Eulogy by George S. Bridges, President, Whitman College
January 28, 2011, Cordiner Hall
Nancy and the many Ball family members present, I extend to each of you the sincere sympathies and heartfelt support of Whitman College – our trustees, overseers, faculty, staff, students and thousands of alumni stand beside you. We grieve with you even as we gather this afternoon to celebrate George’s inspiring life. His warmth, generosity of spirit and principled commitment to teaching and to advancing causes that he believed were right profoundly affected our College and all of us.
Over the course of Whitman’s 130 years, many individuals helped form the structure and culture of our college. A few formed its soul – Stephen Penrose, Louise Pope, Art Rempel, Tommy Howells, David Stevens and, most certainly, George Ball. His unabashed geniality, his enduring dedication to Whitman and its mission, and his passion as an intellectual, an educator and an adviser to students shaped the supportive and solicitous spirit that permeates and defines Whitman. George lead us, in protesting injustice, in celebrating great accomplishments, in affirming one another, and in helping many of us find deeper meaning in our lives.
Our sadness at his passing signals our abiding affection for him and how much each of us felt loved by him. The passion I see in your eyes and smiles at this moment tells me how positive and powerful a force he was for each of you. He was a person whose values directed and inspired his life, whose way of living and relating to others influenced how others lived their lives, and whose concerns for his students, their intellectual integrity, and their passion for justice transcended any concerns he may have had about others’ perceptions of him.
Our family’s first contact with George (and of course Nancy) actually occurred in early August of 2005, our first year in Walla Walla. Late one morning I happened to open the back door of our house and nearly tripped over three giant zucchini. I was stunned by their size but also baffled by their presence on our stairs. There was no message or explanation, just three zucchini the size of watermelons.
A few days later some tomatoes appeared and then, finally, a gracious older man with bicycle and more zucchini in hand approached our house and welcomed us to Whitman and Walla Walla. I knew then we had found a special friend.
I never had the courage to tell George how much I dislike zucchini. His enduring warmth, generosity and genuine concern for our family’s well-being convinced me that somehow liking zucchini was, at some level, morally and ethically right and that it would be a mistake to inform him otherwise.
George was a standard-bearer for right, for ethics and for living an intellectually informed and principled life. He exuded these values through every fiber of his indomitable spirit and every ounce of energy in his body.
The then Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, eulogized Ghandi with the following words:
A glory has departed and the sun that warmed and brightened our lives has set and we shiver in the cold and dark. Yet he would not have us feel this way … that man of divine fire changed us .. and as such we have been molded by him. All of us became somewhat of the stuff that he was made of, though to an infinitely lesser degree... He has gone and all of us sense [a profound] feeling of [loss]. And yet together with that feeling there is also a feeling of proud thankfulness that [we] … have been associated with this [great] person … Let us be worthy of him.
With George’s passing, Whitman has lost a dear friend and a principled and guiding hand. But the touch of his love for family, for Whitman, for each of our students and us will never pass. The profound legacy that George Ball leaves us is a model for how to care for one another, how to incorporate intellectually important ideas from religion and philosophy into our lives, and how to nurture the relationships formed from our connections with one another into lifelong friendships.
Let us ensure that his legacy continues to inspire and guide our individual lives.
Let us be worthy of him.
And let us also ensure that his legacy animates the spirit of Whitman College for generations.
Let us ensure that Whitman is worthy of him.