Crash Kills Preservationist Scholar

BFD Photoharvard.eduPeter Dobkin Hall, an East Rock preservationist known nationally as an expert on not-for-profit organizations, died early Thursday in a crash on I-95 in Branford.

The crash occurred at 3:37 a.m. on the right-hand northbound lane of the highway between Exits 54 and 55. According to authorities, Hall was driving the wrong way. He drove head-on into a pick-up truck traveling in the opposite direction.

BFD PhotoIt took Branford fire emergency crews “nearly 20 minutes” to extricate Hall from his Dodge Caravan, according to Deputy Chief Tom Mahoney. Hall was declared dead at the scene. Two occupants of the pick-up were taken to the hospital. The pick-up driver’s injuries were described as minor, his passenger’s as more serious.

Hall, who lived on Lawrence Street in New Haven, was 69 years old.

Hall was a voice for greater accountability from Yale and other not-for-profits. He joined neighbors in protesting Albertus Magnus’s decision in 2009 to chop down a line of hemlocks along Prospect Street and a copse of oaks on Ogden behind Mohun Hall.. “Albertus is a religiously affiliated college with many tax exemptions from us, the public. They may not have a legal obligation, but a moral one, and a Christian one to be a good neighbor,” he said at the time.

He served as an active member of East Rock neighborhood groups, including serving as a block watch captain and speaking out publicly (and passionately) about civic issues.

He played an active role as well in New Haven preservationist groups.

He served on the board of the New Haven Museum and co-founded the Urban Design League, for instance.

‘We were so fortunate to have a national leader, and original thinker about non-profit organizations help us at our inception,” stated Anstress Farwell, the league’s president. “He drafted our by-laws, based on best practices for open membership based organizations. He was a moral and philosophical touchstone for us, and understood the importance of an organization committed to following its convictions.

“In hard times, he was the best and kindest, and most forceful counselor. We had fun too—he called me ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’”

Hall’s “knowledge of New Haven history—business, non-profit, cultural, religious—was profound,” Farwell added, noting that he “served on the board, and was the leading historian, of the Grove Street Cemetery.” CPTV featured him in a 2008 documentary about the cemetery.

Hall was also among organizers who twice campaigned to turn the St. Ronan-Edgehill portion of East Rock into an historic district. The campaigns fell short. After the second defeat, Hall bemoaned the emergence of lawn signs and online arguments by opponents: “Email allowed people to say electronically what they wouldn’t ever do face to face.”

Allan Appel PhotoHall was an academic by trade, most recently serving as a senior research fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Hauser Institute for Civil Society and a City University history and theory professor. In the past he has taught at Yale’s history department, School of Management, Divinity School.

His area of expertise was the not-for-profit sector—“the most rapidly growing and changing organizational domain in the world,” as he put it in one blog post.

From 1996 to 1999, Hall ran Yale’s Program on Non-Profit Organizations, which he helped found.

He wrote Inventing the Nonprofit Sector: Essays on Philanthropy, Voluntarism, and Nonprofit Organizations, among other published works.


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posted by: valrichardson on April 30, 2015  2:51pm

Peter was a compassionate friend and a forceful voice in many communities within New Haven and the wider world. I commend this article for detailing his career and many causes, but I also wish we could remember his life and all the good he did without having to witness the grisly photos from the accident that took his life.

posted by: Dwightstreeter on April 30, 2015  9:10pm

This is a horrible ending for such a gentle man.
I met Peter years agp when I was involved in a public dispute involving a non-profit that was depleting its endowment.
He was knowledgeable and passionate about the need for meaningful oversight of such institutions and had an inventory of horror stories, but managed to keep a sense of humor about the insanity of it all.
My thoughts are with his family.

posted by: MattNemerson on April 30, 2015  10:58pm

Peter was one of the few people other than perhaps the late Dick Hegel who’s passion for New Haven spilled over into a detailed need to understand the relationship between the city’s history, physical development and unique and complex culture and anthropology.

Peter uniquely combined his love and interest for the place with a need to take up battles that - as the article explained - were in keeping with his understanding of how the town “ought” to be.  He could be stubborn and relentless at times, but always with a laugh and concession to the small role that we each could really play given the enormity of the city history and past adventures. 

How sad he’s gone - I wish I’d talked to him more in the last year.  He can’t be replaced and New Haven is a bit more unknowable without his ability to explain the reason things are the way they are to the rest of us.

posted by: elelsnow on May 1, 2015  11:29am

What a terrible accident. I am surprised there was no mention of how this particular ramp has had multiple accidents at it. I may be wrong about the particulars, but I think it’s Exit 54 in Branford that has a really misleading on-ramp sign for 95-S that’s place before the off-ramp. As a result, it’s very logical to assume they’re leading you to turn onto the off-ramp to head southbound. I wonder what DOT’s plans are to improve signage?

just this February there was another in the same area. Obviously, not enough details in these news stories to be certain, but it’s something that has occurred to me while using those ramps:

posted by: Linda Zonana on May 1, 2015  3:23pm

Not long ago, someone offered a suggestion in a local publication about how to reduce confusion on entry ramps.  It was that strong red reflectors, indicating “stop” be placed just as you enter the ramp.  At exit 55 entry and exit ramps connect with Rte #1 right next to each other, true of other areas as well.  “Wrong way” signs often look as if they apply equally to both ramps.  Such things, in addition to the confusing signage mentioned above demand close scrutiny by the DOT.  All that said, does it do any good to write to the papers about these issues?

posted by: Michelle Malanga on May 1, 2015  5:37pm

We just received word of Professor Hall’s tragic accident. Prof. Hall was one of our professors at Baruch School of Public Affairs. I was 1 of 24 students in an Executive Master’s of Public Administration at Baruch. My colleagues from Baruch’s Cohort 28 are all shocked and filled with great sadness.

Dr. Peter Dobkin Hall was a top lecturer,advocate for all non-profits, kind, welcoming and great fun to be with. How lucky we were to have had an opportunity to hear Dr. Hall lecture and laugh with him. I know we are all thankful to have had him as an educator.

Godspeed Peter Dobkin Hall - Cohort 28.