The Loss of Dr Barbara Ball

March 14, 2011

DR BARBARA Ball Bermuda Bermuda has lost a legendary figure with the passing of Dr Barbara Ball last night [Mar.13] at age 86.

The pioneering trailblazer was the first female doctor to practice medicine in Bermuda, and was integral in the trade union and civil rights movements in the 1950s and 60s.

Dr. Ball was born in Bermuda on 13 June 1924. She was educated at the then all-white and for girls only Bermuda High School for Girls.

From there, she went on to Liverpool University in the UK and then Georgetown University in the USA where she earned her medical degree, qualifying as an Medical Practitioner in 1949.

Originally she practiced in the UK, later returning to her native Bermuda to open her medical practice in 1954.

In the then still heavily racially segregated Bermuda of that era, she quickly acquired a personal and medical reputation as a good doctor who delivered good medical treatment and who also, as a white doctor, took black patients and treated them with a care and respect that was uncommon for that time.

She became highly respected and popular in the black community of Bermuda as a liberal, and an anomaly in the 50’s and 60’s, as a white, female doctor who strongly and publically supported black Bermudians and their civil rights movement.

Speaking about Dr. Ball, the late Minister Nelson Bascome once said, “At a time when there was virtually no integration or recognition of black medical professionals, Dr. Ball was highly respected and became increasingly popular in the black community as word got around about this liberal, white, female doctor who portrayed none of the racist trappings that were evident amongst others in her privileged environment.”

“Dr. Ball withstood growing opposition from her own race who expressed displeasure with her association and work with black people and the Bermuda Industrial Union,” continued Minister Bascome.

“Her alignment with the proponents of universal adult suffrage resulted in Dr. Ball being asked to discontinue her partnership with the Bermuda Medical Associates. As a result, the Bishop at St. Theresa’s Catholic Cathedral on Cedar Avenue rented her a little apartment on Laffan Street where she continued her practice. It was there that her medical practice thrived.”

In the aftermath of the 1959 Theatre Boycott, she became even more publicly active in support of black Bermudians and their struggles. In 1962, Dr. Ball became the General Secretary of the Bermuda Industrial Union and despite the pressures of her labour career, she maintained a thriving medical practice, continuing to treat all races and ethnicities.

During the 1965 BIU/Belco Union recognition dispute, Dr Ball, a diminutive woman but an expert in Judo, gained underground renown for having ‘flipped’ police officers who had tried to arrest her.

Ex-MP Ottiwell Simmons, in the history of the BIU, recounts this anecdote of that time: “Doc was down on the green and as the cops came to arrest her, they were all laid out flat on their backs. With a twist of the body and the stamp of a foot, they demonstrated how she performed the feat, throwing at least six six-foot cops in the air.”

People saw an irony in this tale because Dr Ball had been contracted by the Bermuda Police Force to teach Bermuda policemen Judo and self-defense skills.

Dr. Ball and Mr. Simmons, former president of the Bermuda Industrial Union, worked closely together for more than thirty years, beginning in the late 1950s, when he was a young black militant and idealist, and she a young, white, medical school graduate and idealist.

Mr Simmons recently authored “Our Lady of Labour”, a book on Dr Ball. “I hope that the book will also serve as encouragment to Bermuda’s young people – particularly young trade unionists – to never give up the struggle,” said Mr Simmons. I’m looking forward to the book being read everyone: former and current union members, former and current government members of both sides, and also those in management that were engaged in the conflicts that Dr. Ball and others struggled so hard to achieve.”

In another story, Dr Ball served as the regular Sunday organist during church services. One Sunday, in the pre-1959 era, the all-white choir members refused to sing if she remained as organist, and Dr Ball stepped down as organist.

Dr. Ball served as a Progressive Labour Party [PLP] Opposition Member of Parliament for two successive terms in 1968 and 1972. She was also the first Member of Parliament to hold the position of Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee.

Dr Ball’s accomplishments spanned many genres.She was the first female doctor to practice medicine in Bermuda; the first Bermudian female black-belt judo expert; the first medical practitioner to be suspended from the publicly funded KEMH hospital; the first white person to hold an official post with the Bermuda Industrial Union; the first female to represent Bermuda’s workers before the United Nations; the first female official of the Bermuda Industrial Union to be elected to the House of Assembly and to date, the only female to appear before the Supreme Court on two occasions to answer charges relating to political and social activism.

Dr Ball is an iconic figure in Bermuda’s history. She was a woman before her times.

Share via email

Read More About

Category: All, News

Comments (34)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

Articles that link to this one:

  1. Dr. Barbara Ball – Bermuda’s Lady of Labour « "Catch a fire" | March 14, 2011
  1. Sigh says:

    Thank you Dr Ball for your contributions to social justice and equality for all in Bermuda! Your legacy will live on.

    Rest In Peace…Bermuda is Better because of you!

    • Mike says:

      Cosigned.

      Once again we have missed an opportunity to honor one of Bermuda’s Heros before they slip away.

      • Rosalie says:

        On February 5, 2011 the Muslim Community at Masjid Muhammad Cedar Avenue had a Banquet at Southampton Princess and Dr Barbara Ball was one of the honourees.

        • Mike says:

          Thanks. I was referring to the much hyped Hero’s day in June. My understanding is they are suppose to honor someone every year. It happened once. No others have been named since then.

          • Goldie says:

            Hopefully she will be named this year.

          • LaVerne Furbert says:

            Mike,

            Did you submit Dr. Ball’s name as a potential National Hero. The Government has recognised Dr. Ball’s contribution to medicine by naming a scholarship after her.

            • Fed Up Bermudian says:

              Senator, how does one nominate someone to be a National Hero? Forgive my ignorance, but if it’s a matter of one letter or a hundred letters, it would be my honour to be among those supporting her nomination. If you could put some information up on how to nominate, I think a lot of people would jump on it. I sure will! Thanks to you for suggesting it.

