Feb. 4, 2006 – Journalist Harold "Hal" Hatfield, 65, died Friday in Knoxville, Iowa, where he moved from St. Thomas in 2002.
Hatfield, during his almost three decades on St. Thomas, had become an integral part of the island's political and journalistic life. The community was shocked and saddened Saturday to hear of his death.
Former Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole got his legislative bearings under Hatfield's tutelage. "I came to work for Hal and Mike Marden in the Legislature legal counsel's office as a summer intern in 1979," Cole said Saturday. "And I continued as I finished my education. Hal and I worked together through about 12 or 13 Legislatures," he said. "I always referred to him as Dr. Hatfield, attorney without portfolio. He loved the Legislature, loved the legal counsel's office. And he was a true humanitarian. He was my friend."
After working at the Legislature for close to 20 years, during which time he wrote or edited volumes of legislation, he left the Legislature to work in the public affairs office of then-Gov. Roy Schneider.
Hatfield then went to work at the V.I. Daily News, reporting on doings in the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall, where he put his political familiarity to use. Former Daily News executive editor Penny Feuerzeig shared a few memories.
"I'm so sad about Hal's death. We shared many wonderful times together back in the 1970s and '80s – Hal, Mike Marden and all the Feuerzeigs, playing bridge and Uno, eating great meals and celebrating holidays together. He was an incredibly bright guy with a doctorate in Russian literature who wandered into journalism – with some prompting by me. He had terrific writing and editing skills and was a good reporter."
That opinion was widely expressed by friends and colleagues Saturday.
Melvin Claxton, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and former Daily News colleague of Hatfield's, said, "Truthfully, I think one of the things I always remember is he was a reporter who genuinely cared about the Virgin Islands and the people he covered. If there is one thing to be remembered about him, I hope that is it.
"He was somebody who I think made a significant contribution to journalism," Claxton said. Many stories would have remained hidden had he not brought them to light, and that is the highest compliment you can give a journalist."
Hatfield gained a rare thing in his journalistic career: the respect of the legislators, a group not normally inclined to feel benevolent toward the press.
Senate President Lorraine Berry said, "He was one of the few writers who understood the function of the legislature. He understood what he was writing. He had a wealth of information. He knew the environment; in a word, he knew what it meant when the senators spoke. He knew the political lingo, and his stories were accurate.
"I am very saddened," she continued. "He was one who played a very important role. We go back two decades from when he was working in the legal counsel office," Berry said. "He really had a good sense of fair play. He always bent over backwards to get as many sides of the story as he could. And he had a good sense of humor."
Sen. Roosevelt David agreed. "He was one of the writers you could depend on for accuracy. He brought fairness to the process. He was very objective, asked the tough questions. He was a good investigative reporter; he brought so much to the community.
"I respected his ability," David said, "even when we have not always agreed. We would talk about it, and at the end of the day, there was no malice. He was all about giving the public their due. He was far ahead of his contemporaries."
Janette Millin worked with Hatfield in Schneider's office. "We were close," Millin said. "His basic institutional knowledge of the Legislature, government and the media he brought home in the most down to earth manner.
"And he taught Russian for about a year at J. Antonio Jarvis to sixth graders," Millin said. "Governor Schneider encouraged him to do that. Then later, when I had my magazine, he would still help me, even though he was working for the newspaper."
She added with a laugh, "He knew he was smarter than all of us, and he didn't mind sharing his wisdom. At the Legislature he would always help all the new reporters learn the processes."
This reporter, for one, can vouch for Millin's remark. Hatfield generously shared his expertise, his humor and his warmth, though employed by a competing newspaper. (He drew the line however; he never shared any scoops.)
In Iowa, Hatfield was editor of two weekly newspapers, Pella Chronicle and its sister paper, the Knoxville Journal-Express, until last year, when he went down swinging.
According to a story in the Des Moines Register, Hatfield resigned when a new publisher demanded he fire the paper's liberal columnist, Mike Corum. Hatfield resigned in protest.
Claxton brought this to the Source's attention. "That story circulated nationally," he said. "And Hal needed that job – it was very important for him."
Hatfield graduated from the University of Iowa, and got his doctorate in Russian literature at the University of Colorado, according to his brother, Dick Hatfield. When he was in the Army, he attended the prestigious Army Language School in Monterey, Calif.
He is survived by his son, Jeff and wife, Jeanette; three brothers, Dick and wife Cheryl, Ken and wife, Coleen, and Larry; two granddaughters, Cassidy and Emily; and many aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews and nieces.
Services are pending. A memorial is being established in his name.
It is not known at this time when a memorial service will be held on St. Thomas.
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