He was a celebrated Washington fixture known for his good cheer and bonhomie, and yet even his closest friends knew to stay out of the way when Ralph Z. Hallow was in hot pursuit of a story, as he often was.
Nobody could pester, cajole and harangue like Hallow, the chief political correspondent for opinion and columnist for The Washington Times, who died Saturday of complications from surgery in Lewes, Delaware. He was 82.
“He wanted to get the facts, he wanted to get them right, and he would bird-dog you until he felt like he had it right,” said Haley Barbour, the former Mississippi governor who sparred with Hallow as Republican National Committee chairman.
Such qualities contributed to the newsroom legend of Ralph Z. Hallow — the “Z” stood for Zachary — who signed on as deputy editorial page editor a month before the Times was launched in 1982 and never left, jumping from desk to desk before making his reputation for his must-read coverage of GOP politics.
“His sharp wit, contagious laughter, and world knowledge was a huge asset to TWT since the day the first paper came off of the press,” said Larry Beasley, CEO of The Washington Times. “Ralph will be sorely missed by his loyal readers, friends, and by me professionally and personally.”
Hallow’s unmatched coverage of Republican inner workings was recognized by generations of Washington-watchers, including MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Politico.
“When it came to Republicans, Ralph not only brought readers into the closed-door meetings, he oftentimes made it into those rooms himself. And even when he didn’t, he knew everything that was going on. I remember hearing a story about a party official who was trying to keep Ralph out, and another official told them to forget about it. Ralph had such good sources that he would know what had happened within two minutes anyway,” said Stephen Dinan, assistant managing editor for politics at The Times.
“There was so much political knowledge in his head, I suspect there were one or two unclaimed Pulitzer prizes just sitting in there,” Mr. Dinan said.
Conservative activist Cleta Mitchell said that Hallow was one of the first people she met when she arrived 30 years ago to work as a lawyer for the term-limits movement.
“He terrified me,” she recalled. “If I called him with a story about term limits, he put me through the wringer, peppering me with questions. I needed to be multiple questions deep before I called Ralph. But somehow, from all his bark and bluster and my discombobulated answers, he was always able to weave a coherent story.”
With Hallow, sources and contacts often became friends. He cut a lively figure on the social scene as part of a D.C. power couple with his wife Millie Hallow, the former vice chairman of the American Conservative Union Foundation and managing director of executive operations at the National Rifle Association.
After meeting Millie Hallow, “from that point forward, my husband and I became fast friends with the Hallows and Carolyn and Bob Meadows,” Ms. Mitchell said.
“We spent many years and many happy hours together, and I came to know Ralph as the kindest, most warm-hearted person imaginable,” she said. “He just did not suffer fools, braggarts, or idiots well.”
Hallow was no ink-stained wretch, his shirt wrinkled and his lunch visible on his tie.
“He dressed to the nines at all times, and he knew fabrics and tailoring from his days working in a men’s haberdashery,” Ms. Mitchell said.
What stood out for Fox News Channel host Tucker Carlson, who met Hallow during the Reagan administration, was his upbeat attitude.
“There are so many qualities, but the one that for some reason floats to the top for me is his cheerfulness,” Mr. Carlson said. “There are not many people who can spend a lifetime in journalism, work for a newspaper until they’re 82, and stay cheerful. There are not many people who could do anything until they’re 82 and stay cheerful, and I just admire that so much.”
Hallow was “a positive, optimistic, person always, right to the end, and I want to be like that,” Mr. Carlson said.
Heritage Foundation President Kay Coles James called Hallow “one of the great fixtures of Washington politics, breaking and reporting some of the biggest stories of our time.”
“He was a true gentleman who possessed a brilliant mind and a sharp wit,” Ms. James said. “Being around him, one couldn’t help but smile as he so often delivered his keen political insights with a generous helping of humor.”
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee recalled Hallow as a “bigger-than-life personality who I first got to know in my leadership roles in the National Governors Association.”
“He was doggedly fair, but never ‘favorable,’ in that despite a warm personal relationship, his reporting was based on the facts and never his feelings,” Mr. Huckabee said in an email. “His brand of journalism is virtually non-existent today as those who write and talk spill their opinions all over their baby-bibs and stain the level of ‘fair to all, but favorable to none’ reporting that Ralph lived by.”
Not everyone appreciated Hallow’s relentless work ethic and zest for pursuing stories.
President George H.W. Bush referred to him as the “horrible fellow” in his taped diaries, and once gave him a fake karate chop as he boarded the plane while covering the 1988 campaign.
“Bush often thought I was hard on him. I presume he thought that was somewhat unfair because The Times — a conservative and Republican newspaper, in his view — should be kind to him,” Hallow wrote in a 2017 column. “I tried not to let him get away with nonsense, pulling the wool over people’s eyes.”
Indeed, Hallow was often tougher on Republicans than Democrats.
“I learned never to have an unguarded moment and say something I didn’t want on the front page because he wouldn’t spare me and frankly shouldn’t have,” Mr. Huckabee said. “My sadness in the passing of Ralph is exceeded only by my deep sorrow for his devoted wife, Millie.”
It was impossible to imagine Ralph without Millie. They met in 1982 and married in 1987, raising together Millie’s son Ian Walters, now communications director of the American Conservative Union.
“I love Millie for her spunk, her wicked sense of humor, and her many attempts to tame Ralph,” Mr. Huckabee said. “Ralph wasn’t afraid of Presidents, Senators, Governors or even Kings, but I do think he was afraid of Millie!”
Hallow’s six-decade journalism career included posts on the editorial board of the Times, the Chicago Tribune and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
He would tell a story about how the first day he worked at the Chicago Tribune, they took ‘World’s Greatest Newspaper’ off the masthead,” Mr. Walters said. “Then he would say, ‘Coincidence? I think not.’”
He served as a Ford Foundation Fellow in Urban Journalism at Northwestern University and resident at the Columbia University Editorial-Page Editors Seminar. His datelines included Berlin, Bonn, London, Paris, Geneva, Vienna, Amman, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus and Jerusalem.
A resident of Crofton, Maryland, Mr. Hallow was born and raised in Pittsburgh. He earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Pittsburgh and did graduate work at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.
He is survived by Millie, his wife of 33 years; his son Ian Walters and daughter-in-law Carin Walters, and two granddaughters, Violet and Hazel.
He died at Beebe Medical Center after falling while on vacation in Bethany Beach, Delaware.
“Ralph did not go gentle into that good night. And when he went, he did so with his beloved Millie holding him tight,” Ms. Mitchell said. “Strange that there are insufficient words to describe such a man of words. But I know one thing: God had better be on His toes now that He has Ralph in the house.”