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Feature

Jamie Johnson holds up a T-shirt with the words, "In memory of Brandon Hall" and a picture of Hall.

Jamie Johnson holds up a T-shirt made to honor former University of Minnesota student-athlete Brandon Hall.

Out of a phone call, an unlikely friendship

The mother of deceased Gopher football player Brandon Hall finds a friend in Minnesota

By Rick Moore

Oct. 31, 2006

For most people, random nice ideas quickly move on to the growing stockpile of "Good intentions never acted upon." But for Jamie Johnson, one particular idea turned into a spontaneous, long-shot phone call. And that phone call has led to a friendship that has changed two lives and helped to lighten a dark memory.

Johnson is a 41-year-old woman from Plymouth, Minn., with an irrepressible smile, a mild learning disability and a love for Golden Gopher athletics--football during the fall and men's basketball in the winter. Even her braces, she proudly points out, are maroon, and she'd gladly accent them with some gold trim if given the chance.

She was at the Metrodome on Aug. 31, 2002, when freshman defensive tackle Brandon Hall made his debut in a Gophers uniform and recorded his first and only tackle. Early the next morning, Hall was shot and killed in downtown Minneapolis. He was 19.

Johnson first heard about Hall's death from her father the next day and didn't give it much thought. But some months later, after hearing about the trial of his accused killer, she began to think about Hall again. That's when the thought crossed her mind: "I would love to call Dorothy [Hall, Brandon's mother] and send my condolences."

Johnson found three possible phone numbers for Dorothy Hall in Detroit, and reached her on the first try. But Johnson wasn't sure if Dorothy wanted to speak with a stranger.

"Once we got talking, I said, 'I would understand if you didn't want me to talk to you anymore,'" Johnson says. "'Oh no,' Dorothy said, 'I would love to keep in touch with you.'"

"And it went from there," Dorothy Hall says. "Before you knew it, a friendship had developed, and we talked every night. And we sent each other Christmas and birthday gifts. When I found that Jamie had a disability, I purposed it in my heart that I was going to be a good friend to her."

"She's just a very kind, caring and loving woman," Johnson says of Hall, who shared with Johnson how difficult her life was after Brandon's death. "It's been hard for me to find a good close female friend. With her and I, we can talk about anything...."

Johnson, who's a fan of karaoke, once sang Dorothy a song over the phone--"A Song for Mama" by the group Boyz II Men. When she was singing it, Johnson says Dorothy became "awfully quiet." Apparently Brandon was also very fond of singing, and Dorothy said, "That was my baby's favorite song," Johnson recalls.

The two met in person for the first of two times in 2003, when Hall came to Minnesota for a ceremony honoring Brandon at a Gophers game. Although Hall and Johnson no longer chat on the phone nightly, they still maintain regular contact, according to Hall. "We chat online a lot--about three to four times a week," she says.

Four years and two months have passed since Brandon Hall wore his game jersey for that first and only time at the Metrodome and recorded his one tackle. Since then, Bally's Fitness has donated $200,000 for a fitness center built in Brandon's name at Jared W. Finney High School in Detroit--Hall's alma mater. Dorothy Hall is increasingly busy overseeing the Brandon D. Hall Memorial Foundation, in addition to her regular full-time job.

And by now, Brandon's University teammates and classmates have moved on, which adds another level of meaning to the bond that Dorothy and Jamie continue to share.

"She is my last connection to Minnesota," Hall says.