Ebby Halliday, the down-home grande dame of the North Texas real estate scene, died in her sleep Tuesday night. She was 104.
Even in her late 90s, Halliday loved crooning to crowds, strumming on her ukulele.
"That's the way it used to be, a simpler world for you and me," she sang as she played.
But growing up, life wasn’t so simple for Halliday.
She was born in 1911 in a small town in Arkansas. Her father died when she was 5 years old. She moved to a farm in Kansas with her mother and stepfather.
“Ebby took that grit -- I call it Midwestern grit -- and she turned it into a powerhouse,” said Candy Evans, who runs a local real estate blog, Candy’s Dirt.
Evans says that even when Halliday was a kid, she was an entrepreneur. When Halliday was 8 years old, she’d ride her pony from farm to farm, selling Cloverine ointment to soothe burns and bug bites.
This taught her how to hustle, how to run a small business.
“And what she did was, she went into sales,” Evans said. “She had a lovely personality, she was a beautiful woman. … And so she sold.”
From hats to houses
Halliday got into the hat business. She moved to Dallas and opened her own boutique.
A famous oilman heard about her talent for selling hats. His wife was one of her customers. He had a proposal: sell a bunch of homes that he’d built.
“If I can sell her those crazy hats, maybe I can sell his crazy, cement houses,” Halliday recalled in a video.
So she staged the houses, dressed them with curtains and carpet and furniture.
“I sold them all in, within nine months,” Halliday said.
By 1945, Halliday launched Ebby Halliday Realtors. The company was one of a kind at the time -- a woman-owned business. Now it's one of the biggest of its kind in the country.
'You were the most important thing'
Talk to Norman Stolpe, her pastor for more than a decade at Central Christian Church in Dallas, and he’ll say Halliday’s ability to sell anything had a lot to do with her.
“When you were talking to her Ebby, you felt at that moment, you were the most important thing in the world to her,” Stolpe said.
Halliday was a trailblazer -- especially for women. The Dallas YWCA created a women’s center named after her.
”I wouldn’t be sitting here right now if it weren’t for Ebby Halliday,” said Mary Frances Burleson, CEO of Ebby Halliday Realtors.
Burleson says when she met Halliday in 1958, she’d never come across anyone like her. Smart, professional, thoughtful. A woman -- and a business owner.
“It’s interesting, it was a whole new world,” Burleson said. “My husband says I looked over the garden wall and never was the same again.”
Just one of the countless people inspired by the queen of Dallas real estate.
Correction: The Dallas YWCA -- not the YMCA -- created a women's center in Halliday's honor.
Video: Watch Ebby share her life story
Ebby appeared on KERA-TV’s Think in 2011 to talk about her humble beginnings, big ambitions and secrets of success.
Video: Watch Ebby play the ukulele
Ebby loved playing the ukulele. Watch one of her performances.
'I don't smoke, I don't drink and I don't retire'
When Ebby turned 99, KERA was there to watch her celebrate and cut a chocolate cake.
Her secret to her success?
“Work hard to look to the interest of the people to whom you are selling something,” Ebby told KERA. “My longevity is: I don't smoke, I don't drink and I don't retire.”
Following her birthday cake and well-wishes, Ebby headed off to chair a board meeting.
Just call her Ebby
The Dallas-based Ebby Halliday Realtors has 1,700 sales associates and had sales of $6.6 billion last year. Ebby Halliday Realtors says it's the largest independently owned residential real estate services company in Texas and among the largest in the country.
Ebby received many real estate honors through the years. She also served as a volunteer and helped various organizations across North Texas.
Everyone called her Ebby.
Ebby’s company explores her life story in a blog post:
Born Vera Lucille Koch in the small town of Leslie, Ark., on March 9, 1911, the woman who would later take the professional name “Ebby Halliday” was admired worldwide for her ability to combine leadership with femininity and business acumen. Her impact on the residential real estate industry was unmatched. Over the years, Ebby opened the doors to successful careers for thousands of people; in particular for women at a time when opportunities were limited.
A saleswoman at a very young age
Ebby started selling when she was a girl, her company says:
Ebby began working at age 8 near Abilene, Kansas, riding her pony from wheat farm to wheat farm selling Cloverine salve, which she marketed as good for bug bites, cuts and bruises. ...
During the Great Depression, Ebby helped support her family by selling general merchandise and eventually hats at a department store in Kansas City. In 1938, she was transferred to Dallas, Texas, as hat department manager at the W.A. Green Store. She would soon open her own hat boutique.
When a customer’s husband built 50 single-family spec houses made of insulated concrete, he knew exactly who to call. “If you can sell those crazy hats to my wife, maybe you can sell my crazy houses,” legendary Texas oilman Clint Murchison said to Ebby. Ebby sold all of them and soon changed her product from hats to houses, and the rest was history.
In 1965, Ebby married Maurice Acers, an attorney and former FBI agent. He died in 1993.
'We celebrate a long life well lived'
“While we grieve the loss of Ebby, our legendary founder and my friend and mentor for over 50 years, we celebrate a long life well lived,” says Mary Frances Burleson, president and CEO of The Ebby Halliday Companies. “Each of us who had the good fortune of knowing Ebby has been touched by the grace, fortitude and compassion with which she lived her life. Ebby had a very simple saying that she lived by, ‘Do something for someone every day.’ That small bit of wisdom served Ebby very, very well.”
Video: Ebby turns 100
Ebby Halliday Realtors presented this video to Ebby on her 100th birthday.
Services are pending. Ebby Halliday Realtors says that in lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Ebby’s Place at the YW, The Ebby House at Juliette Fowler Communities, Happy Hill Farm and Academy, or the charity of your choice.
Reaction on Twitter
— Kay Bailey Hutchison (@kaybaileyhutch) September 9, 2015
— CookseyPR (@CookseyPR) September 9, 2015
— Dallas History (@DHSHallofState) September 9, 2015
— Lisa Birdsong (@Lisa_Birdsong) September 9, 2015