Whitman community gathers to remember George Ball

Josh Goodman

Over 300 colleagues, alumni, current students and family members gathered in Cordiner Hall on Saturday, Jan. 28 to celebrate the life of George Ball. Ball, an esteemed professor and mentor who established the religion department at Whitman in 1960, passed away on Jan. 1 at the age of 96.

Adam Kirtley, Stuart coordinator of religious and spiritual life, presided over the ceremony.

“Knowing we couldn’t capture the entirety of his teachings and legacy here, we wanted to provide a sampling of his relationships,” Kirtley said.

To do that, the ceremony included speeches from alumni, professors and Ball’s children. Stories ranged from Ball helping a student find a path in life, to his insistence of leaving firewood for the next family at campsites, to his gifts of zucchini and other crops from his garden.

Senior Adriel Borshansky, who knew Ball from Ball’s involvement as a fan of Whitman’s varisty tennis team, was one of two students who read recollections from former students as part of a photo presentation.

“Knowing that there were passages of people who had graduated in the ’60s and ’80s and today was powerful, because it reminded me and the audience of how long-lasting his impact on the community has been,” he said.

In addition to his professional and family roles, Ball was known for bicycling around campus to find aluminum cans in trash cans and then recycling them. After the ceremony, his most recent bike was displayed in the Cordiner foyer, with a basket full of aluminum cans, as well as flowers.

Madeleine Laville took a picture of her two daughters, Anna and Claire, in front of the bike.

“Little Anna and I got to say goodbye to him before he passed away,” she said. “He smiled and said, ‘I’m not going to be here much longer.'” Anna, who had been playing with him, didn’t want to leave.

Next to Laville was her mother, Beth Call, who used to work in the registrar’s office and recalled waiting lists of 25 or more for Ball’s classes. Call found the ceremony to be inspiring.

“It made me want to fulfill all of our moral obligations and ‘do what love requires,'” she said, quoting Ball. “He’s been instilling that message in us all these years and it’s up to us to carry that on.”