STORY BY SCOTT E. RAYMOND
PHOTOS BY LINDSAY JANIES
A tall and fit-looking 60, when Hal McMillin first greets this writer, he enthusiastically begins the visit by showing some photos of family, friends, colleagues and a few of the numerous famous people he has come in contact with over the years either through his business or public service career. About his working area there are pictures and displays which make evident his passion for outdoor sports.
All of the aforementioned speaks to who McMillin is: a person who loves his family; who loves being around people; and certainly has gusto for life itself.
Growing Up In Westlake
The son of plumbing contractor father Harold McMillin, and mother Dalton McMillin, who was the Town Clerk, Hal McMillin grew up in Westlake, a town from which, he says, was “a great place to grow up,” and from which he is “honored,” he says, to claim as his hometown.
McMillin grew up the youngest of four siblings. His late brother Mackey worked in New York City in the 1960s with nationally known entertainers of the time. As a result, at the age of 10, younger brother Hal got to hang out with some of the major television stars of that era and became familiar, on his own, with such locales as downtown Manhattan, Central Park and Radio City Music Hall.
McMillin’s older brother Mickey, he says, is “a true outdoorsman … the most outstanding hunter that I know — ducks, geese, deer, rabbit, squirrel, alligator — he can do it all.” Jan, his sister, who was once homecoming queen at Westlake High, is “just the greatest sister you could have,” he says.
“I had a great childhood growing up in Westlake,” McMillin says. “We lived on Martha Street, which was only a couple of blocks from the Westlake Recreation Center, so there were no days that I can remember as a child that I had nothing to do. We had a great neighborhood of friends who played together every day.
“Westlake had a small town atmosphere. There were woods behind our house, and I could go into the woods and shoot a BB gun or go up to the recreation center, and there was always a ball game going on somewhere. The recreation center had ping pong tables and bumper pool tables, and the swimming pool was right there by it, so it was just a tremendous hometown.”
McMillin says that since Westlake “was a bedroom community to the industries,” he recalls growing up there knowing every one of his neighbors and the particular company each worked for.
“Back in the ‘60s,” he says, “it was kind of like a Mayberry. Everybody knew everybody. I knew everybody at every house and all of their kids in every family in the neighborhood.”
McMillin tells a story that reflects the small town atmosphere of Westlake during his youth. He says when he was a child a local grocery store owner would leave some soft drink bottles in the back of the store so young McMillin could cash-in the deposit for bubble gum. McMillin says he didn’t know until much later in life that the bottles were put there just for him.
“I was fun-loving as a kid.” McMillin says. “Fun-loving and, maybe in parenthesis, mischievous! I loved to have fun.”
In keeping with that admission, McMillin relates a story of years ago concerning the first time he ran for the Westlake City Council. He says he knocked on the door of a home and told the resident, who had known him since his childhood, that he was running for the office. She recalled an insignificant yet mischievous incident he had orchestrated as a boy, and he replied, “Yes, Ma’am, that was me, but I’ve outgrown that stage!”
“That’s kind of the way a hometown is,” McMillin says, grinning. “Everybody knows you — both the good and bad things you did in the hometown!”
McMillin originally knew his wife Sue as schoolmates in high school. Soon after meeting again at their 15-year class reunion, he began dating her for the first time.
“She’s my blessing that God gave me,” McMillin says.
They enjoy recreational sports together; they snow ski every year along with a group of friends affectionately nicknamed “Hal’s Pals” at Angel Fire, N.M.
“She taught me how to take vacations,” McMillin says, “and Angel Fire is one of them. We’ve watched our family grow up skiing there, and have enjoyed the mountains and the snow skiing trips. We have also visited the Smokey Mountains and the Gatlinburg area with the family.
“Sue and I have had the opportunity to fly throughout the United States, and also have taken many road trips in our truck. One of our favorite road trips is to the hill country of Texas. Around Fredericksburg and Luckenbach, they have over 25 wineries in that area to visit.” McMillin said he and his wife also love cruising.
Hal McMillin has an array of hobbies and interests that include such sports as open water scuba diving; dove, goose and duck hunting; and salt-water fishing. He has served as a television outdoor reporter and now does a weekly radio show. But if you single him out on one activity particularly close to his heart, he will mention auctioneering.
Says McMillin, “As a family, while I was growing up, every Friday night we’d go … I just loved auctions, from as a kid of 6, 7, and 8 years old, and as I got a little bit older, I liked doing impersonations. I’m not very good at doing impersonations, but I do one of Elvis and a couple of other people. I like voices, so I started doing the auctioneering impersonation, and I liked it.
