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Careers in Public Service Made Joe Badal a Thriller of a Writer

By Yvonne Dennis (246)

When a small, skinny kid named Joseph Badal (218) entered the high-expectation halls of Central High School of Philadelphia in 1958, he felt it a shocking transition from the easy-going atmosphere of grammar school in Chestnut Hill.

Joseph Badal in the 218 yearbook

But Joe’s amiable fortitude made him not just another one of Central’s many academic successes, but a success at the core of Central’s mission—producing high-quality citizens.
Years of work as an Army officer, finance-industry executive, state lawmaker–and family man–after his June 1962 graduation from Central gave Joe the unique insight that now fuels his dream career as a writer of thrillers.
On the eve of the publication of  “Obsessed,” Joe’s 13th novel, the Central alumnus talks about securing classified missions for his country, what it took to succeed serving as a Republican in a Democrat-controlled legislature and even an attempted foreign kidnapping of his 2-year-old son.
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Q: You served in the Army during the Vietnam War and received some very high honors–a Bronze Star, the Meritorious Service Medal and the Army Commendation Medal. Were you drafted into military service or was it something you wanted to do as you came of age?
Badal: I was an ROTC graduate from Temple University so I was committed. After I graduated from Temple I started graduate school there in international finance. The Army called me up early so that cut my graduate-school studies short. I had a two-year commitment but the Army offered me a chance to go to language school and go to Greece for two years so I extended.
Joe met his wife, Sara, at Temple. They married in 1966 and had two sons, John and Robert. Military service provided Joe the opportunity to learn Greek. 

Joseph and Sara Badal

Badal: Despite the combat tour in Vietnam, it was all a good experience. I got a lot of satisfaction from serving my country. It’s amazing the amount of responsibility you get as a young officer in the military and I was fortunate enough to be recognized, decorated…In one assignment I had 250 men reporting to me and was responsible for tens of millions of dollars worth of equipment and material. Also a good part of the time I spent in the military was associated with classified missions so you wind up getting thrown into situations that as a Central High School student you can’t even relate to. Serving two years in Greece in a time when the Soviet Union was still in existence–you had Communist agents and Marxist terrorists operating primarily throughout the country. Our two-and-a-half year-old son was kidnapped.
Q: How did that happen?!
Badal: While my wife went to the front door to answer the doorbell, a Gypsy woman entered our backyard and took off with our two-and-a half-year-old son. A stray dog that had been hanging around our property and had gotten close to our children attacked the kidnapper. It if hadn’t been for a dog, we may never have gotten our son back.
Q: What do you think made her go after your kid?
Badal: At the end of the Second World War, Stalin ordered the Greek Communists to steal every Greek child they could get their hands on. That kidnapping went on for a number of years after the war was over. One theory was that Gypsies would take kidnapped children to what were then Communist countries and sell them.
Badal says the woman who attempted to steal his and Sara’s son got away. When his interviewer remarks that the event must have been quite a scare, he jokes: “There were times when he was a high-school student I wish we hadn’t gotten him back.”
Q: As an Army officer, you served in some highly classified positions. How do you think intelligence risks back then compare to today’s environment of state-sponsored hacking, insider leaks, etc?
Badal:  Today you have to be much more careful about how you secure your data. Back in those days, human intelligence was probably much more important a way of getting information. If the enemy wanted to get information from you, they had to coopt somebody on your side and get them to pass documents. Today, in a sense, it’s much less complicated. You can hack into a computer or system. But I would say there’s still a real need for human intelligence. We hear periodically that terrorists’ plans are disrupted. The assumption that can be made is that the terrorist organization had been infiltrated.
Q: What made you choose the University of New Mexico for your MBA?
Badal: My dad was deathly ill and the doctors advised us to take him from Philly to a high, dry climate. It was the right thing to do. He lived a few years he might not have had otherwise. By the time he passed away, we were fully settled in the area. I was working full time at a bank, went to school at night.
Q: You briefly served as a state representative in New Mexico. What was your party affiliation and what was the job like?
Badal: My party affiliation was Republican and I wound up serving in a legislature that was and predominantly has been ever since controlled by the Democratic Party. It was a very interesting experience in that if you wanted to get anything done as a Republican you‘d better get along with the Democrats. I reflect on that a lot and think about how I was able to work in a cooperative manner with both sides of the aisle and get things done. I think quite often about how nice it would be to see that kind of cooperative attitude in Washington D.C. today.
Q: Do you think things are about the same today or worse?
Badal: (Chuckle) It is so much worse. It’s not just a matter of people disagreeing with one another. Today, they hate one another. Let’s say you work in a business organization and you’ve got people that have different beliefs, different backgrounds, different education. In order for that organization to survive, for it to be successful, all those people have to put their differences aside and cooperate, collaborate with one another. Well, a legislative body should operate similarly.  Now, at its core, a legislature is, by definition, is a political body. But it also has the mission of serving its citizens. I fail to understand how spewing venom serves citizens.

Q: Your first novel, “The Pythagorean Solution,” was published in 2003. How did that come about?
Badal: I had wanted to write my whole life. I grew up in a family where storytelling was a tradition…In 1999 I wrote my first book. I hired an editor, who took my 400-page manuscript and cut it down to 286 pages. He used a red pen and my poor manuscript looked as though he’d opened a vein and bled all over it.
The book was published and Joe, with his extensive background in business, understood how integral marketing and promotion were to the success of a novel.

Joe’s 218 yearbook summary

Badal: You’ve got to go to bookstores and do signings. When my first book came out there was really no Amazon or social media. Now I’ve found that it’s much more productive spending an hour a day on social media, writing a blog, etc. I also do quite a bit of radio and TV and attend book club meetings.

Q: How does that work?:
Badal: I put the word out to book clubs that I would be happy to come and be a guest if they’ll read one of my books. That probably is the one marketing activity I love the most because, first of all, it gives you personal contact. Second of all, it gives you a chance to field some really good questions from people who have read your book.
Q: That doesn’t hurt your ego?
Badal: (Laugh) It’s very rare that anybody insults you. I get really good questions about why I did this or that. These are people who take their reading seriously. I’m not just there to get patted on the back. I’m there to get feedback. Often I say, thanks I’ll take that under consideration when I write my next book.
Q: You serve on several boards, including the board of a telephone company that serves the Navajo Nation?
Badal: Sacred Wind Communications. That’s the company that my brother John (220) is CEO and chairman of.
John was president of the Baby Bell that serves the western part of the U.S. when he retired. Then he saw this opportunity to serve a terribly under-served population. Before, if somebody got seriously ill on the reservation, they might die before they got to the hospital. They had no way to call emergency services. John saw a need, a humanitarian reason for doing this. In the process he turned this into a very successful business. He asked me to served on the board and I was happy to do so.
The other Badal brother who attended Central, Robert (224), is a retired lawyer/now consultant living in Santa Barbara, Calif.
Q: What does Joe do for fun?
Badal: Although writing is a job, it is an amazing amount of fun for me. I like to play golf, spend time with my children and grandchildren. Also, we have many fine writers in New Mexico, who I spend a lot of time with.