In July of 1961 I was still looking where to register to begin my freshman year. My mother, who knew Dr. Rempel and had a high regard for Whitman, drove with me from Salem to Walla Walla. Gordon Scribner showed me around the campus. The only faculty member he found in his office was Dr. George Ball, who greeted me warmly with his disarming smile. He then extolled the quality of teaching and the personal relationships among Whitman students and faculty. He quickly convinced me that I should spend the next four years at Whitman.
Dr. Ball later invited me to join the cell group that met weekly with him and Nancy at their house. In our discussions, he addressed world issues with passion, which belied the idyllic, cozy neighborhood of Fulton Street. He could also be an activist. As both an ordained Methodist minister and a Yale Law School graduate, he was civil rights’ leader in organizing the first student march through town. He also defended two Nigerian exchange students against discriminatory treatment.
Few people exuded as much optimism as Dr. Ball. For him, with intelligence and compassion no human problem was unsolvable. Nevertheless, he was a realist. His annual Christmas letter always summarized world problems that needed addressing. He fervently believed in our capacity for redemption, but he recognized that suffering was inevitable. The destructive toll of hate, ignorance, and war burdened him enormously.
George Ball was a mentor for thousands of Whitman students. His recommendation helped me get accepted to graduate school. I never told him that he was the model I sought to follow as a professor. Now, with 34 years of teaching behind me, I confess that no anyone else I’ve known in academia equals George’s combination of intelligence, compassion, and leadership.
Whitman, his students, and the planet will sorely miss George Ball.
Larry Rector ’65