By Brandon Martin
The family and friends of Haller (Hal) G. Prillaman, 87, are mourning his June 11 passing while celebrating the life of the man who was so integrally tied to the Martinsville-Henry County area.
Prillaman, who had been living with his daughter Ann at the time of his death, was once the president of Prillaman Chemicals; the founder and director of the Patrick Henry National Bank; the director of Mountain National Bank; a charter member of Martinsville’s Human Relations Council; a director of the YMCA; and he spent 10 years on the Economic Development Council.
Family friend Eliza Severt said that she and her husband, Jim Severt, met Prillaman and his wife Wanda in 1958 at a picnic for the Jaycees.
She said the friendship bloomed from there and she will always remember Prillaman as “a very community-minded citizen. He saw all people as equal and he felt that we needed to show respect to his fellow man.”
Severt said Prillaman hosted a Fourth of July picnic for 30 years at his home on Smith Mountain Lake. There, the two couples would barbecue, shoot fireworks and play volleyball or horseshoes.
She said the picnics grew in popularity after their children had all gotten older, even reaching “66 people at its peak. Those are very special memories, and it’s one of things I’ll always remember most about our time with Hal.”
Another of Prillaman’s friends, Nancy Baker, said that she also will remember the Fourth of July get-togethers which she recalled as “very patriotic.”
After moving to the area in 1973, Baker said that Prillaman was one of the first people that she met.
“He always reached out to the outsider,” she said. “He always thought of others. He was a real people-person and he loved getting people together.
One activity that Prillaman had a penchant for was volleyball, according to Baker who said they played on the “Mamas and Papas” at the YMCA for 30 years in a league of eight teams.
“We’d sit around after at Najjar’s (Pizza Haven),” she added. “He organized the team and he didn’t like it, but we’d always call him captain.”
Baker said that Prillaman often planned trips to his alma mater Virginia Tech. “He was a diehard Hokie if I had ever met one in my life,” she said.
Prillaman remained active with Virginia Tech after graduating from the university in 1955. He served two five-year terms on the Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE) Advisory Board. He funded the Hal G. Prillaman Professorship in the ISE Department. He is a member of ISE’s Academy of Distinguished Alumni, the College of Engineering’s Committee of 100, and the university’s Ut Prosim Society. He is a Golden Hokie with the Athletic Association (AA) and endowed an AA scholarship.
Severt said that Prillaman was “a well-rounded individual” and he had an interest in a variety of other avenues as well, including his role as President of the Chatmoss Country Club and as a deacon and chair of the Board of Trustees at First Baptist Church.
“He enjoyed people from all walks of life and he liked to help people help themselves, whether through a friendly hello, encouraging complimentary words, or a summer job,” said Baker who added that Prillaman often offered summer jobs for college students.
Baker said the last time she spoke with Prillaman was “at the end of April,” before he moved in with his daughter. Baker said that he was in “pretty good” physical condition, but that he was struggling with dementia.
“It was hard seeing him like that at the time,” Baker said “but, he’d always say he knew me. He was a really good friend. I’m going to miss him.”
Prillaman served in the Virginia National Guard until 1965. In 1958, he returned to Martinsville to join his family’s business. His father, one of Martinsville’s former mayors, started the Prillaman Company, a specialty coatings manufacturer, in the 1930s. His older brother, Nick, a Virginia Tech 1949 chemical engineering graduate, was then running the business, and Hal served as the Vice President until 1960, when he became President of Prillaman Chemicals, a chemical distribution company.
He grew the company to 130 employees, and served predominantly the southeastern United States. In 1984, he sold the company to England-based Ellis and Everards, but retained the presidency for four more years. He also served on the British company’s Board of Directors for the next four years.
He and his brother Nick started the Prillaman Brothers, an investment firm, in 1988. Nick died in April 2011. Wanda Prillaman, Hal’s wife, died in October 2014. Their daughter Ann Hamre, lives in Fort Worth, Texas, with their four grandchildren.