The real Ebby Halliday
Lee Cullum remembers Ebby
‘Some women don’t survive in macho Texas,’ writes another woman who knows
by LEE CULLUM
Ebby Halliday embodied the best of Dallas. A saleswoman, a lady, a good old girl, she had the manners of the South, tempered by the true grit of Arkansas and the gumption of the Midwest, with a knack for walking the yellow brick road of Dorothy’s Kansas. Ever practical, she never looked far afield to find her way somewhere over the rainbow.
Working in a department store a bus-ride away from her home in Kansas City. Managing the hat department at W.A. Green in downtown Dallas. Opening her own hat shop on Fairmount, financed by the sound investment advice of her dentist. None of these was a big break, but Ebby wasn’t the sort to bet on the come. Her game was dogged determination, and few have put one foot in front of the other, or lived one day building toward the next, with more discipline or taste for the mundane details of business than she did.
Still, she had a flair for the theatrical and adopted the name “Ebby” — she felt it lended “a lot of class” compared to her birth name — before opening her real estate business in Dallas. Once there, the former Vera Lucille Koch learned in time to stage houses, converting Clint Murchison’s concrete bungalows on Northwest Highway at Marsh Lane into model homes. It was one of many new approaches Ebby Halliday brought to residential real estate, as her company came to dominate the buying and selling of houses in her adopted city that grew, like Halliday, steadily, reliably — without the fantastic trajectory of Chicago hoisted on the strength of the railroad, or Los Angeles, giddy in the wake of World War II when the glitter of the West Coast soared into ascendancy.
But here was Halliday, in the sensible black, beige and navy center of the spectrum, projecting a style that reassured her clients and worked to her advantage. She avoided ostentation, no matter how successful she became. She represented solid, Republican cloth-coat Dallas, not the frantic glamor that overtook the town, though she sold plenty of fancy properties in that world. But that was not her crowd. Halliday was drawn to serious doers of the kind who could be counted on to last, just as she did. Perhaps it was Murchison who taught her this philosophy of doing deals: Always leave something on the table for the other fella, then you’ll do business together again. “No one had higher ethics than Ebby,” says Ellen Terry, at one point an associate. “Whatever she told you, you could go to the bank on it.” A woman of her word. How quaint. How badly we want that back all across the landscape scarred now by the ravages, the “vast carelessness” as F. Scott Fitzgerald put it, of capitalism run amok.
Ebby would not have agreed with that, however. She kept the faith and believed the best of everyone to every extent possible. At 54, she married Maurice Acers, a onetime FBI agent as extroverted and straightforward as Halliday herself, and as tough, in the nicest way. Some women don’t survive in macho Texas. Beaten down, they retreat into alcohol or depression. Those who do prevail often turn out to be truly extraordinary, like Ann Richards, Kay Bailey Hutchison — and Ebby Halliday.
LEE CULLUM is the host of CEO, a series of interviews with business leaders on KERA-TV, and a contributing columnist to The Dallas Morning News. She has been a regular commentator on the PBS NewsHour and National Public Radio’s All Things Considered.
Top photo: Ebby Halliday in 1968. Photograph supplied by Ebby Halliday archives.