“A friend of mine had cancer and they were doing a fundraiser auction so I said that I would be the auctioneer for the event and did it. I did a couple more auctions, and a good friend of mine mentioned that I should go to auctioneer’s school. I went to a nine-day auctioneer’s school in Dallas, Texas: Texas Auction Academy, a tremendous school where I had a chance to listen to world class auctioneers and learn from those guys. [I received] a certificate for passing the course, then [came] back to Louisiana to pass a written and oral test to become a licensed and bonded auctioneer.
“Levingston Group, the company that I work for, gave me the time off to go to the school. The first two years after graduating, I donated my time in turn for the experience. But I now get paid for most auctions.
“My first time in front of a large crowd, I was the PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) president and was nervous and scared. But I said, ‘whatever these butterfly feelings are in my stomach, I need to understand those feelings and harness that.’
“My [habit] of choice would be a microphone and a crowd of people, and that’s where the auctioneering came very natural to me. I love people from all walks of life, so I am comfortable speaking, whether it’s to people doing manual labor — I love those guys — or I can put on a coat and tie and deal with the upper echelon of the industries and business.
“Back during Hurricane Rita, I had a chance to sit down in a meeting with other decision makers and … President George [W.] Bush. I was very impressed that our president was here to help speed the recovery of Southwest Louisiana. That was a good moment!”
A Career In Public Service
McMillin began his public service career in 1992 as a board member and later served as president on the Westlake Recreation Board. From 1995-99, he served on the Westlake City Council. McMillin currently serves as vice president on the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury (CPPJ), where he has served as Police Juror-District 14 since 1999.
McMillin says his interest in government and politics came at an early age when his mother worked at Westlake City Hall. He says she took him to Louisiana Municipal Assoc. functions, where he heard speeches by governors and senators. He recalls one occasion when then-Louisiana Gov. John McKeithen came by Westlake City Hall and he got to meet him.
“I don’t like the word politician,” says McMillin, “although I am one; but I prefer public servant. Of course, at times out in public I slip and say ‘public serpent.’ (He smiles.)
“A public servant is really what I like to be. That’s what it’s about. I’m a guy who can build relationships with people in the public and with people at the CPPJ who can get the job done, so I can be that conduit between the two.
“You’ve got to be able to empower people to do their job. The empowerment of people is a tremendous thing, and you’ve got to be able to build that trust with them. They know they can count on you, and I want them to know that I’m counting on them, and that’s very important. Empowering people is important because you can’t do it all yourself.
“I think one of the major things I’ve learned is listening. Some people have problems you just can’t solve. But if you can listen and let them vent, then, it somewhat defuses the matter.”
McMillin says that some of the toughest issues he has had to deal with politically have dealt with zoning, because “people on both sides of the issue are very passionate.”
McMillin relates the story of when the Westlake City Council had to decide on an issue regarding the purchase of 641 acres of land for the City of Westlake to some day use for a golf course and subdivisions. He says it was a three to two vote to buy the property.
“Mayor Dudley Dixon wanted this to happen and I saw the vision that he saw,” McMillin says. “I was in the right position to help my city buy that property. And now that you see it turn to fruition — we have a beautiful golf course and beautiful homes out there. That’s just one of those early things that I am so proud to have been a small player in.”
McMillin singles out two important issues he has been working on as a member of the CPPJ, and since having first been elected to the Westlake City Council: a new Westlake overpass over the railroad tracks, and his work toward getting a new I-10 bridge.
Thoughts On The Economic Boom
Says Hal McMillin, “I had the opportunity to be a part of the beginning of the GO Group (The Southwest Louisiana Task Force for Growth and Opportunity). We started out at the Pioneer Club. And we said, ‘We have a lot of economic development coming that almost reflects what we did in Hurricane Rita. But with Hurricane Rita we were dealing with a disaster, and here we are dealing with an opportunity of economic development. Both, in either direction, have a lot of pains.
“We wanted to have a group of people that would be proactive and get out in front of the growth as much as possible.
“With a lot of this, we don’t necessarily have to reinvent the wheel. We can go to see what other areas having experienced major economic development have done and utilize those things. There are a lot of growing pains that come along with economic development. But the main thing is that our kids and grandkids should have great opportunities to have great industrial jobs right in Southwest Louisiana — that thrills me. And I want to try to do my best of what we can do — along with all of the great people and great minds of Southwest Louisiana — to make sure that 40 or 50 years from now, the people don’t look back and say, ‘Wow, those guys had an opportunity and they squandered it. Why didn’t they do this or that?’
“We are trying to do those things, do them right and try to envision every issue and look forward in a positive way. That’s what the GO Group’s about. We want to leave a legacy — not leave something that’s lacking in the end.”
What Kind Of Mayor?
My conversation with Hal McMillin shifts to the upcoming 2017 City of Lake Charles mayoral election. McMillin gives his thoughts about the job Mayor Randy Roach has done in his four terms in that position and his view of what kind of character and skill sets are needed for the next mayor.
