Daily Archives: January 3, 2012

Remembering Dr. Ball

[text]We received word yesterday that Professor George Ball, simply “Dr. Ball” to generations of Whitman College students over five decades, died on New Year’s Day at age 96.

He was a quiet man, a fixture on the small campus in Walla Walla, Washington, who left an indelible impression on many over the years.

The Seattle Times profiled Ball back in 2001 and captured his impact.

EVERYONE WHO has been in the presence of George Ball for more than, say, five minutes has something warm and fuzzy to say about him — a story about how he comforted them when their grandmother died, or shoveled their sidewalk during a snowstorm, or arranged emergency dental care for a student from China. And though Dr. Ball has interacted with thousands of different people in his two score and one year at Whitman College, all their stories wind up sounding fairly similar: Dr. Ball reached out. He listened. He made me think clearer and feel better.

Read this profile. It’s wonderful. Then think about what education means. How Ball’s amazingly effective style would or wouldn’t be measured by standardized tests. He didn’t leave his mark in publications and academic accolades. His legacy is in the many lives he shared and shaped.

When Meda was invited to give the commencement speech at Whitman in May, we didn’t get around to building Dr. Ball into our tight schedule. It didn’t matter. He found us. That was the way he was.

We were in our room at the Marcus Whitman hotel the day after graduation when the phone rang. We looked at each other. Who could that be? It was Dr. Ball, calling from downstairs in the lobby. He had been there for Meda’s speech and wanted to connect. So he tracked down where they college had stashed us, then got on his bicycle and pedaled over to see us. And remember that we graduated from Whitman in 1969. That’s the way he was with thousands of students over the many years.

It was, we learned as we sat in the lobby talking, his 96th birthday. His father, he recounted, lived to be 101.

When we all had our say, he put on his jacket, climbed on his bike, and rode off into the chilly morning.

I managed to catch a few snippets of our conversation with my iPhone video, and I’ve posted them on YouTube. His spirit shines through. And, I think, will continue to do so.