Karen E. Glover (Kari)
Notes for Memorial Service for Dr. George Ball
Whitman College, Cordiner Hall
January 28, 2012
I am quite certain that George wasn’t perfect. Just the odds are against it, you know. Besides, he would have been the last to lay claim to his own greatness, and I can hear him whispering in my ear, “Make it light, Kari, don’t embarrass me.” But, truth be told, I never saw the flaws.
During my sophomore year at Whitman College, I hit a rough patch. Someone suggested that I talk with Dr. Ball. A short time later George sat across his desk from me without the benefit of any prior association. He was so welcoming and calm that I found myself confessing to feeling that I lacked direction. This was 1969. I was 19 years old, Vietnam was raging, white rabbits had taken on new meaning, and traditional values all seemed open to question. The old narratives were expiring and hadn’t quite been replaced by new ones. George and I spoke quietly for a while and he learned that I was grappling, in part, with my ambivalence about marrying anytime soon. But (in those days) if not that, then what?
Here was my takeaway from that day: “Pursue your talents,” he said. “Make your life so interesting that marriage has to be attractive enough to cause you to want to change your direction, if need be, to accommodate it.” He spoke this way.
How did he know what to say to light a path for me? I doubt if George remembered his advice that day to a young, unhappy woman. He likely went home to his own warm, loving family and had dinner. It was all in his day’s work. But he acknowledged me from then on, with a wave and that famous grin as he biked by, and he kept track of me.
I, for my part, took every class I could that he offered. I can’t help but reflect that he must have been a devoted optimist to take us on – the confused, know-it-all, unkempt students – year after year. And when it came to values and meaning, no issue was too complex or embarrassing to examine.
This is what I remember from his classes:
- Morality is good.
- There is a moral order.
- This moral order makes sense and can be taught, by logic and example.
- It’s hard to sustain a moral order without the imprimatur of a Supreme Being; any other foundation is pretty relative and a bit sketchy.
We always knew, in his classes, which side of any values argument George stood for, but he had such a light touch. With his extraordinary intellect and teaching skill, he made faith, hope and love – rational. And he lived accordingly with an abiding perseverance that made us all love him.
My experience with George, so profoundly affecting, is remarkable for its lack of remarkability. Dr. Ball was the person I have described for many, many generations of students. But I never felt less special for all of the company. He never let me down.
Nearly 42 years ago, right after that sophomore year of which I have spoken, my father died. It wasn’t sudden but it was seriously premature and devastating to me. George stepped forward and presided at the memorial service with such grace and kindness that it was like a balm to my grief.
In fact, I wish he would roll in right now to assure us in his certain and joyful way that, despite his absence, love endures and so will we.
I can picture him – now. I imagine his bicycle traded for a hang-glider from which he waves and smiles wide and calls out what a glorious day it is. Because we know, where George is going, all days are glorious!