Greg Hale describes his career as being defined by losses, but he remains hopeful that a win is still in the cards.
Most recently, Hale was director of production for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. The town-hall-style meetings Clinton did across the country, the big “H” logo on Roosevelt Island in New York where she officially launched her campaign and the scene at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, where Clinton’s supporters gathered in hopes of celebrating her election as president in 2016, were all his creations.
He carefully considered venues and symbolic backdrops, lighting and acoustics in each setting, although the Javits Center, with its glass ceiling to be shattered and its stage crafted to represent the coming together of America, went largely unseen.
“Most of our work is about passionate things that we believe in,” says Hale, a partner at the Markham Group, which handles public affairs, issue advocacy and events. “We’ve been working on March for Our Lives rallies all over the country a few weeks back, so Bloomberg and Everytown, those are good clients who do really good things.
“The Walton Family Foundation, they do good work that helps people. We do work for Hiring Our Heroes, which is the U.S. Chamber Foundation, and we produce rallies all over the country where we bring in veterans … and match them up with potential employers. That’s rewarding work.”
Hale worked on presidential campaigns for John Kerry and Al Gore and on the Bill Clinton/Gore re-election campaign, too, as well as the 2006 gubernatorial campaign for Mike Beebe.
It was while he was working as campaign coordinator on the Beebe campaign that he started dating his wife, Mica Strother, who was Beebe’s finance director. They married in 2008.
Hale and Strother are chairmen of the 16th annual Empty Bowls, a fundraiser for Arkansas Foodbank, which will honor former Gov. Mike Beebe and former first lady Ginger Beebe.
The event is set to begin at 7 p.m. Friday in the Robinson Center Still Room. The event is sold out but donations to the cause are being accepted.
Strother, director of development for the Razorback Foundation, says she and Hale are close to meeting the fundraising goal of $130,000.
Hale also recently joined the board of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families. Hillary Clinton was a founding member of that organization.
“I’ve known Greg since he was in preschool,” Clinton says. “He’s creative, warm, funny and has a magnetic personality as big as that beard I’m always trying to get him to trim. I’m proud of the work he’s done for Democrats, both at the highest levels of national politics and throughout Arkansas, and equally proud to call him a friend.”
Raised on a family farm outside De Queen, where he still raises cattle for relaxation, Greg Hale travels from his home in Bentonville to Washington, New York and Los Angeles, helping Markham Group clients with their event planning and other public relations needs.
He grew up in De Queen, the youngest of Larry and Cindy Hale’s three children, playing high school basketball and helping out on the family farm, situated between De Queen and Lockesburg in Sevier County, on the banks of the Cossatot River.
By 1996, he had hopped from an agriculture business major to one in elementary education before settling on political science at the University in Arkansas, Fayetteville. As President Bill Clinton’s re-election neared, he and two friends — Tyler Den-ton and Robert McLarty, also a partner in the Markham Group — decided the time was right to head to Washington for some hands-on experience.
“I didn’t really have a plan when I went up there,” Hale says. “I just thought it would be a good, valuable experience to work on a presidential campaign. You know, having your governor become president is a unique opportunity.”
Hale’s parents — both involved in Democratic grassroots activities since the 1980s — were supportive.
“We packed our bags, hopped in a U-Haul and my dad and Robert’s dad drove us up to D.C., and we started working as volunteers in the re-election campaign in 1996,” he says. “Then we escalated to splitting one salary three ways after about three months. Three of us slept in one bedroom, our beds all lined up next to each other because that’s all we could afford.”
Hale’s focus soon became advance work, traveling ahead to set up events.
It was in those early days that he met Stephanie Streett, now executive director of the Clinton Foundation. Hale appeared in her office in the West Wing, asking to be considered for a role on the advance team.
“I remember being super impressed with him. He seemed to be on the ball and have a good understanding and have a good idea of what he would be doing,” Streett says.
