Sam Hall, Olympic diving medalist, former Ohio legislator, and accused U.S. spy taken Sandinista prisoner, died Monday. He was the son of the late Dave Hall, a Dayton mayor, and was brother of former Dayton-area congressman and ambassador Tony Hall. Sam Hall was 77.
Hall was a Florida condo developer and a one-time, self-described freelance covert counterterrorist. He seemed to thrive on rushing headlong into dangerous situations, whether working as an FBI informant, or jumping in to help at natural disasters around the globe. He was also a philanthropist and lover of animals. According to his biography he rescued animals on four continents.
Family members on Wednesday remembered his athleticism, unique personality and giving nature.
“He was just an amazing, colorful and interesting guy to be around. He was probably the most gifted athlete that I have ever known,” said his brother Tony Hall. “If they invented a sport today, Sam would pick it up and excel at it.”
Sam Hall was born March 10, 1937 in Dayton. He graduated from Fairmont High School and went to Ohio State University where he was a standout diver. Hall won a silver medal at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. He served in the Air Force and was later elected to the Ohio House of Representatives in 1968. He told the St. Petersburg Times in 2008 that his term at the Statehouse was, “mostly boring.”
Sam Hall’s son David Hall, of Seminole, Fla., said his father was “one of a kind” and always on the move looking for the next person, town or nation in need. David Hall said the tortured times and the massacre of Israeli Olympians at the 1972 Munich games set his father down a course intent on making a difference in the world.
“He really showed us all what it meant to be a humanitarian,” David Hall said. “Just seeing the hurt around the world might have started him on that path.”
One of Hall’s efforts, though, famously drew the U.S. government, along with his brother who sat in Congress, into an international fray.
In December 1986 Hall was captured by the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. At the time, he said his paths crossed with the likes of Lt. Col. Oliver North while Hall was advising Contras and leading rebel forces as “Commandant Zulu.” According to officials at the time, he was arrested in a restricted area of an air base with maps of the base and other military installations. He spent 47 days in an underground prison during which time Mike Wallace interviewed him for 60 Minutes. He was eventually freed. His Sandinista captors at the time said Hall was mentally unstable and a suicide risk.
The accounts of his many other militaristic exploits—of which more than a few are doubted by experts—are recounted in two books: “Danger’s Disciple, and “Counter-Terrorist.”
After returning home from Nicaragua the family moved to the St. Petersburg, Fla. area where Hall focused on business and humanitarian missions.
“I think when he settled here in Florida and became successful as a developer it made it easier for him to pursue his passions,” said his son David Hall. “And it just happened to be the consequences of the things that were happening in the day, whether it be the Sri Lanka tsunami, or whether it be the mudslides in Central America, or the hurricanes.”
He also made successful climbs of Mt. Kenya and Mt. Kilimanjaro. He made it 20,000 feet up Mt. Everest in 2006 but was medically evacuated after suffering from frostbite, partial blindness and separated ribs, according to an account in the St. Petersburg Times.
Sam Hall is survived by his wife Melinda Hall, daughters Kelly Lawrence and Samantha Milburn, son David Hall and former wife Janice Hoyle, all of Florida.
Details are being set for a military service at Bay Pines National Cemetery in St. Petersburg, Fla, according to his son.
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