The life of Phil Ball, a local retired physician, fizzled away on Thursday, February 4, 2016. He was 96 years of age.
This obituary was prepared by the deceased himself, to be used “in the unlikely event that I am not immortal.”
Dr. Ball practiced medicine in Muncie for endless and interminable years in Muncie, and following that taught medical residents and medical students at Ball Memorial Hospital for ten years, then retired and left show biz forever. Total time in medicine – fifty-nine years.
Ball was best known as a writer, having written columns in the local newspapers since 1954, and having published six books of deathless prose and poetry, which sold well. He also had some local notoriety as an artist-especially as a junk assemblage sculptor—and his works have sold in telesales and salons, and have been collected by many local art lovers who should have known better.
Much of his curmudgeonly writing for forty years was under the pseudonym of Charles F. Coldwater, M.D., which fake name he used to avoid law suit, assault, and insult, inasmuch as he characteristically attacked and slandered everyone and every group and every ethnic segment and every gender and every political party in his writings. These attacks were of course done tongue in cheek, because Dr. Ball loved everyone and every group. He was full of the milk of human kindness, although sometimes it was clabbered and soured. His humor was Fieldsian and best summarized in the immortal epigram, “Up yours with a bramble!”
Dr. Ball was most proud of his published poetry, much of this being serious verse about his family and his town. He wrote his medical “Living Will” in verse. Here it is:
When my life’s breath is short,
when my pulse falls slow,
when my mind ebbs low,
when I have passed the point of no returning,
let me ease gently
into that last and mysterious final spell
from which no man has returned
one single word.
Ball graduated from Muncie Central High School, studied at and escaped from Ball State Teachers College, earned his A.B. and M.D. degrees at Indiana University, interned at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, and has specialty training in internal medicine at the Mayo Clinic, where he earned a Master of Science in Medicine. He prided himself in the old fashioned quaint medical virtues of using his eyes and ears and hands to make diagnoses (the medical history and physical exam), although he experienced and utilized the explosion of medical technology during his practice years.
In 1992 the Indiana Chapter of the American College of Physicians named him to be their Internist Laureate. Also in 1992, he was designated Poet Laureate by the Indiana House of Representatives. For the House, he wrote a poem called “My Indiana”, and this work was set to music by Maestro Leonard Atherton of the Muncie Symphony Orchestra. In recognition of this poem, it’s orchestral setting and his many other achievements, in August, 2016 the Indiana State Legislature passed House Resolution #50 in his honor containing a Preamble and 12 Whereas’s listing his contributions to the well-being of the residents of the State of Indiana. He was also given a “Special Citation Award” by the Department of Journalism at Ball State University in 1996-this was recognition of his many years of outrageous letter and column writing for the local newspapers. Twice his writings have been published in the Congressional Record, also once in the Wall Street Journal, once in the Literary Supplement of the London Times, many times in various medical journals, in the Journal of Yasuda Women’s University of Hiroshima, the Washington Post, and others. He was also a speech maker on many subjects-many of them mythical or unsavory. Not to mention his real gifts as a standup comic able to reduce large audiences to helpless tears of laughter.
Ball wrote many articles for medical journals, one of which published in 1968, brought him national notoriety. Dr. Ball’s 15 minutes of fame came in 1970 when he gave testimony to a U.S. Senate hearing on the side effect problems of the birth control pills-which then were only in dangerous megadose form. His testimony was seen and heard on all TV news channels and in newspapers around the world. These hearings lead to new FDA regulations and a tenfold reduction in birth control pill dosage. Also in 1970, a book was written and published by Barbara Seaman entitled “The Doctor’s Case Against the Pill,” in which his research figured prominently. Ms. Seaman produced television documentaries in Canada in 1999 and in New York in 2001, both of which included videotaping of Dr. Ball’s reportage of his activism in this matter.
Like his father, a founding member, Ball had been a member of the Muncie Rotary Club and the staff of the Ball Memorial Hospital. He was for a while an adjunct professor in the I.U. School of Medicine. He had been a long time board member of the local Keep Cool with Coolidge Fan Club. He was also once upon a time a member of Ye Olde Birthday Clubbe of Muncie—an organization with no worthwhile purpose at all.
Ball was a veteran of service in the U.S. Navy in World War II, having been a medical officer on wretched amphibious landing craft in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Pacific Ocean areas. He was seasick in every ocean of the known world (and in the unknown world), was a participant in two beachhead landings, and a survivor of many German bombing attacks in the Mediterranean area.
Survivors include his retired malpractice-insurance-expert daughter Susan of Muncie; and a research expert son Thomas (wife, Oh), of New York City; three grandchildren; Summer, Rory, and Katie; and four great grandchildren, Kelsey, Nathaniel, Wesley and Emmeline.
He was preceded in death by his wife of over seventy-one years, Esther Ball in January 2015; a son, Gregory Ball, who died January 4th, 2016.
Dr. Ball’s great uncle Albert Hale peddled Miami Indian miracle remedies door-to-door on horseback in Delaware County beginning about 1840. His father, Clay A. Ball, a pioneer resident of Delaware County, practiced medicine in Muncie beginning in 1906 and for sixty-five years more, and died in 1980, aged almost 103 years. Hence, when combined with his own Muncie practice from the end of WWII until his retirement, the Ball family delivered medical care around Delaware County for over 150 years. His mother, Helen Mauck Ball, a one-time school teacher at Muncie Central High School, died at 98 years in 1984. Three brothers, Edward, James, and Harold, are now deceased.
The Ball family of the deceased Phil Ball have always proudly called themselves “The Old and Original Muncie Ball Family” – this being a contradistinction to that other Ball family, which came from Buffalo and made fruit jars and beer cans—whom we called the “Immigrant or Glass or Buffalo Balls.”
Phil Ball, the retired physician, may be dead, but his alter egos, Phil Ball, the writer and artist, and Charles F. Coldwater, M.D., the perpetual Mayor-For-Life of Normal City live on. These two personalities, who have outraged everyone, will continue to be alive in books they wrote that are available in local libraries, and in clipped newspaper columns that local readers have saved, and in a mountain of personal papers and columns that are saved in the Bracken Library at Ball State University, and in art works that have been purchased by hapless local citizens and groups.
Phil Ball’s stethoscope, his writer’s pen, his computer, and his sculptor’s smock have all now been turned in.
Funeral services will be held at 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday, February 9, 2016, at The Meeks Mortuary and Crematory, Washington Street Chapel. Burial will be private. There will be a combined celebration of his life as well as the life of his dear departed son Greg, on June 25, 2016 at the Westminster Villas clubhouse off of West Bethel Pike and Benton Road in Muncie, details to follow.
Friends may call at The Meeks Mortuary and Crematory, Washington Street Chapel from 12:00 p.m. until 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday, February 9, 2016.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Ball Memorial Hospital Foundation, 2401 W. University Ave., Muncie, IN 47303, or the Community Foundation of Muncie and Delaware County, 201 E. Jackson St., Muncie, IN 47305. Flowers should be omitted-the deceased is an allergic person, and a sneezing, wheezing corpse could be upsetting to many in the hordes of weeping mourners who will attend his services.