A notable historian, passionate journalist and committed public servant — who loved her city and the people in it — is how those who knew and loved Marshall City Commissioner Gail Beil remember her.
Beil died this past Wednesday at age 81. A Celebration of Life is set for 3 p.m., Feb. 15, at First United Methodist Church.
“She was a remarkable woman, who gave of herself to the betterment of our community,” Mayor Terri Brown said as she said a prayer for Beil’s family during the city commission’s meeting, Thursday.
“She was kind, generous and will be missed dearly by all who loved her,” said Brown.
City officials said Beil, who served on the commission from 2017 to 2019, carved a lasting mark on the community through her professional work and civic activities.
Phil Latham, former publisher of the Marshall News Messenger where Beil worked several years as a reporter, concurred.
“Gail Beil was a force of nature, who cared for Marshall with all her heart,” said Latham.
He noticed her passion the moment he met her.
“I met her on my first day on the job and quickly understood that she was a unique and driven individual,” said Latham. “If she wanted something done, it got done.”
Former managing editor, Karla DeLuca, admired Beil’s ambition.
“She was in her 60s when I hired her at the News Messenger as a reporter, but she had more energy and drive than reporters 1/3 her age,” said DeLuca. “I was always amazed at the amount of energy, enthusiasm and passion she had for whatever she turned her hand to do.
“I used to picture her as a very friendly, very lively, very strong golden retriever, struggling at the leash to get to where she wanted to go. I very much envied that energy and drive,” the former managing editor said.
DeLuca noted how Beil was always devoted, even in the most inconvenient times.
“One of my favorite memories was when she was covering an election and Harrison County’s results were one of the last to get tabulated, due to some technical error and it was after 3 a.m. when she finished her story,” DeLuca recalled. “Unfortunately, due to another glitch, the story had disappeared from our data bank, which meant that I had to call her in to do it again. She wasn’t happy about it, having only been asleep for a few hours, but agreed, but only if she could come in her pajamas. I said OK, thinking she was kidding, but she showed up wearing a high-necked flannel nightgown and slippers. And wrote the story.”
“Needless to say, there’s never going to be another one like Gail Beil,” said DeLuca. “She will be greatly missed.”
Latham echoed her sentiments.
“My life is better for having known her and Marshall is forever better for all the work she did,” said Latham.
As a historian, Beil played a pivotal role in documenting not only the history of the city, but also Harrison County.
“If you’ve seen a historical marker in Harrison County, chances are, Gail Beil has had her hands all in the workings of getting it made — sometimes singlehandedly,” said Bill T. Whitis, chairman of the Harrison County Historical Commission (HCHC).
As chairman of the historical marker committee for the HCHC, Beil always went above and beyond her call of duty, said Whitis.
“She took it upon herself to research and write the essays necessary to submit the paperwork to the state,” he shared. “Normally that falls upon the person or group wanting to get the marker made; and Gail would step up immediately and say: ‘I’ll do it’ because she loved doing that.
“Sometimes she would go out and get something done just because she wanted to get it done,” he continued. “She thought it needed to be brought to the county’s attention. She did not want some piece of history to be forgotten, so she would do the research, she would find someone to donate the money. She would just get it done. That’s how Gail was. She was a go-getter.”
In fact, because of her diligence in researching and preserving history, which consisted of researching and writing text for more than 30 historical markers in the Marshall community, Beil was bestowed the highest honor in the East Texas Historical Association, becoming a fellow in 2013.
The award is given to those who contributed great service in writing, researching and East Texas history as well as great service to the association.
Not only did Beil publish articles in the East Texas Historical Association’s journal, but she also was the only ETHA member with a TV Emmy on her mantle for her contributions to the award-winning PBS series “Marshall Texas, Marshall Texas,” which was a documentary by Marshallite and renowned PBS journalist Bill Moyers on segregation and integration.
As a past president of the ETHA, she was also instrumental in forming the association’s Lucille Terry Award and played a key part in starting the annual history breakfast.
Beil also penned numerous books and articles, highlighting African American history in Marshall and Harrison County.
