by Paula Bosse
(Feb. 2019: This post has been expanded since its original publication on Sept. 9, 2015.)
Ebby Halliday — the Dallas realtor known instantly by just her first name — died September 8, 2015 at the age of 104. Ebby was not only stunningly successful in the world of Dallas real estate, she was also something of a pioneer in paving the way for other women to establish and find great success in business. There are several obituaries that will present a more complete overview of her life (see links at the bottom of this post), so I’ll just post a few odds and ends that have caught my attention.
Vera Lucille Koch grew up in Kansas, and according to her 1929 Abilene High School yearbook, she was inordinately active in all sorts of clubs and sports. Here are a couple of photos from that yearbook (most images are larger when clicked); the first one shows her with the debate team.
And the second one shows her with her “Forensics” teammates (she excelled in reading competitions, although I’m not exactly sure what that means, as most “forensics” events involve debating). Rather amazingly, this scanned yearbook has her signature!
These two extra-curricular activities served her well in her later career — she obviously learned a lot about the effectiveness of persuasion at an early age.
After school, she spent several years working in department stores selling women’s fashions (including a stint in Omaha, where a vivacious young Vera can be seen in a fantastic photo posted by D Magazine here). Ultimately she arrived in glamorous Dallas around 1938, where she began life as a Dallasite managing the women’s hat department at the downtown department store W. A. Green. Most accounts have her entering the real estate business while still selling hats, soon after the war — almost by a fluke. Legend has it that one of her customers mentioned to her husband, famed oilman Clint Murchison, that he might want to utilize Ebby’s sense of style by having her decorate a few of his newly-built houses in Far North Dallas in order to increase sluggish sales; she was apparently so successful at this that she decided to pursue selling houses on her own and eventually established her own realty company.
I’ve always wondered about the name “Ebby” — what was it short for? Ebby Halliday is the only Ebby I’ve ever heard of. Turns out that she made the name up, sometime between graduating from high school in Kansas and coming to Dallas. In a 1983 Dallas Morning News interview, she explained how Vera Lucille Koch became “Ebby Halliday”:
“I was selling hats when one of the buyers who I admired a great deal told me I had to get rid of Vera Lucille. She said it was the silliest name she’d ever heard. I needed something more sophisticated. I thought about it and came up with the name Ebby. That sounded very, to me, like I had a lot of class.” (DMN, Sept. 25, 1983)
The paragraph ended with two sentences added by the writer of the article:
The name Halliday came from an early first marriage. That husband is now deceased.
The somewhat dismissive tone of those last two lines is interesting, because that husband, Claude W. Halliday — whom she appears to have married in 1947 (although an earlier marriage license for the couple had been issued in 1945 in New York) — is almost non-existent in newspaper searches. C. W. Halliday (1908-1965) was described in a 1957 article about Ebby as being “engaged in an investment and building corporation.” In his 1965 obituary, C. W. was described as “head of C. W. Halliday Realtors and a partner in Ebby Halliday Realtors.” When C. W. died in 1965 — several years he and Ebby had divorced (and the same year Ebby married Maurice Acers) — it was Ebby who acted as informant on his death certificate. Mr. Halliday’s real estate career began about 1946, a year or so before Ebby opened her own retail millinery business. Ebby and C. W.’s marriage lasted for over 12 years, but most traces of him seem to have vanished into the ether.
But back to the name “Ebby.” When the former Vera Lucille Koch arrived in Dallas around 1938 to work at the W. A. Green department store, she was listed in the city directory as “Mrs. Vera Eberhardt.” I’m not sure where the “Mrs.” came from (had she been married before she arrived in Dallas?), but it’s certainly easy to see that “Ebby” probably came from “Eberhardt,” a name which was either a husband’s surname or the name she described as having created for herself because it sounded sophisticated.
1939 Dallas directory
In June, 1940, 29-year-old Ebby married KRLD broadcaster Royce H. Colon. Their marriage lasted only a few years, but it was during this time that the city directory shows her using the name “Ebby” professionally, while still working at Green’s.
1941 Dallas directory
1942-43 Dallas directory
In Mr. Colon’s 1975 obituary it was stated that he had begun his career in real estate (with Majors & Majors Realtors) at a time which would have coincided with the years he and Ebby were married. This is to take nothing away from Ebby’s incredible accomplishments, but if that were the case, it seems that she might have had some (at least rudimentary) background in real estate before Clint Murchison asked her to spiffy-up some new houses he was having trouble unloading. It’s possible she may have entered her new profession with more in her quiver than simply a flair for interior decoration. Ambition may have seemed unladylike and immodest for a “career gal” in the 1940s, even for someone as independent and focused as Ebby. I wonder if her “origin story” might have been softened a bit to play down her ambition? Whatever the case, it didn’t take Ebby long to make her mark on the world of Dallas real estate, and, in so doing, establishing for herself a national reputation as both a top realtor as well as a major inspiration and mentor for women in business.
Below is the type of article about Ebby Halliday’s accomplishments which ran constantly throughout her career. (Most images in this post are larger when clicked.)
But back to that hat shop.
The first mentions I found for the shop Ebby Millinery (one of several boutique shops which operated in the still-beautiful old home at 2603 Fairmount), were in August, 1947 — an article in The Dallas Morning News described the shop as having “opened recently.” Ebby (who had recently become Mrs. C. W. Halliday) opened the shop in partnership with Dallas hat designer Annabelle Derrieux Bradley.
The shop’s bold decoration sounds … bold:
…Ebby Millinery’s French Room is decorated with bottle green walls and carpets and accented with striped drapes of deep shocking pink and chartreuse. The designing room has a touch of the Victorian with frilly white curtains and oversized wallpaper roses against a bottle-green background. (DMN, Aug. 20, 1947)
When Ebby decided to pursue her new real estate business full-time, Derrieux and her husband took over the shop and eventually renamed it Derrieux Hats.
The first real estate ad I could find that featured Ebby’s name is this one, from 1948:
And she was off like a rocket.
Below are a few photos of Ebby I’ve come across which I particularly like.
This photo is interesting because a version of it appears in the May 15, 1966 edition of the Sydney Morning Herald under the headline “The Texas Millionairess” with one slight difference: instead of posing above the Dallas skyline, she is shown posing above the Sydney skyline while on a trip to Australia.
And here she is in later days: the undisputed grand dame of Dallas real estate. RIP, Ebby.
Sources & Notes
Top photo is one of three in this post which appeared in a Candy’s Dirt slideshow here (slideshow photos are from the archives of Ebby Halliday Realtors — there are tons of great photos there!).
Highschool photos of Vera Koch are from the 1929 yearbook of Abilene (Kansas) High School.
Ebby Halliday Acers died Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015. A few of the online obituaries/tributes in the local media:
- Dallas Morning News, here
- Dallas Business Journal, here
- D Magazine, here
- Ebby Halliday Realtors website, here
A great article on a typical day at work for the 96-year-old Halliday (!) appeared in D Magazine in July, 2007; read Candace Carlisle’s article “Ebby Halliday: The Woman Who (Still) Sells Dallas,” here.
Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.