It was probably the most beautiful memorial service most of us will ever attend, and it was totally befitting Ebby Halliday Acers, the Duchess of Dallas Real Estate as her pastor, Dr. Jim Denison, called her. The sanctuary at Park Cities Baptist Church on Thursday afternoon was loaded, as was the balcony, and I’m told it holds 3000. The church hall, which holds another 1000, was set up for the overflow.
The afternoon service was laced with beautiful music, beginning with a performance by the Happy Hill Farm Academy choir, Happy Hill being one of the many charities Ebby supported.
Mary Frances Burleson, president and CEO of Ebby Halliday Realtors, remembered Ebby first. Mary Frances started with the company as a temporary secretary, who Ebby asked to stay on permanently. Back then she said she made about $2.50 an hour — “Ebby was my graduate school,” she said.
“My husband always said, once I looked over that garden wall, I was hooked,” said Mary Frances, referring to her love of the real estate biz and selling.
The First Lady of Dallas Real Estate was even remembered by a former first lady, Laura Bush, who christened her such.
“Ebby was the first First Lady of Dallas,“spending much time at her own White House, the one we know so well at the corner of Northwest Highway and Preston.”
There was a hush as Laura Bush was escorted to the altar podium. Former president George W. Bush was not in attendance. But he was honored, Laura said, “to read in Ebby’s obituary that she kept a photo of W taped to her icebox. He said that was a lot better than most people, who keep my photo in a shoebox,”
Two generations of the Bush family remembered Ebby:
“My mother-in-law Barbara Bush says, ‘Ebby was Dallas,’” said Laura Bush. “She was a true patriot.”
Next was Ebby’s attorney friend Don Glendenning, who spoke of the time he and Ebby went to Washington, D.C., to receive the Horatio Alger Award. No one had heard of Ebby until she took the stage, he said, “then we all became minor rock stars. She spoke without notes and over her allotted time — we didn’t just get a standing ovation, we received a LEAPING ovation.”
Glendenning said he actually felt sorry for astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who followed Ebby. Her attorney also revealed a secret about Roger Staubach, another Horatio Alger honoree: “Ebby had a little crush on him.”
Next up was Ebby’s niece, Joan Patmore. Ebby had no children of her own; she had “lassoed” former FBI agent and lawyer Maurice Acers when she was 54, her first and only marriage. Ebby was devoted to her nieces, nephews, step-children, and extended family and attended countless sports games, school plays, graduations, and celebrations.
She was the spice in their lives, the “fun” aunt, who would bring over ice cream (which Ebby adored) and a bunch of toppings to share after an open house. She also once accidentally took her underage niece to an R-rated movie.
“Her giggling was embarrassing,” Patmore said. “We stayed for the whole movie.”
Then she asked who had ever had the experience of riding with Ebby?
“It was a white-knuckle experience,” she said. Ebby had a bit of a heavy foot and often claims she was the first person ever stopped on the Dallas North Tollway. But it was really embarrassing when she would put her famous Caddy into “park” at red lights and get out of the car.
“To pick up litter off the median,” said Joan.
Ebby Halliday’s CFO, Ron Burgert, spoke last. Ron, too, is part of the Ebby family of early founders — his father worked for Ebby. He began by saying that both Mary Frances and Laura Bush had already said what he planned to say. Still, Ron had the sanctuary in stitches when he described a Dallas roast for T. Boone Pickens. Roger Staubach had said T. Boone was having a lot of troubles — price of oil down, personal issues — “I’ve got the perfect solution! Ebby is still available.”
At which point Ebby rose and waved happily, “here I am!”
The picture they all painted was that of a legend. Everybody’s best friend.
“There are a few times in your life that you get to meet a legend,” said Ron. “I’ve worked with a legend for the last 39 years.”
Ebby treated everyone the same, he said, whether it was the president of the U.S. or someone who had just gotten off a freight train. And he alluded to the same thank you note story Mary Frances Burleson had told, how Ebby was such a devoted writer of hand-written notes, she would respond to a thank you note from someone with another thank you note.
“I have a whole drawerful,” he said.
Every speaker touched on Ebby’s incredible generosity, her motto to “do something for somebody every day.” One of her countless charities was Dallas Baptist University. Three years ago she made a three-year financial commitment to a capital campaign there. She was 101.
“At 101, she made a commitment which she fully intended to fulfill,” said Jim Denison. “And she did.”
Don Glendenning said she was the perfect example of how a person of goodwill, integrity, insight, and industry can achieve greatness, no matter how modest his or her beginnings. Ebby truly lived the Golden Rule, always putting the well-being of others first, doing well for her own benefit only AFTER doing good for others.
There were three standing ovations. One was urged by Mary Frances Burleson, when the entire sanctuary and balcony stood for a rousing applause to Ebby. I wouldn’t be surprised if the hundreds listening to the live-streaming on CBS also stood and clapped.
The next was at Ron Burgert’s suggestion, and it was every bit as robust.
The third and last came after the beautiful postlude (“Symphony No. 5: Toccata”), after a huge screen rolled down in front of the altar and a video of Ebby’s life was projected. The finale was when she strummed her trademark ukulele and song, “Happy Days Are Here Again,” the same tune she once serenaded Warren Buffett with.
Everyone filed out of the church, dark glasses covering teary eyes. Church personnel handed out a beautiful, white embossed card in Ebby’s memory.
Do something for somebody every day
Channel 4 had a camera stationed outside and caught a few dignitaries on tape, but most people went home. As I crossed Northwest highway to find my car, passing the Secret Service guys waiting for Laura Bush, the wind picked up for a moment, almost perfectly timed, to dry my tears.
As her niece, Joan Patmore had said, “Ebby was there with her, looking over her shoulder.” I too felt Ebby’s presence, everyone’s best friend. She was all around us, hugging her big, beautiful family that was actually an entire city. She stirred up just enough wind to dry everyone’s tears and tell them to just be happy, for a live well lived.