Haller G. Prillaman
Class of 1955, BS
Haller G. Prillaman has never strayed far from his roots. Born in Martinsville, Virginia, some 70 years ago, he continues to live in the southside community today. He is a well-respected businessman and civil leader who was named Virginia’s Volunteer Economic Developer of the Year in 1999.
His affinity for Virginia Tech developed while he was in high school. As a senior, he built a Geiger counter for a design competition. The contest judge, the department head of Virginia Tech’s electrical engineering department at the time, summoned young Hal for a meeting, and he thought he was in trouble. Instead, as Mr. Prillaman recalls today, “Professor Murray said, ‘Son, I’d like for you to come to Virginia Tech and study electrical engineering.’ I was surprised. I thought I had done something wrong. But I had won first place.”
Dr. Murray’s invitation was well-received but as Hal reviewed the university catalog, industrial engineering (IE), not EE, piqued his interest. More of these courses addressed business and management issues where he had his strongest interests. “IE challenged me,” Mr. Prillaman says, “and my membership in the Corps of Cadets kept me busy.” He did find time to participate in the Honor Court, the American Institute of Industrial Engineers, and for fun, dance lessons.
When he graduated in 1955, he started his career as an IE for the Celanese Plant in Narrows, Virginia. He worked on various projects to improve its manufacturing of acetate fiber. He spent enough time in the community to meet his wife, Wanda, the daughter of the local police chief. But in 1957, he was called to active duty in the U.S. Army. Given the option to enter the reserves, he spent six months at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, and then he became a captain in the Virginia National Guard and served until 1965.
In 1958, Mr. Prillaman returned to Martinsville to join his family’s business. His father, one of Martinsville’s former mayors, started the Prillaman Company, a specialty coatings manufacturer, in the 1930s. His older brother, Nick, a Virginia Tech 1949 chemical engineering graduate, was now running the business, and Hal served as the Vice President until 1960 when he became President of Prillaman Chemicals, a chemical distribution company.
Hal Prillaman grew his company to 130 employees who served predominantly the southeastern United States. They serviced a wide variety of businesses as the company moved various chemicals from one location to another. For example, Prillaman Chemicals became one of the largest distributors of phosphoric acid since it was used in everything from soft drinks to cleaning products to charcoal.
Mr. Prillaman found a good niche for his company but he also knew chemical distribution was a dangerous business. “Our focus was on safety and the environment. Every company meeting started with these issues. Of course, we had to make a profit, but we also spent a lot of time making sure that what we did that day was good for tomorrow also.”
In 1984, he sold the company to England-based Ellis and Everards, but retained the presidency for four more years. He also served on the British company’s Board of Directors for the next four years. Owning his own company remained a family tradition so he and brother Nick started the Prillaman Brothers, an investment firm, in 1988. They continue to operate this Martinsville business on a part-time basis.
And, like his dad, Hal remains a prominent member of the community. In 1976, he became a founder and director of the Patrick Henry National Bank. In 1995, he was elected as a director of Mountain National Bank. He was a charter member of Martinsville’s Human Relations Council, helping to guide the city in its integration process. For 15 years, he was a director of the YMCA, and he is a past president of the Junior Chamber of Commerce. He spent 10 years on the Economic Development Council. “I walk in my father’s shadow,” he says modestly.
He is also active in the First Baptist Church, serving as a deacon and chair of the Board of Trustees. He has served as President of Forest Park and Chatmoss Country Clubs.
He remains active with Virginia Tech, serving two five-year terms on the Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE) Advisory Board. He funded the Hal G. Prillaman Professorship in the ISE Department. He is a member of ISE’s Academy of Distinguished Alumni, the College of Engineering’s Committee of 100, and the university’s Ut Prosim Society. He is a Golden Hokie with the Athletic Association (AA) and endowed an AA scholarship. “I always appreciated the education I received at Virginia Tech, especially in IE. I found that when I was President of my company, I needed to know about manufacturing but I also needed to know about accounting. Tech taught me a lot about management and about engineering.”
The Prillamans have one daughter, Ann Hamre, who lives in Fort Worth, Texas, with their four grandchildren.
Class of: 1955
Year Inducted into Academy: 2004