

    During this period, in the wake of trailblazers like Rear Adm. Frances Shea and Capt. Bernadette McKay, Navy nurses began serving in executive positions at training commands and Military Treatment Facilities (MTF). In 1982, Nurse Corps Captains Phyllis Elsass and JoAnn Jennett screened for command, followed by Capt. Mary Hall. In July 1983, Hall became Commanding Officer of Naval Hospital Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, becoming the first nurse ever to serve in command of an MTF. Just two years later she took the helm of Naval Hospital Long Beach, Calif., earning the distinction as the first nurse to hold two successive MTF commands.

    Retired Navy Medical Service Corps Capt. Kelly McConville served with then Capt. Hall at Naval Hospital Long Beach. He remembers her as a strong leader. “Captain Hall was an outstanding CO – demanding, fair, and always focused on the well-being of her patients and crew,” said McConville. “I was fortunate to serve under her command.”

    In 1987, the Navy selected Hall as the Director of the Nurse Corps with the additional duty as the Deputy Commander for Personnel Management. She was promoted Rear Admiral (upper half) on October 1, 1987, becoming—at the time—only the fifth nurse to hold flag rank.

    During her 4-year tenure as the Navy’s “top nurse,” Hall addressed issues with recruiting, sought new professional opportunities for nurses and led the Nurse Corps through the Persian Gulf War.

    Personnel shortages remained a chief issue for the Navy Nurse Corps for Hall. To alleviate nursing shortages in the Navy Reserves, Hall appointed Rear Adm. Maryanne Ibach as the Assistant Deputy Director for Reserve Affairs in 1990.

    “I first met Admiral Hall when I was selected as the first female [nurse] flag officer in the Naval Reserve,” recalled Ibach. “She welcomed me with words of wisdom and was acutely aware of the obstacles I faced. Her support was of great comfort and enabled me to be successful.”

    Under Hall’s guidance, Ibach facilitated and monitored the use of recruitment incentives to increase Reserve Nurse manning from what had been 56% in 1987 to 109% in FY1990. Over 50% of these nurses were activated during Operation Desert Shield and Storm and represented the largest deployment of Reservists since World War II.

    Seeking creative ways to recruit nurses, Rear Adm. Hall and her team also assessed Associate Degree nurses for commissioning. At the time the Surgeon General and Chief of Naval Personnel directed that Associate Degree nurses be used to help alleviate the nursing shortages. Capt. Lindelof, who reported to BUMED as Hall’s Assistant for Practice and Policy in 1989 remembers the issue well. “Since the education program for these nurses did not meet requirements to be commissioned into the Nurse Corps, Rear Adm. Hall directed the Nursing Division to develop plans that would enable them to be recruited,” Lindelhof noted. Working with other BUMED and Navy Departments, Hall and staff brought these nurses in through a Technical Nurse Warrant Officer (TNWO) program and created a pathway for these nurses to apply for a commission after they obtained a BSN.

    As Director, Rear Adm. Hall remained steadfast in seeking new opportunities for Navy nurses—from having nurses get advanced degrees to positioning nurses for new leadership roles. Rear Adm. Nancy Lescavage, Director of the Nurse Corps from 2001-2005, noted that Hall always had a “trained eye on the future of Navy Nurses” and recognized their “unique capabilities and unmatched leadership qualities.” During Hall’s tenure, a larger number of Navy nurses were able to serve as COs and XOs of hospitals and clinics, and in education & training positions.

    “She impacted almost everyone’s life in a positive way,” said Peters. “As Director she made visits to where nurses were stationed and listened to them – meeting most of their needs and made certain to take on the Brass if necessary.”

    Rear Adm. Hall retired in September 1991 after 33 years of service. For her efforts as Director during the Persian Gulf War and addressing the nursing shortage, Hall was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, becoming the first Navy nurse in history to receive this award.

    Those who served with her remember Rear Adm. Hall as a “superb communicator and an active listener,” who could be “tough as nails, yet compassionate.” She was firm, but “never too busy to talk to you, [and] give you advice.” Her colleagues also note her “contagious laugh,” a “remarkable memory in recalling events, dates, times, places and people” and “never [being] afraid to take a risk.”

    Rear Adm. Ibach remembers Hall as someone who “led by example, developed subordinates, encouraged all hands to act and be responsible for their actions, and demanded teamwork.”

    For Rear Adm Engel, Hall was a mentor, visionary, trailblazer and consummate leader.” She sums it up best stating:

    “How do you capture the essence of someone like Rear Admiral Hall? She was bigger than life, but always had her feet on the ground. Her work ethic was unlimited. She gave her all – no matter what position she was assigned.”

    Today, Rear Admiral Hall’s legacy lives on as the namesake of an annual nursing award created to recognize the contributions to nursing made through both peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed professional publications.


    Date Taken: 07.26.2022
    Date Posted: 07.26.2022 08:30
    Story ID: 425799

    Web Views: 1,202
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