“The simple answer would be just clone Randy!” McMillin says. “Let me say something about Randy. I respect that guy so much. He’s a tremendous leader; he does it with humility; and, he’s one of the best communicators I have ever heard. Whenever we give a welcoming speech to anybody coming into town, I always dread going behind Randy because he’s so eloquent and he covers things so well. He’s just a tremendous guy.
“I’ve had people say to me that there are three Randys because he’s everywhere. He’s a tireless leader. I try to somewhat follow in his footsteps, but, wow! Randy is a mentor to me.
“The next person that comes in is going to have big shoes to fill, no doubt. Lake Charles is our premier city in Calcasieu Parish. It’s the largest city in Calcasieu Parish, so as Lake Charles goes, it affects all the other cities in the parish. So goes Lake Charles, Louisiana, so goes Calcasieu Parish.
“Being the mayor of Lake Charles is a very important job, and I’m not downplaying the very important job of any of our other mayors; we have great mayors throughout the parish. But the mayor of Lake Charles is the pinnacle of the mayors, being the mayor of the largest city within Calcasieu Parish, with almost 100,000 people. That person has to get along with everyone and juggle all types of affairs because that person is needed throughout the parish. It’s not just about Lake Charles — the mayor of Lake Charles is just such an important position. We’ve been blessed. Mayor Willie Mount did such a great job and now Randy.
“The next mayor is going to have to come in with the same type of skill sets. And look, I’m not sure who all is running for mayor, but political experience helps. You need to know how the Robert’s Rules of Order work; you need to know how the Public Works Dept. works; and regardless of whether it’s the parish or the city, you need to know how to interface with members of the Lake Charles City Council; you need to know who our congressional leaders are as well as our state delegation. You need a person who is going to be well respected and who has integrity.
“Experience isn’t going to hurt. Now, somebody may get elected who is not an experienced elected official, but we need a public servant. It goes back to what I said earlier. We need another public servant who is trustworthy, and experience would be a good thing. That person must also have a true love for all of Southwest Louisiana as well as their city of Lake Charles. If you can find that person that’s a good communicator and a good public servant, it’s really going to help us all in Southwest Louisiana.”
“I’m Living a Blessed Life”
When asked what he is most proud of, McMillin says, “Personally, I have to be proud of my family. You are very proud of your kids, but you are extremely proud of your grandkids. (He flashes a big smile.) It’s all about family. And, I love my community.
“We are blessed. At Christmas time, there are 60 or 70 people at our house because it’s a huge family. We just have a real diversified group of people of all ages who love each other; it’s fun to know them all. I’m Uncle Hal to all these nieces and nephews, and that’s a big honor that I get to play that role.”
McMillin says he tries to have fun every day. He relates the poignant story of when he was in his late 20s and his dad was dying in his arms. He learned from that moment, he says, to “live every day to the fullest.
“I love my life, I love my family, and I love my community. I do give thanks to God every day. When God pours grace upon me, I know at that moment there is no happenstance. When something happens, and I know it’s grace, I just say, ‘Thank you, Lord. I see it! I see that you are pouring this grace out upon me.’ There’s a lot of grace in this world, if you recognize the grace that’s being given to you. I always tell God, ‘I thank you for your grace.’”
When asked how he would best characterize himself, he says, “I’m just blessed! I’m living a blessed life! And I’m married to my best friend and soul-mate! I’m having fun; just so much fun. It’s a great life!”
Hal McMillin’s very first job was as a hunting guide. Then, after attending McNeese State University, he began in 1976 what would be a long and fulfilling 23-year career in the chemical plant industry.
“I always wanted to be a coach, but after I saw the money that the plant had to offer, and the benefits … And, hey, I grew up in an industrial town. One of the guys that interviewed me for my industrial job was my little league coach. So it’s a hometown atmosphere — everybody knew everybody — and I guess that they knew from knowing my mom and my dad that I came from a good bloodline, and that they could mature me into a good worker.” (He laughs.)
“I worked 18 years in operations and five years in environmental. At 44, I decided I wanted to get into sales and business development. I worked in some different places.
“Some 10 years ago, I found my ultimate job at Levingston Group as their business development manager. The thing that I want to say about this job is that I love getting up in the morning and going to work every day. Any time you can work in a work place … enjoy the work environment with the people you are with [it’s a good thing]. It boils back down to that I am blessed to have a job that I love doing.
“This job incorporates all my talents of being a people person, of being an outdoorsman, getting to take people hunting and fishing, to play golf and build relationships.
“Having this job at Levingston as their business development manager is just another blessing in my life. This place is special to me, and the people are special. You know you’re working in a wonderful place when God is first, then family and work!”