2005 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"I’ve always tried to do my best, practice the Golden Rule, help those less fortunate, and make gratitude my most often used word."
Born in 1911, Ebby Halliday spent her earliest years in Leslie, Arkansas. Her father was an engineer on the Missouri/North Arkansas Railroad, which ran through their hometown. Halliday, the middle child, had an older brother and younger sister. When she was five, her father died and she and her siblings went to live with their grandparents. Her grandfather was a circuit-riding preacher who instilled in her the values of worship and respect for elders. Her mother remarried two years later and the family moved to her step-father's farm in Kansas.
After her second marriage, Halliday's mother had two more children and reared all five of them on the Kansas farm. She spent many hours cooking and canning and helping her children with their homework. Halliday's stepfather was an athletic man who taught them to ride, run, and wrestle.
The farmhouse in which she grew up had a well on the back porch and they used carbide lights for illumination, which seldom worked. Usually, the children studied at the kitchen table by lamplight. Halliday was expected to help with the many chores necessary to keep the farm running, including riding a horse to bring in the cows. She loved riding so much, she daydreamed of one day becoming a bareback rider in the circus. Her favorite job was riding her horse from farm to farm selling Cloverine salve, which she bought for 5 cents and sold for 10.
Halliday attended a one-room schoolhouse, which she loved. A self-described "voracious reader," she says she was influenced by the books she read from the shelves by the big stove in the schoolhouse. Halliday was a good student and excelled in English, history, drama, and sports. She attended high school in Abilene, Kansas, which was 18 miles from the farm. For the first two years, a bus came by to pick her up, but for the last two years she boarded with the postmaster and his wife. During that time, she worked after school on Saturdays and summers selling dry goods for J. C. Penney. Halliday enjoyed her time on the high school debate team and wanted to go to college, but she graduated in 1929 at the beginning of the Depression and her family needed her income, making college out of the question.
Unable to find a job in Abilene, Halliday took a bus to Kansas City, Missouri. She got a job with the Consolidated Millinery Company, which leased space in the Jones department store. She earned $10 a week selling hats in the basement. Soon, Halliday's dedicated work ethic earned her a promotion to the main floor of the store where the nicer hats were sold. Next, she was transferred to another department store in Omaha, where she managed the Hat Box on the main floor. After meeting with success there, she was transferred once again to Dallas and was put in charge of the main department of the W. A. Green store. During her lunch hours, Halliday often went across the street to Neiman Marcus to study their more expensive hats. She then returned to the designer in her department and had cheaper copies made. After seven years, Halliday had saved $1,000. She wanted to invest her money and asked her doctor, who was scheduled to take out her tonsils, what he would recommend. "I wanted to be in business for myself," she says. "I wasn't sure how to spell entrepreneur, but I knew I wanted to be one." Her doctor told her to look into cotton futures. In a short period of time, Halliday parlayed her money into $12,000 and leased space in a large Victorian house that had been converted into shops and offices.
She took many of her customers with her, as well as her designer, to open her small hat shop. Before long, the husband of one of her customers told her about his new home development that used an innovative type of construction called insulated cement. He was having trouble selling the houses and told Halliday, "If you can sell my wife these crazy hats, maybe you could sell my crazy houses." Intrigued, Halliday went to see the houses. It was 1945 and very few women were in real estate, but Halliday felt excited and passionate about the prospect. She sold her hat business to her designer and quickly set about selling all 52 houses in the development. She went on to build the largest independently owned residential real estate firm in Texas and one of the largest in the United States. Today, there are 27 Ebby Halliday real estate offices with more than 1,200 sales associates. The Ebby Home Team is listed as No. 1 in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, No. 1 in Texas, and No. 20 in the nation.
In business now for 60 years, Halliday says she has never forgotten her roots. "My philosophy came from my mother and grandparents, who taught me to do my best, give thanks to God for the blessing of life itself, practice the Golden Rule, help those less fortunate, and reward those who have helped me along the way. I also try to make gratitude my most often-used word."