A LOVE OF COWS
Hale travels between the main office of the Markham Group in Washington and another office in Los Angeles, and sees various clients in New York and, closer to home, in Benton-ville. He spent all last June in Europe, doing screenings for Michael Bloomberg’s coal documentary, Out of the Ashes. While there he went hiking — solo — in the tiny Swiss village of Gimmelwald, arriving by gondola because it is unreachable by car.
“You’re in the Swiss Alps and basically every morning I would go to the front desk and ask, ‘What’s a six-hour hike?’ or ‘What’s an eight-hour hike?’ and I would just start hiking,” Hale says.
He encountered a few cows on his hikes.
“I love cows, that’s a big hobby of mine,” Hale says. “There would be these cows that would roam around on the mountainside and then the farmer would ring a bell and they would come back up.”
He has maintained a cattle herd on the family farm since he was young, the number of head varying over the years based on his level of involvement in national politics, and he retreats to the farm every chance he gets.
“I kind of put my life into presidential-loss increments,” he says. “So after Gore lost — technically won, but he was not the president — I moved back to Arkansas. Before I moved to New York to work for President Clinton, and I was trying to figure out what to do, I was spending a lot of time at the farm. That’s where I would go, hang out on the river and feed the cows and I kind of loved it.”
That’s when he got a $10,000 loan to buy 12 cows. He had worked his way up to 300-400 cows but struggled with managing it along with his career, and when he and Strother married he sold all but 100.
“I get to go down there and feed them and mostly do the fun stuff,” he says. “It’s a great place to hang out. The river runs around the farm so we play around there.”
He bought a cow for his “bonus son,” Eli, 15, when he turned 8. The cow, named Basey as a nod to Eli’s baseball-theme eighth birthday, has had a calf each year since.
AND DESIGNER JEANS
Nick Merrill, Hillary Clinton’s press secretary, was fresh out of college when he first met Hale in 2007. He was sent to Las Vegas in advance of a town-hall-style meeting with the Teamsters union and was instructed to find Hale when he arrived.
“I go out there and I find this guy with wild blond hair and he’s got these cowboy boots with designer jeans on and those snap shirts that are very common in your part of the world and not so much in New Jersey where I grew up,” Merrill says.
Hale walked Merrill through his first advance job, setting up a town hall meeting in a New Hampshire gymnasium.
“He was really nice and really constructive,” Merrill says. “He would always carry a water bottle and he would always have the cap off of it and he would always tap the cap on the bottle. It was like a thing he would do, fidgeting. I remember he was standing there kind of in his pose and he was tapping the bottle and he said in this Southern drawl, ‘Alright man, don’t drown.’ And then he walked out of the room and I had to figure it out.”
Hale’s distinctive look became one the younger guys tried to emulate.
“It was so good that all of us idiots from the North, wanting to be like Greg in our early 20s, would go to campaign events out West and down South and if there was a Western store we would go and spend half our paycheck on a pair of Luccheses,” Merrill says. “He didn’t have that crazy long beard back then — he had a beard, but not like that. He still had the hair that was sticking straight up and the outfit I described. That and the fact that he’s just a magnetic guy — you walk into a room and people are drawn to him and that’s really helpful, especially if you’re in politics but particularly in his line of work where he needs to win over people.”
MASTER OF EVENTS
Hale has his mentors as well, such as Jim Margolis, who was senior political adviser to Hillary Clinton.
“Greg Hale is the master of events,” Margolis says. “There’s nobody in America who is better at putting together events that tell a story. There’s a reason there’s a phrase that a picture is worth a thousand words, and he is the one who has taken that to a whole new level. … Every time he puts together an event there is a story that is being told and that is a remarkable capability.”
Margolis first met Hale during Bill Clinton’s re-election campaign.
“Bill and Hillary Clinton didn’t just turn to him for advice on where the lights ought to go, they looked to him as someone who kept them in touch with home, with Arkansas, and with rural America more generally, and the conversations would be both substantive about issues and what people were facing and why something was important,” Margolis says, “and then in the next 20 minutes they might be talking about, ‘Here’s your entrance, here’s the mark you have to hit, this is the timing that it’s going to take place, here’s the distance between the camera throw for the reporters and the stage, we’re going to do this at twilight so we get the magic hour.’”