  2. Winnie says:

    RIP oh great lady of Bermuda, you were always unwavering in your beliefs.

  3. itwasn'tme says:

    Original PLP freedom fighter. Much respect to old skool PLP. RESPECT

  4. junior burchall says:

    ONE OF THE BAAAAADEST HUMAN BEINGS TO EVER WALK OUR TROUBLED LAND. CALL HER NAME WITH REVERENCE AND TEACH HER STORY TO THE CHILDREN…..

  5. junior burchall says:

    bernews, i have to respectfully beg to differ. Dr. Ball was most certainly a woman of her times, very much shaped by the sociohistorical conditions that buffeted the island throughout her lifetime. like all of the activists who preceded her in the journey into the Afterlife, she CHOSE to fashion her society in the image of justice and equality for all and, by so doing, significantly enriched our understanding of what democratic practice could look like in bermuda. so, yes – she was a woman of her times – the times just didn’t know it!

    • bernews says:

      Good perspective…

    • marian askia says:

      Speak up Junior – it needs to be heard what this great woman gave to Bermuda!

      I myself am heartbroken at this news – I hope her memory does not just fade away…she needs to be hero of the year!!

  6. itwasn'tme says:

    Dr Ball could have enjoyed the privelege of her status but had a conscience that would not allow her to ignore an accepted wrong. She fought to fix the wrong that so many had benefited from on one side, and on the other side so many had been deprived by the accepted wrong. No one deserved to be the Premier of this island than Dr. Ball. I wish all of the old skool freedom fighters were still here. Maybe things would be different.

  7. Been Watchin says:

    What amazes me is that Dr. Ball was educated at Bermuda High School for Girls during a time when coloured girls were unwelcome, yet her mindset/actions didn’t reflect any prejudices towards people of colour. She had to be a strong woman to go against the grain during those days! May Dr. Ball rest in peace.

  8. Fed Up Bermudian says:

    She was a strong woman, and it just goes to show that there are heros of all colours and genders here in Bermuda. I am heartened and encouraged by the fact she is recognized for her work, hopefully not ‘especially’ because she was white, but because it was the right thing to do and she was in a position to help change come. I look forward to a day where it just doesn’t matter how concentrated the melanin is in your skin. To Senator Furbert- how does one nominate someone to be a National Hero? I’d be proud to write the letter…or, if it requires a number of nominations, I’d be happy to be among that number.

    Thanks to Dr. Ball. We are better for your tireless work.

  9. marian askia says:

    Bermuda has lost a great heroine and needs to send this great woman off with all the honor and style she so rightly deserves.
    She gave her entire life to this country and the rights of Bermudians. She was ostracized, black listed yet walked with her head held high and continued to fight.

    The BIU, PLP,(yes UBP too) Government and all Bermudians need to honor this woman. I hope that on Heroes Day she is the person chosen for her contributions to this country.

    Rest in Peace Dr. Ball.

  10. marian says:

    QUESTION????

    WHY WAS SHE NOT CHOSEN AS 100 INFLUENTIAL BERMUDIAN WOMEN OR DID I MISS SOMETHING??

  11. D. Rock says:

    A great lady. i met Dr. Ball and the Hon. Calvin Smith some 45yrs ago as a judo student.Long before martial arts hit the scene. Dr. Ball was also an avid dog breeder!

  12. KG says:

    A beautiful person who leaves behind a legacy we should ALL learn from. I too think she should be our next National Hero!

  13. itwasn'tme says:

    one of the few politicians I regret not spending time with….heck, calling her a politician is a dis-service. she was much more than that.

  14. Terry says:

    You had to know the racists of the 50-60′s who called her a traitor. I knew them and even heard their words.

    And I will stand by my numerous comments re “It’s all the UBP’s fault”.

    We were hoodwinked back then with regards to her personality, doings and ties.

    I was even mislead but in the 70′s, I figured it out.

    And if you want to incorporate the “$)” thieves your spot on.

    Now, shoot the messenger again.

  15. SHE WAS A GREAT LADY GOD BLESS HERE IN HAVEN!!!!

  16. J Starling says:

    I am very sad to hear this news.

    Dr. Ball was an inspiration to me, as was Pauulu. I hope that the current and next generations are able to learn more about this remarkable lady who did so much to advance the struggle for social and economic justice in our island, and throughout the world. She may have passed, but the struggle continues, and it is our duty to carry it forward, and we honour her memory in so doing.

  17. Terry says:

    Mr. Starling, would you care to elaborate on the “struggle”. Of course we all appreciate your views and since your site is ‘down’ maybe you could just gi=ve a few comments and then post something on your site and let others respond just like you have here.

    Thanks.

  18. Real Talk says:

    Thank you Dr Ball for fighting the fight so that so many of us could aspire to have a place at the table today.

  19. Terry says:

    Real Talk, yes she did fight the fight but she did it for her own advantage. Look at the history. She wanted to be known and in those times white women housewives and in a way corporate heads.

    Yes she did much but her agenda is what it was all about, self serving.

    As someone stated on another local blog about the 1965 riots, I was there. Yeah she whooped a few Poilicemen and the most serious injured was Ian Davis. Beaten to a pulp by her cohorts. She refused to help him. Walked away after leaving others injured like Keith Pratt, Andrew Bermingham, Mike Caulkett and others.

    Arthur Childs stood by in and on his premises at the eastern gate with shotgun in hand. I was there.

    She was not arrested until she provided enough ammunition that she would not help those injured Policemen and confronted them with kicking the shit out of them whilst her comrades weilded pipes and other weapons.

    We all have our ups and downs. You be the judge.