“She pursued any piece of history she felt needed to be brought to light,” said Whitis. “She didn’t care about political, cultural, social boundaries. She moved to ensure that history stays alive.”
Regarding historical markers, the first marker she wrote was for the historic Weisman-Hirsch Home, which was the residence she and her husband, the late Greg Beil, and family lived for years.
The historical marker for Wiley College came next and was followed by markers for Kahn Memorial Hospital, Dr. James Farmer Sr., the Van Hook House, Marshall Pottery and the Weisman Center marker downtown, to name a few.
Besides historical markers, Whitis said Beil’s other projects on the HCHC involved developing a new historical district in town.
“You have the Ginocchio district; she was working on the Ingleside district,” he said, noting Ingleside was the home of the late dentist, Dr. Lindley Henley. “Gail wanted to make sure some parts of that history got to be done, so we were going to try to get the Ingleside neighborhood declared as a district.”
Whitis said he’s trying to ensure that they follow through on projects that were near and dear to Beil.
“It’s tough to follow in Gail Beil’s shadow,” he said, sharing how phenomenal she was. “I want to ensure that her thoughts and works and deeds continue in a manner that she would’ve wanted them to do. So I’m trying to see them through completion.”
Whitis, also a friend and neighbor of Beil’s, said Beil and her late husband loved Marshall.
“When they moved to Marshall they fell in love with the city. They had never been here before,” said Whitis. “He came here for a job at Wiley and they both just fell in love.”
Over the years, Beil shared a special connection with the renowned Wiley College Great Debaters team, becoming their number one fan and supporter through her works as chairman of the Friends of the Wiley College Great Debaters.
Because of her support, the debate team honored her, in 2015, with the Denzel Washington Team Support Award.
Then-coach, Christopher Medina, shared at the time that the team members considered her as another mother, always cheering them on, opening her home, and traveling to every function.
As a former Pi Kappa Delta national tournament championship winner in the 1950s and biographer of famed civil rights leader James Farmer, a member of the award-winning 1935 Wiley College debate team, Beil provided the best link to the history of the Great Debaters, Medina said.
She met Farmer for the first time in 1983 during the filming of Moyers’ documentary and maintained a connection throughout the years.
In 2017, Beil advocated for a statue to be erected on the west side of the courthouse to pay homage to the legacy of Farmer, a Marshall native.
As a Charter member of the Marshall/Harrison County League of Women Voters where she served for 50 years and as an advisory board member for National Public Radio, Beil worked diligently to ensure the public received accurate information on public affairs.
“We worked together on some projects on League of women Voters and we were on the advisory board for NPR together,” said Juli Jameson.
“I spent a lot of time with her, talking about public affairs and politics and community service and how important information is and how important accurate information is,” said Jameson. “We would commute back and forth to board meetings in Louisiana together. We would spend time during the pledge drives. The central focus for that was always making sure that there was always accurate and reliable information available to the public; and certainly League of Women Voters was an extension of that, as well.”
Jameson said that was very important for Beil, especially in an age when data and accurate information seems to be, sometimes, secondary to what is sensation in a world where it is easier to simply “click and share” than it is to check sources.
“So I believe that as it was a rise in that, it became more and more important for her to try to protect those information sources and to protect truth,” said Jameson. “I find that to be truly honorable. And hers is a voice that will be missed.”
The Harrison County Historical Museum is also grateful for Beil’s contributions. Beil served on the board of directors from August 2018 to the present. She was active on the education committee, membership committee and the Inez Hatley Hughes Research Center and Library Task Force committee.
“Gail was directly involved in the acquisition of the permanent home of the Library/Research Center, located at 104 E. Crockett, in Marshall,” said Becky Palmer, director of the museum.
Palmer said Beil’s writing and research contributed greatly to their knowledge of Harrison County history and especially the area’s African American history.
“This makes our history more value to researchers nationwide,” she said. “Gail forged relationships to nationally known historians, which created interest in our local history.”
The museum director said Beil assisted the museum in reaching donors, authors and those searching for their family’s historical journeys.
“The Harrison County Historical Museum owes a debt of gratitude to Gail Beil and her dedication to the history of Harrison County,” said Palmer.