Margolis admired Hale’s work on Hillary Clinton’s campaign announcement on Roosevelt Island in New York.
“You know the picture of the huge stage with the giant H in the center, the press riser in the back with exactly the right distance to the stage to get the right shot, New York in the background. It just in every way, in every detail, was perfect,” he says.
Organizers realized the day before the announcement that Clinton would not be able to read the teleprompters with the sun beating down.
“Greg, the next morning, was still scrambling around trying to get that perfect — but that same day he falls off the riser. It’s high and he hurts his leg and he’s limping around,” Margolis says. “He just hung in there through the whole process.”
Margolis laments the fact that Clinton’s victory party at the Javits Center didn’t happen.
“Greg had outdone himself. This was an amazing event. In an important and emotionally important place and all the elements down to a T and the idea that all of that was created and we never got a chance to walk in the door. I never got in, personally, she never got in,” Margolis says. “That’s a regret.”
Hale was upset about the loss but couldn’t immediately take time to process it.
“At that point, you have to take your emotion out of it and produce a concession speech, which unfortunately was my fourth one. But as I told my team that night, she feels way worse than we do and we have to make this right. It’s a historic moment that a woman is on the stage conceding the election, regardless of what she says it’s going to be in the history books forever,” he says. “It was 4 o’clock in the morning, so we had about six hours to find a new venue, put a stage, sound, light, staging in there and do that while being emotionally destroyed. You just have to run on adrenaline to get through that. I didn’t really get that emotional until after she got done, really.”
Later, he turned to the same things that helped him bounce back before — eating copious amounts of cookie dough ice cream, burning off those calories by running and mountain biking, re-reading Lonesome Dove and hanging out on the farm.
Travel is a passion for Hale and his family. He has visited 49 states but is patiently waiting for Eli to catch up so they can visit the 50th — Alaska — together.
Because her husband is on the move so often, Strother especially appreciates time they can spend together.
“Life with Greg is full of fun. He constantly makes me laugh and my days are just better when he is a part of it,” she says.
He does have fun most of the time.
“It’s great work, a great team. We work on cool stuff. We have entertainment, nonprofit, corporations, so I kind of love the work we do,” he says. “I’m not that political, frankly. I have friends on both sides. I mean, I have my views that I believe but I’m not overly political. But I still want to win and I do still think, ‘We’re right and they’re wrong’ about certain things.”
DATE AND PLACE OF BIRTH: June 23, 1975, De Queen.
MY FAVORITE MOVIE: And book, by far, is Lonesome Dove. I read it a lot and I watch [the series] probably quarterly. They have great characters.
TO MY FANTASY DINNER PARTY I WOULD INVITE: Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Pistol Pete. I just think it would be great to get all the generations of great players together. There’s all this debate about who’s the greatest player, and I want to hear them talk about it.
MY BEST CHILDHOOD MEMORY: North Carolina basketball camp was really good, but watching my best friend fall into the Cossatot River on a cold February day was probably the best.
I’M MOST PROUD OF: My family.
MY FAVORITE MEAL: I really love pizza. I eat mostly pepperoni but I try other stuff.
SOMEDAY I WANT TO: Win.
OUR SON WOULD SAY I’M: Hardworking.
I’M MOST COMFORTABLE: On game day, when I’m producing an event.
SOMETHING I ALMOST ALWAYS HAVE WITH ME: My running shoes.
ONE WORD TO SUM ME UP: Passionate.
“I’m not that political, frankly. I have friends on both sides. I mean, I have my views that I believe but I’m not overly political. But I still want to win and I do still think, ‘We’re right and they’re wrong’ about certain things.”
NAN Profiles on 05/06/2018
Print Headline: Larry Gregory Hale